By CHRIS AGEE
Following a collision with an exposed manhole cover that caused about $1,700 to her vehicle, Corrections Corporation of America employee Alicia Francis sought to receive damages from the city.
Francis appeared before Mineral Wells City Council earlier this month after her claim was initially denied by the city's insurance carrier.
According to City Clerk Juanita Formby, the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool based its decision on the fact city staff filled in the area with gravel until permanent repairs could be made.
Though the gravel was eventually disbursed, leaving the manhole exposed again, Formby said insurers ruled to deny the claim because no one had called the city to notify staff of the situation.
City Manager Lance Howerton explained the TMLIRP opinion: the city had sovereign immunity in the case and was thus not liable for Francis' damages.
Council member Kevin Harrison, also a CCA employee, said he was one of the first to hear of his colleague's crash, explaining he and other co-workers were very much aware of the road hazard.
"I'm in a truck, so it didn't bother me," he said, though he recalled the incident and suggested the city bear a portion of the financial responsibility.
"You set a dangerous precedent," said City Attorney George Gault, explaining if a municipality is unaware of a situation, accepting liability will open the door for future abuses.
Several council members expressed concern for Francis, with Rick Bennett offering to personally help.
"I had to have a front-end alignment because of a pothole here in town. I'd be willing to give her $100 out of my pocket to help her as a single mom," he said, asking Gault if he could collect money privately to assist her.
According to a statement from someone identified as Francis' friend, the road was under construction and there was an insufficient barrier around the manhole to bring attention to the hazard. She also alluded to the presence of city workers on the scene of the crash, which initiated additional discussion among council members and city staff.
"I don't remember anything about city workers on the scene," said council member Thomas Lively.
Formby explained she was unaware of the claim and therefore did not include it in her correspondence with TMLIRP.
Francis said she did not have an opportunity to share her story in its entirety to the insurer's representative.
City Works Director Bobby Baker explained the sewer crew was working nearby and, according to protocol, would have notified the streets department had crews been aware of a hazardous situation.
Bennett recommended tabling the item until city staff could conduct further investigation to determine if any city worker was aware of the exposed manhole prior to the crash.
The motion passed 4 to 1 with Lively casting the opposing vote.
Council approves board appointments
Filling vacancies on two city boards, council members voted to accept recommendations made by the Mayor's Committee on Boards and Commissions, which consists of council members Tammy Underwood and John Upham.
Brian Reagan was confirmed as Bill Pierce's replacement on the Planning and Zoning Commission following Pierce's resignation.
James D. Hailey was selected to fill the Parks Advisory Board long held by Jackie Harvey, who also recently resigned.
Reagan is a minister at North Oak Church of Christ and Hailey is a parole officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.