Mayor Glenn Loch (left) presents James Hughes (right) with a proclamation denoting Jan. 21 as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the city during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. Hughes is a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration planning committee, which will host a parade and community celebration on Jan. 21 downtown.

A proposed city ordinance would tell drivers to hang up what some consider to be a bad driving habit.

In a 4-0 vote, the Gainesville City Council passed on first reading an ordinance amending city code by adding a section titled “Use of Hand-held Mobile Telephones in School Zones” to regulations pertaining to school zones.

The Council met Tuesday night in regular session. Councilmen Jim Goldsworthy and Charles Draper were absent.

Barry Sullivan, city manager, said the ordinance would forbid both sending text messages while driving and other applications such as games and cameras. The ordinance applies to personal data assistants (PDAs), as well. Hands-free units would be allowed, he said.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of cities in the North Texas area are doing this, and it sounds like a good idea,” he said.

The cities of Highland Park and University Park were the first in Texas to adopt a similar resolution, with other cities following.

Councilmen Woody Williams and Vince Rippy questioned whether there were any direct reports of accidents or brushes with accidents due to negligent drivers talking on cellular phones.

Interim Chief of Police Steven Fleming said a school crossing guard, Kanita Maxwell, said she complained about drivers talking on phones when they should be extra-aware of pedestrians in the immediate vicinity.

“If it stops one child from being hit or killed, then it’s worth it,” Fleming said.

Rippy asked about the legal ramifications of the ordinance, if it passes, and whether or not talking on a cell phone while driving would be better enforced under the offense “failure to control motor vehicle.”

Municipal Judge Chris Cypert said the ordinance would not be one that would affect one’s driver’s license status.

Rippy said there are other devices and habits that can be distractions while driving, such as music sharing devices, turning a rear-view mirror downward to monitor back-seat children passengers, etc.

“I hesitate to pass ordinances on behavior, rather than consequences,” he said.

He moved to pass the ordinance on first reading so fellow councilman Draper could offer his comments.

“I hate to start mandating behavior,” Rippy added. “... Technology comes and goes. But responsibility does not.”

A second reading of the ordinance is tentatively scheduled for the Council meeting Jan. 29. At that point, the Council has the option of approving the ordinance on second reading by suspending the city charter’s requirement of three readings, or sending it to a third and final reading at a future meeting.

In other business, the Council voted 4-0 to pass an ordinance on third and final reading pertaining to development in the downtown historic district.

The ordinance adds Article VII, “Historic District,” to Chapter 15 planning and development of the Code of Ordinances of the city. It establishes architectural guidelines for historic, commercial and residential development within the city, sets up a $100 fee for application review and designates a preservation officer (possibly Lynette Pettigrew).

See the Dec. 9 Register for a detailed overview of the new ordinances, which also sets the framework for establishing other historic preservation districts in the city.

The only changes, according to discussion at the meeting, were fixing discrepancies between instances of the word “heritage” and replacing it with “historic.” No substantive changes were made.

In other business, the Council voted 4-0 to authorize the mayor, for and on behalf of the city of Gainesville, to execute a request for waiver for local match fund participation requirements on Federal Off System Bridge Program Project with the Texas Department of Transportation for bridge replacements as part of the Pecan Creek Channelization Project.

Basically, according to Sullivan, this includes replacing the California Street bridge at Pecan Creek and temporarily detouring traffic to Broadway. The Broadway bridge would also be replaced following work on the California Street bridge.

The waiver would clear the city from having to pay a matching fee, which would save $146,287 each. The total cost of the project is $1.4 million, according to Ron Sellman, utilities director.

Mayor Glenn Loch said the city “came out ahead on this deal.”

In other business, the Council voted 4-0 to:

• On first reading, approve a settlement deal between the city and Atmos Energy Corp., Mid-Tex Division, regarding the company’s statement of intent to change gas rates in all cities exercising original jurisdiction, declaring existing rates to be unreasonable, adopting tariffs that reflect rate adjustments consistent with the settlement agreement, finding the rates to be set by the tariffs to be just and reasonable, adopting a savings clause (Sullivan explained this is a statewide problem in many cities, which are considering similar settlement deals).

• Designate Barry Sullivan as an authorized signatory officer of the city of Gainesville to transact banking activities on behalf of the city.

• Authorize the mayor to enter a contract with attorney Jim Robertson for the collection of delinquent taxes.

In reports, Sellman and John Noblitt discussed progress to the Pecan Creek Rechannelization project, Fleming addressed the Police Department’s gang and drug task force accomplishments and updated the city on the CAP (Criminal and Aliens Program), which addresses illegal immigration in the city.

In proclamations, Loch presented James Hughes, a member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration events planning committee, with a proclamation declaring Jan. 21 as Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the city.

In comments, Sullivan said he appreciated the warm welcome shown to him at a reception Thursday, and praised city staff in accommodating his requests.

Sullivan also noted a low-income apartment project, Sterling Heights Apartments, which has planned about 80 living units. He expressed opposition to the building project, and said the issue will appear on the next meeting agenda.

With no executive session, the meeting adjourned at 7:23 p.m.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at

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