The Gonzales City Council has a Special Called Meeting set for Thursday, June 24 at 6 p.m.
The meeting includes three workshop presentations: one on Certificates of Obligation and General Refunding Obligation bonds; one on departmental budget requests for the 2021-22 fiscal year; and one on the results of a study on untility rates.
The council will then go into closed session to discuss litigation over the J.B. Wells estate.
Once back in open session, the council wll discuss and consider action on the closed session.
The council will then discuss and consider possible action on Resolution #2051-53, Authorizing Publication of Notice of Intention to Issue Certificates of Obligation to Finance Improvements at J.B. Wells Park; and Ordinance #2021-19 "Authorizing the Issuance of Up to $1,950,000 in Principal Amount of City of Gonzales, Texas General Obligation Refunding Bonds, Series 2021; Authorizing the Sale Thereof Pursuant to a Negotiated Underwriting, a Competitive Sale, or a Private Placement; Delegating Authority to Certain City Officials to Determine the Method of Sale, to Select Underwriters (if the Bonds are to be Sold Pursuant to a Negotiated Underwriting), and to Approve All Final Terms of the Bonds; Approving and Authorizing the Execution of All Instruments and Procedures Related Thereto Including a Paying Agent/Registrar Agreement and a Purchase Contract; Authorizing the Preparation and Distribution of an Official Statement, if Necessary; and Containing Other Provisions Relating to the Subject."
The Gonzales City Council approved a $1.825 million settlement in the lawsuit brought in 2017 by the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary against the city over its handling of property it received from the estate of J.B. Wells.
The settlement avoids more legal fees and the city’s possible loss of the land that now houses the J.B. Wells Park, Expo and Arena. It also leaves the city to find a way to come with the money.
The decision came on a 5-0 vote of the council at its regular meeting on Thursday, June 10. The vote included newly sworn-in District 2 councilwoman Sherry Tumlinson-Koepp, Mayor Connie Kacir, newly elected Mayor Pro Tem Rob Brown, Bobby O’Neal, and Joseph “Poochy” Kridler.
The city council will now have to decide how how to pay for settlement.
City Manager Tim Patek said a certificate of obligation bond is a likely option.
“The council will be looking at all possibilities,” Patek told The Inquirer the morning after the meeting.
The next step will likely be a special called meeting where the council can discuss options, Brown said.
“I’m not sure what all of the options are,” Brown said. “We have to explore all – and that is the key, ‘all’ – of the options to see which will have the minimum impact on taxpayers. We as a collective group and the staff have to explore all possible options at our disposal.
“$1.825 million has to come from somewhere.”
The settlement averts a trail – or trails – and the related litigation costs. The city, as of September 30, 2020, had spent $353,035.85 on litigation. The Inquirer is awaiting a response from a records requests for the amount spent since Oct. 1, 2020.
For Koepp, avoiding a trail was a good step.
“I think that ultimately taking a chance to allow the case to go to trial was too much and in order to mitigate the risk, we needed to settle and thankfully all parties involved on both sides were of the same mind to settle the case,” Koepp said.
Like Koepp, Brown found it in the best interest of the city to avoid a trail and possible appeals.
“I think that ultimately taking a chance to allow the case to go to trial was too much and in order to mitigate the risk, we needed to settle and thankfully all parties involved on both sides were of the same mind to settle the case,” he said.
Koepp was asked to vote on the settlement on her first day on the council.
“It was interesting hearing about it all from council members and staff who have been involved in the proceedings from the beginning,” she said. “It was a big decision, but I feel that the council made the right decision and the city can move forward.”
Kacir was traveling and could not be reached for comment. E-mails send to the city addresses of O’Neal and Kridler were not answered. A phone message left with the seminary’s attorney, Joseph Marrs of Marrs, Ellis and Hodge, was not returned.
Brown said he was impressed by the mediation team, which included Kacir, O’Neal, Patek and Director of Finance Laura Zella.
“The mediation team that represented Gonzales, I have to say ‘thank you’ for staying focused on the objective,” Brown said. “In my mind they did best for the City of Gonzales. I’m pleased and thankful they stayed with it and stayed focused.”
The seminary filed suit claiming that the conditions of J.B. Wells’s estate were not met by the city, “violating the terms of the gift,” where the land was to be made a public park. The seminary sought ownership of the park. The provisions of the will state that if the city did not meet the conditions of Wells’s last will and testament, the land shall be sold, and all proceeds given to the seminary.
The J.B. Wells Park, Expo and Arena was appraised at $7.349 million by the Gonzales Central Appraisal District ,and $11.3 million by Bolton Real Estate according to case filings.