The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
Megan McNeill-For the Hancock County Journal-Pilot
Information presented to the LaHarpe City Council at Monday's Committee of the Whole meeting indicates that Mayor Ryan Kienast may still owe the city because of adjustments made to his water bills.
Resident Dave Clover shared with the council copies of several Freedom of Information Act requests as well as email correspondence with City Attorney Diane Diestler.
Clover's June 29 email to Diestler addressed a number of concerns, and Diestler responded the following day.
"She states numerous things, but I'm going to point out just one," Clover said.
In his email to Diestler, Clover wrote, "I'd ... like to know what has happened to the owed water bill that you had figured for Ryan's back water bill (on the two apartment buildings he owns). It seems to have just disappeared and I would like to know if it is going to be presented to him."
In response, Diestler wrote, "I am not aware of any request by the city council for me to re-figure the water bills on Ryan's commercial property ... in order to respond, I may have to obtain copies of the bills and payment receipts on some or all of the properties in town, including Ryan's, and to determine whether the amounts owed on those properties were calculated and billed correctly during the time periods in question."
"She had given me numerous items from Josiah (Neff, former city council member) talking about the water bill, yet she told me she had no knowledge (of the matter)," Clover told the council.
Diestler, who was not at the meeting, said Tuesday she has asked City Clerk Lucretia McPeak to provide her with meeting minutes to determine whether such a request was ever made.
"My recollection is that the city council did not direct me to specifically investigate the Kienast water bills," Diestler said.
Clover studied copies of Kienast's water bills and payment history from May 2015 through April of this year. He calculated $904.28 in outstanding charges for Kienast Apartments West, and $903.31 owed on Kienast Apartments East - a total of $1,807.59.
"It's not my job to collect your bills, but I can," Clover said. "(There's information in the packet that says) any taxpayer, any citizen can file a lawsuit on behalf of a municipality to recover money owed to that municipality. I shouldn't have to do that. That's what we have a city attorney for."
Near the end of the meeting, council member Darrell Kraft confronted Kienast about the issue.
"Have you not paid this $1,800 or whatever it was that (Clover) was saying (you owed) when you changed your water bill?" Kraft asked Kienast.
"I have no water bill that's owed," Kienast said.
"You still owe the city $1,800?" Kraft asked again.
Monalisa Graves, who is in charge of water billing, said Clover put in a FOIA request to determine how much Kienast would have been billed "if he had not told me to change it."
"I was not aware of that," Kraft said. "I was told he had paid up."
According to a May 4 article in the Journal-Pilot, Kienast said he had paid his outstanding bills from June through November 2015, but did not specify whether he'd paid what was owed.
"If it's a fact that you changed your bill before the ordinance was ever presented for us to vote on, as far as I'm concerned it's fraud," Kraft told Kienast. "I'm really disappointed because I asked you about this twice."
"I don't owe anybody anything," Kienast said.
"How can you not owe ... if you changed your own water bill?" Kraft said.
Council member Mike Bennett compared the issue to the movie "Groundhog Day."
"Every meeting, people want to know what's happening with the water bills," he said. "I think it would be in the best interest of the city ... if we take some type of action on this, somehow. I think we should instruct the city attorney to contact Mr. Kienast and see if there's some way we can resolve this ... find out if there's some kind of common ground, some adult way to settle this."