WAXAHACHIE — An inadvertent ringtone from the movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” sounded loudly in the packed Waxahachie City Council chamber and set the tone for the specially called meeting on Friday.
After more than two and half hours in executive session, the four council members present — Mark Singleton, Chuck Beatty, Mary Lou Shipley and Kevin Strength — voted to approve a separation agreement with Waxahachie City Manager Paul Stevens in open session. Councilmember David Hill was out of the country and absent from the meeting.
According to the City of Waxahachie's website, Stevens became city manager on January 1, 2007. Prior to becoming city manager, he served as assistant city manager for nearly nine years. He was hired by then city manager Robert Sokoll.
“I want to start by thanking the mayor and council for allowing me to serve as city manager. We have accomplished a great many things together and Waxahachie is poised for a very bright future. I want to give my sincere thanks to my department directors and all of the employees,” Stevens said. “Waxahachie is blessed to have some of the best and brightest. The employees are truly committed to the citizens of Waxahachie and always keep customer service in mind.
Stevens also shared his optimism for the direction that the city is headed.
“Waxahachie has a rich history and a very bright future. But what really makes Waxahachie special are the people,” Stevens stated. “There is an amazing spirit of cooperation and volunteerism. This is something that I will truly miss."
With Stevens' separation from the city, council members will meet in the coming weeks to outline the plan for hiring his replacement.
“The members of the city council want to thank Paul Stevens for his years of service to the City of Waxahachie and our community,” a statement issued by the council reads. ”His hard work and dedication to the City have served us well, and for that we are grateful. Each of us wishes him and his family all the best.”
Before the vote was taken Mayor Kevin Strength informed the more than 200 residents gathered in the chambers that the council would take comments from the public, but could not answer questions or address concerns. Strength cited the reasoning being that an open forum was not placed on the agenda before the meeting began.
When published on Tuesday the agenda did not list an item for public comment.
Even still, Waxahachie Park Board Vice Chairman Coy Sevier asked the council what the reasoning was behind this issue.
“I think this is going to have some serious repercussions if Paul is not on the council. We will find out what the power struggle is and their careers are over,” Sevier remarked. “I am embarrassed that this went forward.”
Former Waxahachie mayor and councilmember, Joe Jenkins, told the council he is "disgusted" with their actions and is upset that something like this moved forward.
“This is one of the saddest moments in Waxahachie. I am ashamed of our city council and what have you done,” said Jenkins with his cane hanging off the right side of the dais. “We have a city that has worked well together. We haven’t had city politics that went wild. We have a growing city and I love Waxahachie. You have disappointed me and all the people here. I don’t know if you realize what you have done.”
Following Jenkins remarks, the crowd of more than 200 people stood for a round of applause.
Becky Kaufman, who serves on the Heritage Preservation Commission, stated that Stevens is the type of person who needs to be leading our community. Kaufman advocated giving him a raise instead of letting him go.
“Why on Earth could you fire a leader such as Paul? We have always bragged that city hall has some of the finest departments heads,” Kaufman told the council. “We read in the paper that we are in great financial shape and have expanded industry. What on earth was the rush on this? It smells really bad and looks bad for the community.”
Resident Ernest Barker addressed the council and audience telling them that there needs to be a leadership change.
“Part of the problem that we have here in council is the people in front of us. We don’t have any representation of any district,” Barker noted. “I think we need more diversity and a mayor that is elected.”
Barker added that currently, it is too easy for decisions to be made with only five council members and losing someone like Stevens should not be left up to so few.
Retired city employee Everett Viar implored the board to reverse the course and ask Stevens to stay.
“All the finger pointing is not going to do us any good. I am serious. Lets us ask Paul not to leave. I can tell you that every interaction I have had with Paul Stevens his number one concern was the city employees and the citizens,” Viar said. “Let him continue to lead this city. I don’t know if he would want to stay now. I have seen growth in this town. Let's not mar that. Let's ask Paul to stay.”
Several members of the audience shouted during the meeting that they would make their views known at the ballot box.
After the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Singleton stated that Stevens is a great man who has done great things for the city, but he is not the person to lead the city into the future.
“I so wish that I could say so much more. Everything can and possibly does get taken out of context. Any time that there is an employee difference you just can’t discuss those. That is the saddest thing about this,” Singleton said. “There is a concern of innuendo and back channel stuff. That is not the case. Politically this probably says a big thing. I have lots to lose personally, and yet I am still convicted that this decision still has to happen.”
Singleton added that he wishes Stevens the best on his next step in his career.
The Daily Light reached out to Councilmember Mary Lou Shipley who declined to comment. Messages were left for Strength and Councilmember Chuck Beatty but were left unreturned as of press time.