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Tempers flare again at Cleveland council

Under fire: status of two city employees, police presence

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    During the regular March city council meeting, Cleveland Mayor Pro Tem James Franklin levels allegations at Mayor Richard Boyett. The Vindicator | Russell Payne

It has “not been a normal year,” Mayor Richard Boyett noted in his State of the City Address Tuesday, March 15, before a packed crowd at Cleveland City Hall, just minutes before the chamber — like last week — descended again into rancorous debate.

Not only did City Council members and the audience revisit the controversial hiring of City Manager Stacy Williams, but discussions also became heated over claims of favoritism in the appointment of the Economic Development Corp. director and concerns about an increased police presence at City Hall because some female employees felt “scared” of the mayor.

During his address, Boyett listed several accomplishments for the town and noted some of the difficulties since taking office, including the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s devastating winter storm that crippled the region.

“Since I’ve been mayor, there’s not been a normal year,” Boyett said.

During that time, the city has completed projects including the Campbell Splash Pad, electrical work at the city sports complex, Phase 1 of the Downtown Revitalization Project, and dealt with damages caused by the February 2021 freeze at the Cleveland Civic Center.

Permits for new construction are rising as the city grows, with 1,591 issued in 2021.

Cleveland is continuing that progress, Boyett said.

According to the mayor, the city is focusing on completing current initiatives, including Fire Station No. 2, the street-improvement project, and launching Phase 2 of the downtown project.

“A lot of good things are happening in Cleveland. We just need to keep our focus on what we’re doing and try to just make the city of Cleveland a better place for us all to live and raise our families,” Boyett said.

After Boyett’s remarks, the council turned to comments from the public and the dais. The conversations soon pivoted to issues including the city charter, with tempers eventually flaring over the hiring process for city staff and a more visible police presence at City Hall.

The raucous debate at last week’s session led once again to talk about the appointment and retention of City Manager Stacy Williams.

A public comment on Williams’ status then sparked a related discussion about the hiring of Economic Development Corp. Director Robert Reynolds and questions about his educational qualifications for the job.

Mayor Pro Tem James Franklin said he believed Reynolds’ appointment resulted from favoritism.

“I do know there was a process of the election for the EDC position. I do know that it does need to be investigated. I do not think that it was properly done,” Franklin said. “There were some things in there that definitely need to be looked into. I saw those applications of those people; there were probably 10 or more.”

Franklin said many of the other candidates possessed a better educational background for the task.

Councilman Danny Lee defended the vetting process, saying Franklin himself was an applicant for the EDC slot.

Lee also expressed support for Boyett, adding the mayor had been mistreated during the accusations and counter-accusations over selecting a city manager.

“Mr. Boyett came in, and he offered a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge. I’ve learned a lot from him. He is a strong man; he is brutally honest, that’s him, and you know where he stands,” Lee added. “I just don’t feel that he has been treated fairly in the process. You know when you go around him — and he’s not involved, I’m not involved, (Councilwoman) Marilyn’s (Clay) not involved — I mean, it’s going to be a problem.”

The conversation turned to additional law enforcement at City Hall, prompted by requests from city employees who felt apprehensive about the mayor, Williams said.

“Several of the ladies that work in this building came to me and were afraid,” said the city manager, who has had several heated exchanges with Boyett.

Boyett asked Williams why they were afraid.

“They were afraid of you,” Williams said.

Lee rallied to the mayor’s defense.

“This man was elected by the citizenry of Cleveland, Texas. This man has been here for 70 years and has employed people and helped people,” Lee said.

Clay said in her six years on the council, she’s never heard of so many problems and added the Police Department was too shorthanded to have to baby-sit the City Council.

“If you can’t be talked to, you don’t have thick enough skin to be on the City Council, you don’t need to be on the City Council, and if you can’t communicate with the people, Mr. City Manager, you don’t need to be a city manager, because you are gonna have confrontations with people on a daily basis,” Clay said.

Franklin— who said there are two sides to every story —and the mayor continued to trade barbs, with Franklin adding he obtained a restraining order against Boyett.

“He physically threatened me, and I put a restraining order against him. A criminal trespassing order,” Franklin told the chamber.

“Do you think I’m going to step on your property?” the mayor shot back.

Eventually, the council was able to move on to regular city business, which included the city’s audit report.

In the end, the council reached the final item on the regular agenda, which was the mayor’s promised weekly attempt to oust Williams.

The members took no action on the measure. Franklin tried introducing a motion to keep Boyett from continually placing the vote for Williams’ termination on each agenda, but the city attorney said the mayor was within his legal rights to do so.

Boyett made it clear this would not change.