Legal defense funds spark spirited debate at city council meeting


Aug. 27, 2009 at 3:27 a.m.

Victoria's proposed budget got initial approval from the city council Thursday, but only after a heated debate about funds for legal fees.

Council Member David Hagan, the only one opposed to the budget adoption, said it includes $150,000 for legal defense of three city officials who were indicted last year.

Saying it wasn't right to be increasing people's tax bills to pay for this, he made a motion to remove the entire amount from the budget. It failed for lack of a second.

"I'm so very disappointed you made that motion," Council Member Paul Polasek said. "It's very easy to take advantage of what the public doesn't know and politicize it."

The public doesn't know the entire story because many of the discussions have taken place in executive session, he said.

"I think the public has the right to know about the $150,000 in there," Hagan said. "I am absolutely doing this in good faith, sir."

A member of the audience later objected to the way Hagan was being treated, which prompted a response from Polasek.

"I have never been talked to by a reverend in the manner I was talked to," said Polasek, referring to an earlier discussion with Hagan in executive session.

Hagan responded that at least his actions in closed session were not illegal.

Mayor Will Armstrong, Police Chief Bruce Ure, former city attorney David Smith, police Lt. Ralph Buentello were indicted for interfering with an investigation and for perjury.

The city council agreed later to put up $50,000 for each person's legal defense. The proposed budget includes another $150,000 in case it's needed for their continued defense.

Armstrong said after the meeting he has spent only $37,000 of the $50,000 allotted him. His indictment was dropped, but the perjury charges against the other three stand.

During a public hearing on the proposed proposed tax rate, the city council heard from a string of about seven or eight people asking for tax relief because of the recession.

"I'm looking at my neighbors and I'm looking at the housing market," said Russell Pruitt with Citizens for Responsible Government. "I know all is not good in Victoria."

He called on the council to keep tax income neutral.

Jeff Williams said that the sales tax income has been less than last year in six of the last eight months. He said the council would have to go back to 1986 to find a worse year.

"My business has seen a 20-percent decline in sales in the last six months," he said. "I've cut my staff in half."

The economy is in a recession and he called on the council to adopt the lowest tax rate possible.

Dale Zuck with the Victoria Republican Conservative Caucus said his group will have a tax protest Tuesday aimed at keeping the city property tax down.

"Here in Victoria our economy has been kept somewhat stable," he said. But that's partially because of the construction of new schools in Victoria and that will be winding down, he said.

That means more people will be unemployed and that could in turn affect the city's sales tax income, he said.



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