Mayor Tommy Duncan was tight-lipped following a special meeting of the Big Spring City Council Tuesday night that included a pair of last-minute executive sessions before he is scheduled to leave office.
The council went into an executive session shortly after the meeting began, asking the audience and media to wait outside the council chambers. The first order of business during the session was to deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation and duties of the city manager.
Former assistant city director Todd Darden recently took over the city manager's duties and was named the interim city manager by the city. The move was made in hopes of preparing Darden for the retirement of acting city manager Gary Fuqua, who announced earlier this year he would be retiring in December.
When asked if Tuesday night's executive session was intended to review Darden as interim city manager or Fuqua as acting city manager, Duncan was evasive.
“Well, that stuff was during executive session. But right now, I really don't want to talk to you,” Duncan said as he exited the council chambers.
However, Wednesday morning Duncan contacted the Herald to offer his comments on Tuesday night's meeting.
“The executive session item surrounding the city manager's position was basically just a review of the position,” Duncan said. “As you know, we've been looking for a new city manager to replace Gary Fuqua for some time now. We heard an update from the committee tasked with looking at candidates. Right now, we have around 30 candidates.”
Also part of the executive session, the council was slated to discuss and deliberate regarding the Colonial Hills Estate subdivision. According to the meeting agenda, the subdivision is part of economic development talks between the city and an entity “that seeks to locate, stay or expand in or near the city and which the city is conducting economic development negotiations.”
Two council members declined to comment on either item discussed during executive session, as well.
Duncan said this morning he brought the matter before the council during the executive session to update them on a housing project looking to build in Big Spring.
“This is the same project that was brought before the council a while back. The property is in the area of Bilger and Hearn,” Duncan said. “Previously, there was a developer wanting to build low income housing in the same area. However, the property owner, Bill Chrane, passed away and his son sold it to Leon and Francis Hobbs.”
Duncan confirmed Francis Hobbs was his campaign treasurer during his bid for mayor of Big Spring approximately three years ago. Hobbs is also a member of the Big Spring Economic Development board of directors.
Duncan said he is glad the council opted not to support the low income housing development, as the newly proposed development will raise property values in the subdivision.
“The developer — I believe it's a company out of Oklahoma — has told me the homes they are wanting to build will cost approximately $100 per square foot,” Duncan said. “The homes will range in price from $130,000 to $190,000. I'm very glad we didn't allow the low income housing to build in that same area. These homes will actually bring the property values up.”
Prior to going into executive session, District 4 Councilman Bobby McDonald questioned Duncan as to why the items had been placed on the agenda of a specially called meeting.
“This executive session, was it planned lately and put in there? Did you do this?” McDonald asked Duncan during time alloted for council input.
Duncan confirmed he had called for the meeting.
“I did put the executive session in there. Yes,” Duncan responded.
McDonald said the items up for discussion during the executive session were intended for the newly elected administration, as both Duncan and District 5 Councilman Craig Olson will be stepping down during the next regularly scheduled meeting following Saturday's election.
“It seems to me that both of these (agenda items set for executive session) belong to the next administration,” McDonald said. “And here it being done at the last moment.”
“As long as I'm sitting in the chair of the mayor, I'm going to continue to work very hard for this city,” Duncan answered.
When asked this morning why the two items were brought before the council in executive sessions less than a week before he is slated to leave office, Duncan said it was simply his desire to update the council on the two issues.
“I called the special meeting to pass on information specific to these two issues and to allow the staff to bring the council up to date,” he said.
Several council members confirmed no action was taken following the executive sessions. However, the media and the audience were not invited back into the council chambers until after the meeting had reconvened in open session and adjourned.