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Glenn Heights City Council explodes in controversy

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Ellis County Press

GLENN HEIGHTS - With the mayor and four other members of the city council facing a recall election, City Manager Dennis McDuffie drew fire and instigated a rash of employee and volunteer resignations by firing Fire Chief Mike Burgett without notice.

'It was never fully explained to me why he was terminated,' said Glenn Heights businessman Jerry Lemons. 'Burgett has been a giver to our community for a long time.'

'It's not right,' said recall activist Gloria Fisher. 'We have a man living half a mile from the fire department who knows his business.'

Fisher said she was sure Burgett would respond to an emergency call even now, after being terminated from his job as fire chief.

McDuffie defended the firing decision. 'It was my call,' he said. 'I felt we needed to do that to make the transition, to move to the 24/7 service.'

McDuffie said the decision was made while Burgett was out of town for a month, reportedly to obtain medical help for his 19-month-old son who was born with an underdeveloped brain.

'The citizens were expecting the service to be delivered quickly,' McDuffie said. 'I will say there was a fundamental difference in the level of service he wanted to provide and the level I wanted, based on direction from the city council.'

McDuffie said his plan called for three paramedics and three EMTs, while Burgett proposed hiring six EMTs with some training in firefighting.

'Paramedics have two years of school,' said McDuffie. 'EMT's have less. They can take blood pressure, administer some medications. But they cannot provide the level of assistance paramedics can provide.'

McDuffie said, since the reorganization on Dec. 11, the response time for emergency calls has gone down, from a 10- to 15-minute average to a three- to six-minute average. 'The system is working,' he said. 'The people are enjoying 24/7 qualified fire department and ambulance service for the first time in history.'

The recall drive, though occurring at the same time, has nothing to do with the firing of Chief Burgett. The petition submitted by citizens targets Mayor Mary Coffman and Council Members Nancy Otto, Don Williams, June Johnson, and Jesus Humphrey.

'It has to do with malfeasance which resulted in lawsuits in both Ellis County and Dallas County,' said Lemons. 'In Ellis County, the city was found negligent in the taking of Sheffield's rights as a property owner.'

Lemons said Ellis County awarded almost $500,000 in damages to the developer in one case, while Dallas County issued a summary judgment giving back his zoning.

According to Lemons, other lawsuits are also pending. 'Since filing the petition,' he said, 'The city has been sued twice more, by Pulte Corporation, the largest homebuilding corporation in the U.S.' Lemons indicated the lawsuits are similar in nature.

At a Dec. 18 meeting, the city secretary presented a report certifying over 200 signatures on the recall petition. At the next regular council meeting in January, a calendar will be set for an election in February or early March.

'I think it's kind of ironic,' said McDuffie, 'The city has a regular election for two of those seats in May. So you kind of have to wonder at the reason for having it back to back.' McDuffie felt back-to-back elections would be a drain on city resources.

'Maybe they will resign,' said Fisher. 'I don't know. We need someone smart to help this town to grow.' Fisher said all the council members are nice people but unequal to the challenges facing a city with a population of 7,000.

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