Machacek recommended replacing Henneke with Diana Cheek. Councilwoman Cheryl Worley made the motion to replace Henneke and it was seconded by councilwoman Liz Garcia Holsey.
Councilmen Lionel Garcia and Buddy Zavesky voted against the motion. Councilmen Joey Thompson refused to vote on the item.
Council based its decision on the difference in hourly fees between the two accountants. Henneke had charged the city $75 per hour for services while Cheek has agreed to work for $45 per hour.
Council went against City Administrator Larry Zermeno’s recommendation of retaining Henneke’s services, which the city has utilized for almost two years.
“I walked into a bee’s nest when I came to work here,” said Zermeno, who was the city’s finance officer before taking over as city administrator in 2012.
“It’s taken years and money to get things to the point where we’re at today where we can put out a loan balance sheet that show correct numbers, which have been questioned in the past. Hiring Mrs. Henneke was my decision as city administrator. ... I’m hesitant to bring in another person at this point of the fiscal year. We had a very good audit last year. We had an unqualified audit opinion. The audit was performed within a month following the fiscal year, which was three months earlier than the year before, the year before and the year before. That’s due to the work that Miss Henneke did with us.”
Zermeno said he felt he was being circumvented by council.
“Things are working,” Zermeno said. “I’m hesitant to mess that up, to change that. I’m also hesitant to let council come in and say we’re going to do this. That’s an operational decision. I welcome your vision, your guidance. You make rules and ordinances. My role is to run this staff and to make sure the books are correct.”
Zermeno told council he could not take full responsibility for the performance of Cheek.
“I have always stood up and said that anything that goes wrong or anything that is questionable is my responsibility,” Zermeno said. “I have always stood up and said I’m responsible for that, whether it’s with public works or accounting or economic development. I have always said I am responsible. You take that power away from me and start making operational decisions, I can no longer say that.
“What I see happening is an engagement for somebody else to replace a working relationship that I put into place and that has been successful for us.”
“But it cost us over $100,000,” Holsey said.
“Yes, it has been very expensive,” Zermeno said. “But we went back and did probably a number of years of reconciliations. Miss Henneke has visited us probably twice this calendar year. She has worked herself where we thought she would work herself. That kind of money is not going to be spent on her again. Her rate will be the same, but the requirement of her being here is not the same. We’ve arrived financially.”
“I’m able to stand up here and say we’re good, we’re going to have a good audit. We’ve gone through investigations, but we’ve come out clean because of this work. If you change that, I can’t make promises because I will have that responsibility taken away from me.”
Zavesky said the new consultant would have to charge the city for work Henneke has already performed.
“This other lady is going to have to come in and look at all what the prior one did and start all over,” Zavesky said. “The $45 is going to add up.”
“If she has done such a good job, then it shouldn’t be hard for Miss Cheek to come in and take over,” Holsey said.
Machacek said she has worked with Cheek in the past and wanted Cheek to help her with creating next year’s budget.
“It is the mayor’s responsibility, by law, to put together a budget,” Machacek said. “As I understand from our city administrator, we are working under a summary budget right now and I am trying to put a budget together for this next year. ... I want to have Miss Cheek come in and assist me.”
Zermeno said council was making a dangerous precedent.
“It’s a slippery slope you’re going onto,” Zermeno said. “You are taking control from me. That’s my job. I’m not going to be able to stand here and tell you I’m responsible if you’re going to take that control away.”
“And I will not be responsible,” finance assistant Brenda Moses said.
“I don’t know if I want to work under those circumstances,” Zermeno said.
In other business, council:
• unanimously elected council woman Cheryl Worley as mayor pro tempore;
• unanimously authorized the mayor to sign the 2014 memorandum of understanding between the county and city for operation of the municipal auditorium;
• unanimously authorized the mayor to sign the TCEQ domestic wastewater permit application administrative report;
• unanimously established 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 30 as a workshop session to review the FY 15 budget calendar;
• unanimously authorized the city administrator to make necessary changes to bank signature cards adding the mayor and mayor pro tempore as signatory on all banking accounts at Prosperity Bank and American Bank removing the former mayor and former mayor pro tempore.