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Watauga councilman's views provoking controversy

Posted Saturday, Sep. 10, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

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WATAUGA -- All Watauga residents should be authorized to openly carry firearms, and those who have concealed-handgun licenses should be required to carry their guns when they are at City Hall. Police should also train all residents who are older than 65 or disabled -- and any others who are interested -- to use shotguns and pistols for home defense.

That's part of Councilman Russell Clements' vision for the city, as outlined on a city goals survey and statements on his blog, watchingwatauga.wordpress.com.

He also says all city fees should be ended and as many city services as possible eliminated or privatized so that only essential services remain -- meaning those where someone otherwise will die.

Responsibility for maintenance of parks and recreation facilities should be turned over to churches, civic groups and residents who live near parks. Churches and civil groups should staff the library. Code enforcement would be left up to residents who can show the city proof of having talked with the offender, go on record to report the offender and pay a fee.

As controversial as those ideas may be, Clements, a systems administrator, said they are intended to reduce the town's expenses.

"This nation desperately needs some controversy," he said in an interview. "The present model isn't working; the nation is broken. We need to look at alternatives even on the local level."

But his statements have inspired Watauga residents to talk about a recall election for Clements, who was elected to the council in May after winning approval from the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party in a straw poll.

Andy Ivey, a 40-year resident and former council member, said the number of recall proponents is growing.

Clements has "the mentality that we can do without local government to take care of us," Ivey said. "That's what we have elected officials for -- to take care of our business. If he has that type of attitude he won't be able to make proper decisions for the city."

Longtime resident Bernard "Sarge" Bowman, who attends many council meetings, said he objects to the way Clements conducts himself during council sessions and to what he perceives as Clements' personal agenda.

"If we could do a recall tonight against Mr. Clements, I would be the first in line," he said. "He's for himself and himself alone."

Guns and training

Clements, who said he has a concealed-handgun license, said people should be trained to defend themselves with firearms. He declined to say what kind of weapon he carries or how often.

But he said he longs for the freedom he had when he lived in Phoenix.

"I wore a .357 on my hip," he said. "Anyone in Arizona would tell you it's not a problem. It used to be in Texas we had that opportunity, but they changed it after the Civil War."

He said the city's policy against bringing guns into City Hall is stupid because it denies him, other council members and residents who attend council meetings the ability to defend themselves.

"Nobody but police are allowed to carry a firearm during a session," he said. "Why should I have to give that up when I can do it anywhere else? What's special about City Hall?"

He says gun training for other residents makes sense.

"You know, the average response for [Watauga] police is four minutes, one of the best in our area," he said. "Although it's great, what would a senior citizen or any other person do until police show up? The city of Watauga spent $25,000 on weapons, ammo and training for police officers. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask them to pass that training on to people who need it."

Former Councilman Mike Steele, a former Marine and a concealed-handgun-license holder, said insisting that people attend council meetings armed is fringe thinking.

"His recommendation about training citizens to use a shotgun and pistol in home defense is loony," Steele said. "It's not the city's job to provide firearms training to its citizens."

Maintenance

Clements said his other ideas will help trim city budgets. On Wednesday, the city's proposed budget failed when Clements and Councilmen Gary Johnson and Robert Davis voted against it. Clements said he objected to a proposed tax rate increase intended to make up for declining revenue.

Clements said asking residents to lend a hand with maintaining city properties is reasonable.

"I would not have a problem with cutting the parks and recreation down, significantly cut the budget, and have civic groups and communities take over maintenance of their local parks," he said. "I have no idea if they'd be willing, but so far it's not been on the table" during council workshops.

Clements said he asked City Manager Scott Neils to look into privatizing landscape management.

"It didn't seem like there was much interest in doing that," he said. "It would offload a great deal of risk and equipment cost. There's a possibility of increased prices, but we'd reduce the risk of injury to employees. There was concern that we wouldn't get the level of service we have now if we outsource it. I don't have a problem cutting grass once a month instead of four times a month or whatever we decide to do with a contract."

As for the city library, Clements said he isn't happy with that expense, either.

"Historically, libraries have been run by charitable organizations," he said. "One of my concerns with our budget is that it often neglects what our alternatives are besides just the government. If the library was done away with, it doesn't mean books would not be available to kids."

While Clements said he supports a proposed 30 percent increases in water and sewer fees and a 100 percent increase in the drainage fee because those systems are in critically poor condition, he blames previous councils for failing to maintain them.

In his blog, he wrote that he "asked an attorney if it would not be possible to sue previous council members for a failure to discharge their fiduciary responsibilities to the city."

He was told that council members who act in good faith are immune from lawsuits. "I tend to wonder if they were, but alas, that is where we are," Clements wrote.

Steele said Clements, along with Johnson and Davis, have basically stopped city government.

"You can make changes, but you're not in there to vote no on everything," Steele said.

Like Clements or not, Watauga voters apparently must stick with the man for now.

The city charter says a council member must be in office at least six months before being subject to recall. "We can't do it until November," Ivey said.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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