Editorial: Do the right thing for East Mountain
May 13, 2017 at 11:14 p.m.
The city of East Mountain is crumbling. It is teetering toward financial ruin, and petty vendettas now have led to alleged computer antics that forced city offices to temporarily shutter.
If East Mountain is going to survive, it is past time for residents, elected officials and former officials to put aside their differences and stop the shenanigans that are destroying their city.
A new City Council took office last week, and it is our hope members will make themselves more educated about the city than their predecessors seemed to be. The prior council appeared unfamiliar with the city's own ordinances, finances and even simple day-to-day business at City Hall. This has become clearer with each new revelation of mismanagement from questionable hiring to overspending on meals and overstaffing the police department.
When such issues began coming to light, council members tried to dodge responsibility by saying they gave their staffers a budget to work within and expected it to be followed. That flies in the face of standard practice in properly run municipalities, school districts and counties, where elected officials regularly approve spending and keep an eye on finances.
In East Mountain, that did not happen. No City Council agenda this year has included spending approvals. You won't find such on any agendas from 2016, either. That lack of oversight resulted in the city burning through its operating fund, then its reserve fund and now its water fund.
But spending has not been the only problem in East Mountain. Neither was the council aware of other basics of city operations. One example came in recent meetings, when the council seemed about to vote on a rezoning request — until a resident objected and distributed copies of the zoning ordinance for each councilman to review then detailed how the city could not legally approve the change that was being considered.
The council also failed to provide residents a chance to weigh in through public hearings, the plan only becoming public when it appeared on the agenda for a council meeting.
If there is a bright spot in this mess, it is that residents now are involved, paying close attention and demanding accountability. After questioning the rezoning procedure and being told by an official at last week's meeting, "That's just the way it's always been done," one resident stated what many by now are surely thinking: "But isn't it time we start doing things the right way?"
That is what we implore the new council to do. For the sake of the city and its residents, please start doing the right thing for East Mountain. Training sessions are available for council members to become educated on how to run a city government. If the city cannot afford to pay for training, consider asking leaders in neighboring cities for guidance. East Texas is a very giving community where most people want the best; we are certain others would be willing to offer help as East Mountain seeks to clear away the wreckage of recent mismanagement and begin to rebuild.
One other thought: There is enough evidence of malfeasance in East Mountain that it seems appropriate for a higher authority to investigate. East Mountain straddles the Upshur-Gregg county line, and we encourage the district attorney in either or both counties to investigate and bring charges if merited. If requested, the Texas Rangers also could help investigate.
It may be a mess, but should those in higher government ignore the issue in East Mountain they, too, are shirking their responsibilities.
For the sake of the city and its residents, please do the right thing.