VAN ALSTYNE — In a contentious meeting, the Van Alstyne City Council voted 4-1 to remove Van Alstyne Economic Development Corp. board President Randy Uselton from the board effective immediately. The decision was made during a special council meeting that was originally scheduled to discuss a proposed annexation into the city.
The decision was made following about 13 minutes of conversation and discussion in which procedure, ethics and the propriety of the conversation and action was called into question by Mayor Larry Cooper and members of the city council.
Uselton was not present during Tuesday’s meeting and attempts to reach him Tuesday evening were unsuccessful.
“I am disappointed by this and feel this was unethical without him here to defend himself,” Cooper said.
The item was put on the agenda by Alderman Suzon Crowell, who said she has received several complaints from Van Alstyne residents regarding Uselton’s conduct and demeanor when dealing with residents and members.
During a workshop meeting held on July 10, the council spent more than two hours discussing complaints from four individuals, including three staff of the EDC. All three of these complaints were regarding Uselton and his conduct within the EDC, Crowell said following the meeting.
When asked about any formal complaints against Uselton, Cooper said that he only knew of one formal complaint regarding Uselton that had since been dismissed and found to be unfounded. Cooper added that he thought Alderman Teddie Ann Salmon had received verbal complaints regarding Uselton.
During the meeting, Salmon said she had received complaints that Uselton was working to keep the EDC director from interacting with certain businesses in the area. Additionally, she said the complaints allege that Uselton did not always follow formal meeting procedures with the EDC, she said.
Crowell said she decided to seek the removal of Uselton following an EDC Board meeting in June where a “lack of leadership, a lack of procedure and (lack of) respect for board members” was shown. Crowell said she attended the meeting, where more than 10 members of the public were in attendance, because she wanted to see how the EDC worked. Crowell joined the Van Alstyne City Council earlier this year.
“I think the other people went there because there were issues,” she said.
Cooper said he believes the gathering, and arguments, during the June 26 meeting was instigated and meant as a show.
When the item regarding the “removal and/or appointment of members for the Van Alstyne Economic Development Corp. board of directors” came up, Crowell made a motion to remove Uselton from the board. The motion was seconded by Salmon.
However, Cooper announced that he was denying the motion for a vote, stating that there was a lack of any reason given for the dismissal and Uselton was unable to comment or respond to any council questions. In response, Salmon said the position was at-will and the council could act on removal at any time for any reason.
After conferring with City Attorney Julie Fort, it was determined that the mayor had the ability not to call for a vote on the request, but he could be overruled by a simple majority vote by the council. The vote to overrule Cooper passed with three votes for and two against, with Lee Thomas and Brad Clough dissenting.
Upon the vote, Cooper proceeded to call on specific members of the EDC board to comment on Uselton’s conduct. When asked to comment, board Vice President Patrick Flynn said he has no reason to complain about Uselton’s conduct and that he was competent and easy to work with.
Crowell objected to the line of questioning as she felt it was not appropriate for discussion in open session before the public and that it could lead to a conversation that is not flattering of Uselton. Crowell also noted that she still had a motion that had yet to be acted on, despite the ongoing discussion.
Clough said he was not comfortable acting to remove the EDC president without giving the board the chance to take action and make a recommendation to the council.
“I want to allow them to do their due diligence prior to us taking action,” he said.
Following a brief discussion with legal counsel, Salmon motioned to call for the vote on the decision to remove Uselton. As the council was preparing to vote, EDC board member Kaaren Teuber entered the meeting and said she would like the chance to comment before the vote.
Cooper said she was not recognized as a speaker and could not address the council until she was. Crowell interjected stating that she would like to hear from Teuber, much like Cooper wished to hear from other members of the EDC board.
At this point, Cooper relented and let the motion to dismiss Uselton move forward. The motion passed 4-1 with Clough the lone dissenting voice.
Following the meeting, Cooper said he has had no difficulties in the past working with Uselton. He added that the removal of the board president puts the EDC in a precarious position as two other members are expected to term out in the near future. To his knowledge, Cooper said, there have been no applications for the upcoming vacancies.