More questions than answers on Wimberley’s proposal to change the scope of its wastewater plans was the feeling many residents had following a mandatory Jan. 10 public hearing at the Wimberley Community Center.
As a result, resident’s fears are growing over how Wimberley will restructure plans to bring wastewater service to the downtown sector.
The public hearing, required by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), was meant to gather public comment on Wimberley’s plans to shift the scope of its wastewater facility. It was held after officials terminated a contract with Black Castle for a city-owned plant, shifting to a facility that would be operated by Aqua Texas, a third-party management company.
But dissonance over the subject spilled into the public hearing.
At the hearing, 95 residents signed up to speak, but only 27 people addressed the council. Speakers were called in random order by Wimberley council member Gary Barchfeld.
Former Wimberley Mayor Steve Thurber, a critic of Wimberley’s plans for a third-party facility, issued a protest on how the city “arbitrarily decided to change the rules” and randomly selected speakers. However, Wimberley Mayor Susan Jaggers said the city council had the discretion to run the meeting as it saw fit.
Councilmember Allison Davis asked the council to call members of the audience by the order they signed up, but that request was quickly denied.
“I just wanted to register my complaint that we are going out of order,” Davis said as she addressed the council. “People came here early to sign up to ensure they will be heard.”
Barchfeld said he was reading the list in a specific numerical order.
Despite the concerns, TWDB officials said the city did not break any rules during the meeting.
“While the public hearing is required as part of the environmental review process, the hearing is the responsibility of the city and was being held by the city, not the TWDB,” said Kimberley Leggett, TWDB media specialist. “TWDB staff does not attend these public hearings being held by our borrowers.”
It is unknown at this time if the TWDB will be required to hold another public hearing in the future.
But those who opposed the format Wimberley chose to take for the public hearing worried it further fuels transparency problems.
In a series of emails obtained by the News-Dispatch between TWDB and city officials, Kristin Miller, TWDB Environmental reviewer, said the city should not limit the number of pro and con responses, which has been implemented in past public hearings.
Miller said in order to encourage public participation, the city might want to hold an additional public hearing if there is enough participation to span more than just one meeting.
“Does the TWDB expect all who show up to speak to have the opportunity to do so,” asked City Administrator Shawn Cox. “In the past, commenters have been limited. For example, in the past, we have limited comments to be equal among pros & cons and stopped once the balance was exhausted.”