Tensions between the City of Weatherford and Zion Hill residents boiled over Tuesday night during a regular city council meeting, causing Mayor Craig Swancy to briefly order the city council chamber emptied.
Facing dozens of Zion Hill residents Tuesday night, Swancy minutes after the meeting began shut down attempts by the group to address council members on the proposed annexation.
“Before we go to our consent agenda items, I want to address the crowd to let you know that we will not be addressing the Zion Hill annex,” Swancy said. “There will be no comments on it at all tonight. There are two dates that are already set aside for it. That’s Sept. 12 and Sept. 14 where you can come and make your public comments all you want to. Those dates are set aside specifically for this. Tonight is not that date.”
The city council typically allows residents who have filled out a card with information before the meeting to address the city council for three minutes on any city-related topic, including non-agenda items, during a time specifically set aside on the agenda for “citizen comments on non-agenda items.”
When asked why the council would not allow speakers on the topic, Swancy said, “Because we don’t want to.”
The crowd erupted in laughter and yelling at the council.
Swancy used his gavel and said, “If you cannot behave, I will ask this officer to empty the room.”
“Empty the room,” Swancy said when the crowd did not immediately quiet. “Please leave the room.”
“Shame on you!” and “Tyranny,” some yelled at Swancy as people left the room.
“Now those who wish to be civil and act accordingly are more than welcome to return to the room,” Swancy said after the room quieted. “I’m just not going to put up with any nonsense tonight.”
Many of those who’d hoped to speak stayed out in the foyer – which is equipped with a sound system allowing people to hear council discussions – during much of the meeting while others left.
Standing just outside the meeting, some Zion Hill community residents contacted an attorney and a television station about the interaction.
Approximately a half hour later, as Swancy called Weatherford resident Darwin Yeary to start the non-agenda item comment period, council member Kevin Cleveland asked for a recess to seek counsel from the city attorney on a non-agenda item.
Following the closed session discussion and statements from Yeary and Elizabeth Hunkele on other non-agenda topics, Swancy apologized.
“I’d like to apologize to you and the people of north of town and all that area,” Swancy said to Hunkele. “I’d like to hear them speak. But I don’t want to hear them speak and scream and yell and be rowdy. This is not the place to do that. But I’d like to apologize to you and ask you to convey that apology to the people of Zion Hill. If the people of Zion Hill would like to come back in and be orderly, I’ll hear them. But they have to do it in order.”
Swancy allowed Hunkele and five other representatives of the groups of affected residents in and near the proposed annexation areas to speak against the proposal.
“You will not only rob them of their rights as citizens but of their dreams that they have built, not only for themselves but for generations to come,” Melissa Schmidt, who owns property that could be annexed in October, said. “I implore you as a citizen possible of the city to reconsider this annexation because, yes, it isn’t a lucrative tax base. It is farmland. And if you don’t think we will fight to the bitter end for whatever we can, for the homesteads that we have built there, my question to you is, do you have the fight in you?”
Cleveland later asked for the city to schedule an informal town hall to answer questions and address misinformation he heard Tuesday night during the comments from Zion Hill community residents.
“I just feel like if we could have a town hall-style meeting where we could have a little better discussions, we might get some of these things smoothed over,” Cleveland said.
City Manager Sharon Hayes said they could pick a day the week before the public hearings for the town hall.