NEW BOSTON, Texas—A specially called meeting of the New Boston, Texas, City Council before a standing-room-only crowd ended within minutes of Mayor Johnny Branson’s call to order Friday.
The agenda’s lone item asked the council to “ratify” the mayor’s authority to “retain and release professional services.” The motion failed for lack of a second after Councilman David Turner moved to accept.
“Can we have a discussion first?” asked Councilman Joe Dike.
Branson asked for a second, stating that a second would allow for a discussion of the agenda item, but none came. The meeting was quickly adjourned.
Branson said in an interview Thursday that professional services includes lawyers, accountants and engineers, for example. Branson said he wants to hire an attorney to address possible or potential lawsuits.
Dike and Texarkana lawyer Butch Dunbar, who represents New Boston Police Department Lt. Johnny Millwood, question the need for an outside lawyer. Dunbar said the city already has New Boston lawyer Mike Brock on retainer to serve as the city’s legal adviser and that the Texas Municipal League will provide and fund legal representation should the city be sued.
Earlier this year, Texarkana lawyer Troy Hornsby was hired and paid without council approval. Hornsby helped rewrite the city’s personnel policy manual to remove the mechanism by which employees can appeal a termination.
New Boston Chief of Police Tony King fired Millwood in early March, after the personnel policy was changed. Dunbar said the change is in conflict with Texas law, which guarantees police and firefighters the right to appeal a termination.
Millwood was reinstated by the council at its regular meeting March 20 following a 5-0 vote. The council also voted to ask Bowie County District Attorney Jerry Rochelle to request an investigation by the Texas Rangers into the New Boston Police Department.
Dunbar and others have accused King of making arrests without probable cause, questionable spending, of firing Millwood without explanation in violation of Texas law and of sending Millwood a text message and photo that are sexually oriented.
Hornsby ended his representation of the city in a March 22 letter to Branson in which he states he was hired “mainly with regard to the Millwood issue” and was resigning for legal and ethical reasons.
Many of the citizens who attended Friday’s brief meeting expressed anger and frustration. Bryan Ogburn, who co-owns the Burger Joint in New Boston with his wife, Jennifer, said he believes Branson, King and City Secretary Darla Faulknor are “in cahoots.” Jennifer Ogburn said in an interview Wednesday that she believes New Boston police officers and city employees fear reprisal from their supervisors and King if they eat at the Ogburns’ restaurant. Bryan Ogburn is a paramedic and firefighter whom Jennifer Ogburn described as having “butted heads” with King.
After the meeting adjourned, Turner read from a prepared statement that expressed support for Branson and his work for the last 24 years. Turner said Branson has kept the council informed, that audits have shown the city is in good health financially and said “we don’t need to micromanage the city.”
Dike said the result of Friday’s meeting demonstrates that the mayor “can’t write checks for whatever he wants or hire whomever he wants” without council approval.
Dike and others have expressed concern over Branson’s hiring of Hornsby without council approval, the purchase of an industrial ice machine for city hall made without council approval and more. Dunbar said King used city funds to buy a .50-caliber sniper rifle without council approval.
Councilman Richard Ellis said he believes individual differences may be at the crux of the unrest.
“Personality conflicts, probably more than anything else,” Ellis said.
The presence of a half dozen Department of Public Safety troopers made it appear a skirmish might be expected. DPS Spokeswoman Sylvia Jennings said the troopers were on hand at King’s request.
The New Boston City Council meets the third Tuesday of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for April 17.