The Hewitt City Council is set to replace its city attorney during a regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in City Hall, but it appears public comment will not be open until after the vote.

The agenda, posted Friday, includes separate items to fire longtime city attorney Charlie Buenger and his law firm and to consider interviewing or hiring Mike Dixon, with Haley & Olson PC. The item for public comment is not scheduled until after those votes. Past Hewitt council meetings have included public comment after approval of the consent agenda but before any discussion or votes on individual topics.

“Those recommendations were forwarded to us through Mr. Dixon,” City Manager Adam Miles said. “I understood that Mr. Dixon would work with city staff to develop the agenda for this council meeting and I believe that is what he has done.”

The council tried to remove Buenger as city attorney during a special meeting Sept. 4, but after reviewing the agenda, Dixon told the council during another meeting it was unclear whether Buenger was fired properly. Dixon told the council he would be uncomfortable being considered as city attorney until he was certain the city followed the correct procedure to fire Buenger.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Fortenberry voted against the council’s move Sept. 4. He said pushing back the public comment period for Monday’s meeting places a limit on residents’ ability to have their voices heard on a topic that has garnered a significant amount of attention.

“I think it is extremely oppressive in nature and I think it is teetering on violating the First Amendment,” Fortenberry said. “I think it is limiting the voice of every voter and every person 18 years old or above living in Hewitt, Texas, to express their opinion to the city, the council and the media at one time.”

The agenda also includes a proposal to limit the scope of public comments allowed during city meetings. The proposal would prohibit “complaints or personal attacks against employees or officials” during public comments.

Other cities have similar restrictions but the policy would be new for Hewitt.

The public comment period for Monday’s meeting is scheduled to take place after a vote on the limit to public comments.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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