The council announced the hiring of unspecified legal counsel at a Dec. 5 meeting after an executive session. The council also announced the engagement of government resources to assist in the search for a new city manager after it unanimously voted to fire previous City Manager Clay Pearson and appoint Deputy City Manager Trent Epperson to the role as interim.
Mayor Kevin Cole said the city is hiring legal counsel for the purpose of acquiring a “corrected worksheet,” referring to the sheet from Brazoria County that contained incorrect information regarding property values in Harris County, causing the city’s deficit.
“The way the law is set up, if there's a clerical error or any kind of an error in the [property tax value assessment] worksheet, you can't fix it. So everybody knows it's wrong, but there's no fix,” Cole said.
Cole said a corrected worksheet would allow the city to work with the correct values in the creation of next year’s budget. He said he could not comment further due to the potential for litigation.
During the meeting, Council Member Alex Kamkar called for a hiring freeze and expressed discomfort with the city staff’s proposed refinancing plans to address the deficit. He previously opposed the fiscal year 2023 budget plan during its discussion and adoption.
"We are grasping for straws," Kamkar said. “We may have to go seek a legal remedy because we currently don't have the tools to go and fix this problem that we have partially created, and that just tells you how serious the situation we're in is."
Cole indicated that all city council members had the opportunity to speak on any perceived inconsistencies with the tax assessment process, saying that no single person or group was to blame.
“We can point blame all we want,” Cole said. “We're going to have a special audit group that’s going to look into exactly where and how this got here. Belittling staff and those types of things does not help and does not advance the ball.”
The council previously passed an item Nov. 21 to select a third party to “review and prepare a written forensic audit with respect to the role of the parties and processes involved with the City’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget process.” Cole said that the city awaits a proposal from a firm before moving forward with the audit.
The item stated that the party will report directly to the city council and audit committee when hired. The audit is expected to be produced and distributed to the council by Dec. 31, and Cole said the council may be able to move forward at the next meeting on Dec. 12.