Major Shake Up in Hearne Government

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Hearne's council meeting began with a bang, as two councilmembers tendered their resignations. Neither Reverend James Crawford nor Dr. Marc Catalina showed up, but both had statements read for them.

Crawford said another job opportunity had arisen that would take too much of his time.

In the case of Catalina, he was notified in July that he had not paid his taxes in full. In his statement, he says he immediately paid them at that time.

"This past Wednesday, I was advised that my July payment violated the city charter," he wrote. "Even though this was an honest, one-time oversight on my part, I must resign from council service."

City attorney Bryan Russ spoke on behalf of the city. "They're just going to try to move forward and do what they have to do to keep the city running in a professional and dutiful manner," Russ said.

However, Hearne business owner Kathy Stracener was among the many crying foul on the city. After making an open records request, she received documents showing Councilman Crawford was also delinquent in tax payments. Stracener describes the day new councilmembers were to be sworn in this past summer.

"They realized late that afternoon that he had not paid his taxes," she said, "so the city attorney called the tax assessor-collector after hours, made her come down here and accept his payment. The council meeting was delayed so that he could get his payment in so he could stay on the council. That was manipulated by the city attorney."

When asked if the city knew about taxes of Crawford's, Russ said, "I'm not able to comment about why Reverend Crawford resigned other than what's in his letter."

To make this council meeting even more chaotic, two unidentified sitting councilmembers made a request to evaluate city manager Ric Walton. When they emerged from executive session, Walton had tendered his resignation, which was accepted by council.

Walton and all councilmembers refused comment on the matters. The city manager had been under investigation for sexual harassment allegations, but no reason was given for his resignation.

A special election for the two council seats will take place in February. The city will also begin the search for an interim city manager immediately.