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Behind closed doors

"Thanks for the coverage," wrote District 3 Councilman Roland Gutierrez, after a recent Party Lines criticized his apparent cell-phone fetish that manifested itself at the Council dais during his first day on the job.

"Next time you need to reach me, call me on my cell ... I'll make sure to use my earpiece you're so fond of."

That earpiece, a shiny silver thing that resembles what Lieutenant Uhura wore in old Star Trek episodes, appeared only once at Council Chambers last Thursday, as Mayor Phil Hardberger rolled out his new meeting schedule. (Gutierrez must have received a copy of the Mayor's Committee Report on Integrity and Trust in Local Government, which talks about cell-phone use and other bad behavior during council meetings).

The Hardberger Plan includes the following procedures: Convene at 9 a.m. on Thursday instead of the former 1 p.m. kickoff. Last Thursday, much of the meeting was held in secret, as he immediately announced an executive session to discuss such items as hiring a new City Manager and appointing interim manager J. Rolando Bono to the post until he retires at year's end.

Executive sessions are legal. Councilmembers discuss litigation, real estate, and personnel matters behind the green door of good government, but they're not supposed to vote on an issue unless they return to the public scrutiny.

After lunch, the new alcalde, who, as a former district and appellate court judge should know about the Open Meetings Act, reconvened the public meeting with only three council members present in the chamber, and immediately announced another executive session. He returned by himself around 2:30 p.m. to announce that the secret pow-wow was to be continued until about 3:40 p.m.

Understandably, the agenda was lightweight. But how much can you say about the duties of the City Manager? Is it wise to spend three hours talking about a lawsuit filed against the City by a pedestrian who allegedly was hit by a company car during working hours?

Oh, wait. There is a good reason for City Council to spend the better part of the day in the ultra-comfortable executive session suites in the Municipal Plaza building. Certain residents of the Summerglen, Laredo Springs, Mountain Lodge, Canyon Springs, and Fossil Creek residential subdivisions have sued the City over its plans to annex these areas by December. The plaintiffs say the City failed to properly notify them and did not develop a service plan before a state-mandated deadline passed.

The litigants, who are represented by notable City Hall lobbyist David Earl, are seeking a temporary injunction to bar the City from slapping their homes with property taxes.

And the kicker is, since these subdivisions lie within two miles of the PGA Village swindle, the lawsuit-filing residents claim they are entitled to the same 29-year non-annexation agreement that was extended to PGA developers.

It's enough to send Mayor Hardberger and his band of brothers and sisters at City Hall into a month-long executive session.

Next thing you know, these troublesome residents will want a taxing district for their neighborhoods, just like in PGA Village.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, or so they say.

By Michael Cary

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