EAST MOUNTAIN — The city of East Mountain is shut down at least for the rest of the week after officials say two former employees left computer systems inaccessible.
City Secretary Lanora Hathcock and Assistant City Secretary Whitney Brown submitted resignations that were to take effect Thursday. But on Tuesday, newly appointed Mayor Marc Covington asked the two to leave office immediately.
When officials got into City Hall, they found passwords to the city's computers had been changed and were unable to obtain them from either Hathcock or Brown.
"We can't conduct business until we get this sorted out," said former East Mountain Mayor Ronnie Hill, one of two people who offered to serve at City Hall on a part-time basis. Former City Secretary Tammy Hazel also has offered to help out.
It was the latest twist in a situation that already has seen multiple lawsuits filed against the city, resignations of appointed and elected officials, allegations that East Mountain hiring violated the Texas Constitution — and a growing realization that the situation has cost taxpayers dearly.
Hill said the passwords for Windows operating systems on the computers at City Hall had been changed so the computers could not be accessed. The computers contain the city's payroll, financial records, water database, system for water billing, court records and other documents.
The city hired Longview Computer Center to work on the computers and by Wednesday afternoon, one computer — containing the city's financial records, payroll and court records — had been accessed. However, the passwords to the databases for each system of records also had been changed so the records and databases remained inaccessible. Hill said the plan was to contact the record management companies directly for assistance with the passwords. The other computer, which contains the water database, had not been accessed by Wednesday afternoon.
"The water bills should be going out about this time, but we can't get them out," Hill said.
In addition to the computers, there also were numerous boxes with unsorted papers Hill said he and Hazel would be working to sort through to get the city's records back in order.
Neither had an estimate for how long it might take the city to get a full-time employee in office, but they said it would likely be some time.
Most of the city's finances have been depleted during recent alleged mismanagement and Hill said he was uncertain whether the city would be able to afford a full-time employee, or even be able to afford to pay him and Hazel to work part-time.
"I'm not sure this little place can survive," he said.
The first step to knowing more, he said, will be accessing the computers so they and the new City Council can review the financial records.
East Mountain City Hall is expected to reopen Monday with limited hours of 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.