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Knoll’s comments light Palmer fuses

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press

PALMER — A Palmer City Council meeting heated up when Palmer Mayor Pro-Tem Sam Knoll took city employees to task over damaged streets and unenforced health codes.

'We hired a code enforcement officer, and we're going backward,' Knoll said at the regular council meeting Monday, Sept. 25. 'Two years ago there were eight junk cars, now there are 40. Forty junk cars in one lot!

'There are two weed-killing businesses that have weeds four foot tall!' Knoll said. 'That store downtown has 50 or 60 tires stacked up, no paint - nobody is making them do it!

'We bought a tractor so they could mow, but none of the ditches are mowed,' he continued. 'I personally went down to look at a dump truck so they could patch the streets, and there are two places on Cozy, two places on Beck, five places on Marshall that need patching right now!'

Knoll had remained relatively quiet during the open forum when a citizen complained about an unmowed lot near her home, saying only, 'That's on my list to discuss later.' He also kept silent when the council discussed action against Gilbert Anderson, owner of a lot at 312 Willowcreek that has been declared a public nuisance and not been cleaned up for five years.

But when the council moved on to a discussion about purchasing a new police car and a truck for the public works, water and sewer departments, Knoll apparently had enough.

'What we have is a total lack of leadership in this town,' Knoll declared. 'Nobody is doing their work and nobody is making them do it. But when we want something for an employee - let's go buy them a new truck!'

City Manager Scott Albert responded calmly at first, citing short-handedness and more pressing priorities in the public works department. But as Knoll continued, Albert lost patience.

'Once again, I'll stress, clean house!' Albert said emphatically. 'This is uncalled for, this is wrong in a public hearing. Clean house - start with me and go right on down the line.'

Knoll was not silenced, and Albert continued. 'Employees have put you in the position you're in,' he said.

'I'm the one that turned the city around financially, and this man,' Albert said, gesturing toward Dewey Lee, the city's public works director, 'this man is the only reason you haven't been sued by the TNRCC!'

Council member Jennifer Thomas stepped into the fray at this point. 'We have some excellent employees here,' Thomas said. 'Some things may fall behind because of the big picture. But for us to talk right here with two reporters here and talk about our employees - this is tearing down moral.'

Albert, Thomas, Mayor Henry Rhoades and occasionally citizens continued to debate with an adamant Knoll for some time.

Knoll was particularly concerned, with the rainy season about to begin, about damage to newly paved streets that have been cut for water line repairs.

'All they need (to make repairs) is a shovel and some asphalt,' Knoll said. 'It doesn't take any longer to put in cold mix than to shovel in gravel.'

Knoll said gravel would allow rainwater to seep into the base under the asphalt and weaken a large area around each of the cuts or holes. Patching with cold mix would seal the areas and prevent such damage, he said.

'We should have repaired the water lines first,' said Albert. 'And I warned you before the work was done!'

Eventually the mayor stopped the discussion by calling for a vote on the vehicle issue. Council member Roy Bobo joined Knoll in opposing the purchase.

As the council separated to reconvene in executive session, council member Chad Blankenship stayed behind to talk with Albert and with reporters about Knoll's outburst.

'I'm getting fed up with it,' Blankenship said. 'How do we stop these attacks? We've got three people (in public works). Dewey Lee was given a plant that was putting out poor quality water because the city wouldn't let them spend any money on it. He has held it together, has turned it around. It takes all three people to do it.'

Albert's final comment was simple. 'Council needs to make a decision,' he said. 'And if they don't like things, they need to change them.'

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