By Alexandria Randolph
After a heated discussion Tuesday evening, the Kempner City Council voted 4-1 against an ordinance that would have prohibited non-residents from speaking at council meetings.
In the public comments portion of the meeting, community members spoke mainly against the ordinance.
“As a business owner that doesn’t reside within the city, I feel I should have a voice in the city,” said Ken Shirley, owner of Log Cabin Café. “Why would I, or any other business owner, operate in a city that doesn’t want to hear what I have to say?”
Kempner business owner Jessie Williams of Jessie Dallas Designs said she was not in favor of the ordinance.
“My husband and I live outside of the city, but we have a Kempner address,” she said. She said there are many non-residents the council should be willing to hear from, including “the employees of the business, the customers, people who live outside the city that have the potential to be annexed.”
“I’m appalled at whoever put this on the agenda,” county resident Wayland Allen said. “I don’t live within city limits, but I try to do business here as much as I can.”
In addressing the agenda item, Councilman Don Casper moved to approve the proposed ordinance, and David Richardson offered the second to allow discussion.
“The last thing I want to do is silence citizens,” Mayor Keith Harvey said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from or where you are; we will welcome you.”
Harvey added that public hearings at City Council meetings must be handled with mutual respect.
“It is a First Amendment right [to speak], but only with dignity and respect from citizens and council can we function as a city. … We want to hear from citizens. Not everyone is going to like us. We have to make hard decisions, and not everyone will like it because they are not privy to all the information.”
Harvey also advised citizens not to spread erroneous information that could be harmful to the relationship between city leadership and the public.
Councilman Mack Ruskiewicz asked whether it wouldn’t be more appropriate to approve the ordinance and request that non-residents submit written comments to the council.
Council member John Wilkerson said the severe storm that occurred Sunday offered an excellent example of community cooperation in Kempner.
“After I pulled my family out of the closet, I ran down here,” he said. “I found at least two people that do not live within city limits cutting trees here. A lot of people helping weren’t from within city limits. … I’m a little more upset that [the ordinance] has gotten this far.”
When the council voted on the motion, Casper cast the sole “for” vote, and the motion failed.
In other matters Tuesday, the council unanimously approved the installation of outdoor security cameras at City Hall.
City Secretary Stacy Roberts said one camera would monitor the parking lot, with a second one at the back door.
The Kempner City Council's next meeting will be June 25 at 7 p.m.
By Alexandria Randolph