The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

La Harpe Council Still Debating Water Issues In 3 1/2 Hour Meeting

by Deb Olson, The Quill

At a 3 1/2 hour La Harpe City Council meeting Monday, much of the time was taken up by continued discussion of local water issues.

In discussion of the treasurer's report new Alderman Mike Bennett asked about the $4000 bill for the Water and Sewer Audit. He wondered if some of the payment should be withheld until the final report had been received.

He was informed by Alderman Marcia Stiller that the report was finished and that she would get copies of the report to Bennett and Greg Wisslead who is also new to the council.

Stiller said that she had recently met with the auditor for 2 1/4 hours to discuss the report. In the course of that meeting she was told that the city "is not rich and is not poor, but they need to pay attention to water expenditures in case a new water plant needs to be built." If a new plant is needed it might be necessary to raise water rates.

She noted that there are procedural issues that need to be addressed and accounting problems that need to be solved. She also stated that she was "not at liberty to discuss the matter at this time."

Bennett questioned why the water and sewer audit was done separately from the general audit.

He was told that what was being covered in the water and sewer audit was not covered by the general audit.

When asked how long the special audit would take he was told that it had begun in April and happened over the course of several days.

During committee reports, Water Operator Tim Graves asked for clarification of an email that was passed on to him. The email in question was a doctor's excuse stating that a certain water customer who was in danger of having water service shut off due to non payment, needed water service as a medical necessity.

City Attorney Diane Diestler asked to be shown the email. After reading it she asked "What is the current policy for making exceptions to terms of the current water policy?" She also stated that "if this means that water can't be turned off and a person not held responsible, well, we can't have that."

The council was informed that the customer had recently had water service disconnected but that it had just been turned back on.

Graves was told by Diestler that he was not in a position to make such a decision.

Alderman Wisslead stated that "the city has made adjustments to other water bills."

Diestler insisted that such decisions needed to be brought before the council for approval.

Graves then informed the council that he had checked on prices for new chlorinator equipment as instructed. The price for this would be $5900.

Graves also asked to be supplied with mail money in order to send out notices and file reports.

New City Treasurer Carmen Jackson stated that the mayor had told her that checks would no longer be made out to cash.

Graves noted that he had given the treasurer the receipts but was not given money for mailings.

After a 45 minute discussion it was agreed to keep doing what has been done for the past 30 plus years!

Alderman Wisslead made a motion to establish a petty cash fund of $25 for Graves to use for the water department with Graves turning in receipts as he has always done. Mershon seconded the motion and all approved.

Graves then asked when a new employee could be hired to help him at the water department. He did not feel that this person needed to be a class A operator as had been previously stated. No action was taken on this and Graves left the meeting.

During Public Comments La Harpe resident Dave Clover rose to ask why the issue of Mayor Kienast's water bill was not on the agenda. Clover charged that this amounted to official misconduct according to state ordinance 533-3.

Kienast has insisted that he has paid all his water bills.

Clover again asked why Mayor Kienast's water bill was still not on the agenda. He handed out paperwork for council members. At this time Wisslead asked that it be put on the agenda that Ryan Kienast gets presented a bill for water owed.

Kienast then asked lthat it be put on the agenda that the nursing home, etc, pay water bills per the Ordinance.

Although Clover had previously given council members copies of bills he had received under FOIA, Attorney Diestler insisted that what Clover had passed out were not official bills. She said that the council needs to hear from Lisa Howd (who collects water bills).

Clover left the meeting at 8:10 unsatisfied with the answers he had received.

The council began discussion of billing by residence as opposed to billing by meter. Alderman Kraft suggested that a meeting be called to discuss the water ordinance.

At this point Max Owsley, who had signed up to make public comments, charged that the council was trying to cut people off from public discussion and he also left the room.

Alderman Wisslead said to Kienast, "Ryan you ran for mayor... do your job!"

Attorney Diestler said that "people need to do their jobs, they need to communicate." Since discussion of the water billing was not on the agenda Attorney Diestler stated that it could not be discussed.

Alderman Mershon proposed a meeting on Monday, August 29th to discuss the water ordinance at 7 p.m..

City Clerk Lucretia McPeak noted that the council had just spent 45 minutes arguing about issue which had been repeatedly discussed at previous meetings.

In other business:

The council then went into Executive Session to discuss employment /compensation/ dismissal/ discipline/ performance of specific employees or legal counsel; to select a person to fill a public office; to consider the discipline/ performance/ removal of occupant of public office; and to consider the purchase or lease of real property for use of the public body (re cemetery).

Upon return from the Executive Session, the meeting was adjourned.