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City produces documents after story was published

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STAFF REPORT

The Ellis County Press

ENNIS – Documents produced by the City of Ennis this week, give a clear picture of events surrounding a controversy over the use of a city fire hydrant to fill up a private residents swimming pool.

A copy of the receipt from Lisa Morales, accounting supervisor, shows Ashlie Graff paid $104.15 for 30,000 gallons of water at 2602 Laneview on June 2, at 4 p.m.

The controversy started when The Ellis County Press published a photo of the swimming pool being filled from a city fire hydrant.

The Ellis County Press was referred to the city manager from Ennis Police Department in "regards to all transactions and agreements about this matter."

After several unsuccessful attempts to try and speak with Steve Howerton, city manager, the story was published along with the photo posing a question "Water Free for All?"

"The ECP requested information about this matter and the City of Ennis complied after the story ran," said Megan Gray, reporter.

Claims from the city to ECP saying he was unaware of the agreement between the couple who own the property filling up the pool when our reporter tried to contact Howerton are proving to be quite the opposite.

In a memo from Robert Bolen, director of utilities, to Howerton on June 4, Bolen stated, "On June 2, 2009 I received a phone call from Hirthel Chapman stating that he observed a fire hose attached to a hydrant on Laneview. I instructed him to remain at the site and told him I was on the way to his location .I called back about three minutes later and requested an address so I could notify PD and request that an officer be dispatched to the site.

Just prior to my arriving [Bolen’s] at 3:55 p.m., I received a call from Buddy Markham,[chief building inspector/fire marshal] , who informed me that he had spoken to the property owner and they had entered an agreement to allow them to fill a new swimming pool from the hydrant and pay the calculated usage of water based on the pool size and although the hose had been laid the they had agreed not to take any water prior to payment for the water being made. Allowing the filling of the pool from a hydrant when a hydrant is convenient to the property is standard practice in many cities and a reasonable practice.

Bolen goes on in the memo saying he met on site with the pool contractor and a city firefighter who was supervising the attaching of the hose to ensure that the hydrant was properly operated when the pool was filled while Markham stated to him that Freddy Santos, the city fire inspector, would be there to provide oversight and assistance as needed.

According to records obtained by this very paper via open records, John Erisman, the chief of police, said Ashlie and Aaron Graff, the owners of the pool, had been conversing with their neighbor Bill Evans, also a pool owner, about the possibility of using the City of Ennis fire hydrant in an effort to expedite the time it took to fill their pools.

On June 2, Evans supplied a fire house and attached it to the city’s hydrant under the supervision of their neighbor and Ennis Firefighter, Chad Wester.

"Not only is it apparent the city knew and refused to speak with The Ellis County Press, but Howerton had no problem responding back to Nick Todaro, editor for Ennis Daily News, the very first time he emailed and providing him a copy of the receipt without so much as even an open records request," said Charles D. Hatfield Jr., publisher.


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