The Commerce City Council formally accepted the resignation of Commerce City Manager Darrek Ferrell at Tuesday’s meeting.
Ferrell had served as City Manager since August of 2016. He had come under fire through the years by some in the community for his handling of the resignations of former police chiefs Kerry Crews and Jason Rector, while also making strides to improve water quality and employee pay throughout his tenure.
Several community members attended the meeting with the express purpose of seeing if the council would accept his resignation. The vote was held following an executive session that lasted for more than two hours and fifteen minutes. The handful of people that had remained in city hall were able to see the council unanimously vote to accept Ferrell’s resignation.
Councilmember Dr. Gene Lockhart delivered high praise regarding Ferrell’s time with the city in a statement following the vote.
“Darrek brought extensive experience and a comprehensive knowledge of city government to the position,” Lockhart said. He cited the city’s improved financial situation and bond rating as examples of improvements.
Ferrell sent a prepared statement to the Commerce Journal regarding his time as City Manager.
“Over the past three years, we have accomplished a great deal, and there are many more projects still in the works. We began by building capacity through cleaning up the financial management of the City and filling long-vacant leadership positions in the City Staff,” Ferrell said. “We made progress from my first week when the Interim Finance Director came to my office believing the City had no money and was going to have to shut down to now making plans next year to leverage nearly $3 million toward street improvements identified in an objective and systematic way.”
He continued: “Working as a team, the City Council and the City Staff have improved water quality, better equipped our first responders, completed several outstanding projects, and facilitated development across the community at record levels. I hope the City of Commerce continues to make advancements like these and that one day it becomes abundantly clear that much of that progress is the result of preparation and planning done in the last three years.”
Some residents welcomed the announcement. Local businessman Jake Cunningham has been one of the most vocal critics of Ferrell for years and attended the council meeting. He told the Commerce Journal that he hopes a new culture will be brought with whoever takes the city manager position next.
“Darrek Ferrell’s time in Commerce has ended but the rejuvenation of this community is just beginning. We need someone that will put infrastructure and community development at the top of the list,” Cunningham said. “My hope is we find a City Manager with integrity and grit, yet capable of communicating professionally with all of us. We have a great opportunity before us.”
Mayor Wyman Williams said that a special meeting of the city council is scheduled for Saturday where they will discuss selecting an interim city manager. Williams says that the council will then begin the interview process and choose a search firm.
Service awards were given out to several city employees at the meeting. Stacey Miller, Ramon Medrano-Mendoza, David Wallace, Cameron Foster and Dustin Caplinger were honored for five years of service. Jeremy Littlefield, Charles Armstrong and Laurencio Marquez were honored for 10 years of service. Steve Scott and Marcus Cantera were honored for 15 years. Joe Pretre was honored for 30 years of service to the Commerce Fire Department.
The first two applications for the Neighborhood Empowerment Zone were accepted by the council. The NEZ was established earlier this fall to provide incentives for development in the northeast portion of Commerce, such as waiving fees and providing some relief on property taxes.
A property located at 609 Plum Street would mean $2,335.50 in waived fees and $2,349.30 in property taxes over three years.
A property at 708 Sycamore would be developed into three duplexes and cost the city $7,727.05 in waived fees and $9,480 in property taxes over a single year.
Council member Beckey Thompson expressed concern over the Plum Street property, saying that it was valued much too low at $95,500. “It doesn’t seem right,” Thompson said.
However, when a motion was brought to a vote, the council voted unanimously in favor of approving the application.
An ordinance was passed on first reading to amend the city’s parking map to denote “no parking” on both sides of Mayo Street in-between Lee and Hunt streets. Currently, there is no parking allowed on the west side of the street only, but Public Safety Director Chris Bassham said the road is too narrow for emergency vehicles to safely traverse if cars are parked on the east side.
The measure will need to be passed on a second reading to be added to the city’s code of ordinances.
Two budget amendments were approved unanimously. One was to transfer $75,500 into the Airport and Equipment Replacement Fund for a new fuel tank at the airport. The other amendment was to transfer $115,000 from the Public Utilities Fund into the Capital Projects Fund to fund a new animal shelter.
State Representative-hopeful Bryan Slaton spoke before the council during the public comment period. “We need new leadership in Austin… I want to figure out what’s best for Commerce and Hunt County,” Slaton said. Slaton is attempting to unseat incumbent Dan Flynn for the Texas House District 2 seat for the third election in a row, coming up short in the Republican primaries in 2016 and 2018. In 2018’s primary, Slaton won the vote in Hunt County but fell behind in the rest of the district.
Property tax collections were announced at $404,058, which is 18.5 percent of the total tax levy. Sales tax collections came in over budget, and the city has collected $311,179 to date this current fiscal year. That figure is more than $13,000 higher than this point last year.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Commerce City Council is Jan. 21 at 6 p.m.