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Resident's water issue leaves East Mountain council, city in uproar

By Richard Yeakley
July 8, 2013 at 10 p.m.

Two council members voiced confidence in their mayor, two abstained and one continued to lay out her case accusing the mayor of wrongdoing when the East Mountain City Council took a vote of confidence in Mayor Neal Coulter on Monday.

The vote came at the beginning of a heated, nearly two-hour city council meeting in which councilwoman Maryann Johns and several East Mountain residents voiced disapproval of the mayor's actions, while Coulter and another contingent of residents demanded proof of what they called unfounded accusations.

At its heart, the dispute centers around a conflict of one man's petition to the city for water.

A four-month delay in fulfilling the request, which ended in part when the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality threatened revoking the city's right to provide water if they failed to comply, left several residents and Johns believing the city's holdup to provide the man water was more personal than professional as Ken Miller intended to place recreational vehicles on property near Coulter's land.

City officials had said the delay was because the land in question was on the border of the zone where water could be supplied and the delay was caused by due diligence verifying the city could turn on the water.

The mayor, who had previously remained mum on the accusations, spoke out at the beginning of the meeting, reminding city residents that he took over the position of mayor not out of choice but out of necessity and that he returns his mayoral stipend to the city for other needs.

"The city has installed four new fire hydrants, the expense of three of these hydrants was covered by the mayoral stipend that I didn't not take from the city. … I did not accept this job for financial gain, prestige, personal gain," Coulter said. "The cauldron of lies, deceit and misinformation, began to churn the moment I made the motion to sell the parcel of land for the fire department."

The vote of confidence was placed on the agenda by Coulter to send a message of unity to the community.

"The council needs to be united in this vote to send a message to the community that we are united and that the lying and backstabbing must stop," Coulter said.

Councilmen Dwayne Brown and Charles Medlin voted in confidence for the mayor. James Medlin and Lindley Huggins abstained from the vote, and Johns cast a vote of no confidence.

After the vote, the meeting continued with three scheduled items placed on the agenda and Johns continued to question the mayor.

Throughout the meeting, family and friends of the mayor spoke out in support of Coulter, while others applauded when Johns leveled her concerns, including choosing to stop using Darryl Atkinson for the city's legal work without consulting the entire council and not providing council members with information regarding a settlement reached with East Mountain's former police chief after his termination.

"I have never deceived this council or attempted to deceive it any way. I see the time fast approaching when our city will not be able to get anyone to serve this community on the council or run for mayor because of all the newspaper articles and behind the scenes backstabbing that has occurred in the past few months," Coulter said.

The shock of the evening came when the council considered accepting the resignation of City Administrator Tammy Hazel.

Hazel, who has worked with the city for more than a decade, tendered her resignation two weeks ago.

In a letter to the News-Journal, Johns claimed Hazel was forced out by Coulter, but Coulter insisted Hazel was retiring because she was of age.

"I have been with the city for 11 years, and I love my job here in the city. I am not a resident of the city, but I live pretty close, and I have tried to be honest and frugal with the city money and do this job to the best of my ability," Hazel said. "My reason for resigning is that I would rather walk away from a job that I love to do than to compromise my ethics."

When questioned by Coulter and Councilman James Medlin, Hazel elaborated that she had heard Coulter tell council members things she knew to be untrue concerning the water issue with Miller.

She also said Coulter simply declared that Miller would not receive water, a claim he adamantly denied.

In a secondary discussion, several residents voiced concerns about muddy water provided by the city and the city's regularity of checking the water supply.

The council also voted to reject the Upshur County Appraisal District's proposed budget and to reopen the city's community center.



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