The Van Alstyne City Council met Tuesday night, Jan. 9, for its regular monthly meeting. All council members were present, as were department heads, the city attorney and city engineer.

The first person to address the city council, during Citizens Communications, was Paul Noble. And although the agenda stated that during this time, people are to talk on items not listed on the agenda, Noble spoke to one agenda item, that of making revisions to the Special Event Ordinance, saying he would to see it streamlined to better accommodate lightly-attended events and those held by non-profit groups.

After a few months of going through the process of searching for the right firm to conduct a 6-year forensic audit on the city’s financial, covering the period that Frank Baker was city manager, the council heard from Mike Vail, of Vail & Associates, P.C. on several ways and expenses of conducting such an audit. As asked for, he said, the completed audit could cost $136,000 or more. “I know you have a yearly audit and get an opinion of the city’s status as a whole, there is a difference between that kind of audit and this type. A forensics audit can be very costly, usually these are done to cover potential fraud abuse. We can assist the city in creating procedures to prevent this. And, if we just looked at one year, that would reduce the cost. A look at internal control procedures would be about $12,000-$15,000 for each department.”

Council member Suzon Crowell started the resulting question-and-answer time asking to clarify, “This is about the process, not the details.” Council member Robert Jaska asked if they would be looking at transactions, not at controlled procedures during that time frame; and could they do a forensics audit by department rather than by the entire city financials. Vail suggested they “narrow the focus.” There were some other questions until Crowell made the motion to table this for the Feb. 3 meeting and meanwhile get the city administrative staff to ask for alternative discussions and quotes. Before the vote, council member Brad Clough asked if we are talking about fraud and Crowell broke in to say, “We have never talked about fraud, but have talked about forensics. The goal is how to present to the new person (city manager) that we have the right process in place.” The vote was unanimous to table the item.

The first of two public hearings and later votes was tabled because it had been posted as under the jurisdiction of the Van Alstyne Planning & Zoning Commission, rather than the city council. The owner, a Mr. Witherspoon, said he is concerned about drainage problems on new housing at the location near CR 377 and SH 5 on the south/Collin County part of town.

The second request for a replat for 23.23 acres around Sanford Circle, and Spence Road had no one speaking up during the public hearing and the replat was approved unanimously when it came up in regular agenda.

• The consent agenda had two items, the first being minutes of previous meetings and the second being the authorization to advertise for bids for for “construction of Greywood Drive and Blassingame Avenue.” These were approved unanimously.

• The council amended the Van Alstyne Economic Development Corporation fiscal year budget for $35,000.

• The council unanimously approved the nomination of Scott Blackerby to represent General Law cities on the Greater Texoma Utility Authority Board of Directors.

A rather long discussion came up regarding the purchase of video recording equipment for city council and Board meetings. The one that the city has used for a long time is now broken. City Clerk Jennifer Gould has been looking at new equipment, and toward the end of the discussion, the council unanimously instructed her to purchases the items she needs from her regular budget, to a $200 maximum cost.

• Although the city council has a microphone and sound system they purchased only a few months ago, they decided to get a quote on a condenser-style gooseneck microphones. Crowell said she’s concerned about spending money on new items when “We haven’t yet learned how to use these right.”

• The council asked for an adjustment in the posting time for meeting agendas. Now, a rough draft of the agenda will be sent to each council member on Wednesday and that is to go back to city clerk by Thursday, who then sends it to city attorney for her approval on legal language. That done, the agenda is to be posted outside City Hall by noon on Fridays and sent to the council members at that same time.

Discussion items

Three items on the agenda cover the possible re-writing of ordinances regarding masonry requirements, the sign ordinances and the special events ordinance. Again, lots of discussion. Council member Robert Jaska said that as it is now written, it concerns new construction, but falls back on modification of existing buildings. Salmon agreed, saying there are no definitions in the ordinance to identify additional upgrade constructions. “There will always been confusion,” Jaska said. “I’m talking about common sense. We want to encourage improvements without breaking them (property owners) financially.” He gave a specific incident. Clough said, “It might not be a bad idea to wait for a new city manager on this.” And council member Lee Thomas suggesting engaging Gateway as well. There was talk of town hall meetings to hear what the public wants, sub-committees and having P&Z take a fresh look at them. “The idea is to help new businesses come into town,” Jaska said.

Crowell said she’d like to “skip the town hall meetings and move faster on this, to have something we can put our teeth into.”

Jaska said, “I’d like to find a way to amend, correct, improve our ordinances to where we don’t have as many. We need to get this out of the bucket, to make it possible for people to use signage that will help them.”

No action was taken on any of these three and Mayor Larry Cooper reminded the council that these were on the agenda simply as discussion items.

Departmental Reports

Public Works Director Steve White said that the downtown striping and parking changes will happen in February, and that they will also be stripping the area around city hall and the police station.

Salmon asked for an update on city park vandalism. White responded that they had a “pretty good hit, the new merry-go-round has already been vandalized.”

Police Chief Tim Barnes said, regarding this vandalism, they are hoping to get surveillance cameras so that the police department can monitor the parks.

White said that last week the Texas Environmental Quality team in for an unannounced investigation on the water system. “They gave it four stars, said the quality is really good and there are no harmful chemicals in it.”

Gould said that the packets needed to run for office are now in City Hall and ready to be picked up. She said there a full-time opening for another City Hall employee right now.

Barnes said the police department is hiring one new communications officer and three law enforcement officers.

Fire Chief Ryan Dockery said the fire department has four part-time positions available.

The Van Alstyne Public Library is fully staffed now, Director Judy Kimzey reported.

The regular session that started at 6:30 p.m. ended at 8:50 p.m. for the council to enter into executive session, which is reported on in a separate article.