Bill Woodall

Bill Woodall

Earlier in this millenium, Mayor Ronnie Spradlin and our dear pal Jean Laird decided Kilgore’s municipal finery should include a coat of daffodils. Together they ordered a huge quantity of daffodil bulbs and set about turning Kilgore yellow.

It was an admirable effort in which we were willing participants. They, and we, were rewarded with many hundreds of bright yellow daffodil blossoms.

They were not the first to decide Kilgore needed an “official” bloom.

In the 1970s, Kilgore city commission – until a charter review committee effort some 15 or 16 years ago, the city council was called city commission – was urged by Kilgore’s garden clubs to designate an official city flower. They voted: the periwinkle (vinca minor) is Kilgore’s official flower to this day.

Bob Bustin took time away from his city commission responsibilities in the ’80s to visit England. How do we know? The minutes from a couple of meetings carefully noted “Commissioner Bustin is absent due to vacationing in England.”

City business was different 40 years ago.

Most of you know I spend part of each week digitizing old city records – at the behest of city manager Josh Selleck, the goal of this “intern” is to prepare municipal archives for the inevitable day the old paper records crumble.

Beginning with files from before the city was incorporated in 1931, I’ve worked my way into the mid-’80s – for now I’ll call the 1980s the telephone era.

With surprising frequency, city commission sessions in the ’80s included a vote to ratify the results of a “phone poll” – a maneuver completely, explicitly illegal today and, at the very least, questionable even then.

Almost surely arranged with no attempt at duplicity or malignance, members of the commission could efficiently (in the ’90s an East Texas mayor – my dad – railed against the rule, saying municipal meetings were much more efficient when city councilors could speak privately) discharge some routine items by phone. An individual never identified in city minutes would simply call the members of the commission and record their “vote” on various items.

Mostly those phone polls dealt with matters of little significance – appointing a new member of the Parks and Recreation Committee, for example. Occasionally, though, they dealt with fairly weighty measures. In one phone poll, commissioners voted to award a $129,000 bid for improvements to Dudley Road.

From a historical perspective, those votes deprive us of a record of which commissioner supported the decision. Were they unanimous or were there split decisions? We can’t know. From a practical standpoint, it would have been difficult for voters to know how those decisions were made.

Were other topics discussed in those phone conversations or were they strictly limited to the items ratified at the next public session? Again, we can’t know.

Were there posted agendas? Did they make provision for citizen participation? Again...

Today, newly-elected or appointed public officials are required to complete a “course” covering the Texas Open Meetings Act – a state statute with strict proscriptions against such telephone “polls.” Reporters refer to those unofficial meetings as “walking quorums” and keep their eyes and ears open for hints that public business is being conducted privately.

From a distance of several decades, we can only assume the public and the press were more tolerant  then than now.

When voters approved bonds to build the public pool beside Henderson Boulevard, they approved the issuance of $30,000 in bonds... but the city was only able to find buyers for a $10,000. So they met with the low bidder and offered him the opportunity to buy all or some of the 20 unsold bonds. He demurred. “Please wait in another room” they metaphorically asked him, while we consult with the next-lowest bidder. Happy to help and surely eager to work, the next-lowest bidder bought all 20, effectively financing his company’s contract to build what is still today a magnificent pool.

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