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Probing Continues Into Water Issues And Mayor's Actions at La Harpe's First 2016 Council Meeting

The La Harpe City Council made more changes to the city's water bills and dealt with more questions from residents about the firing of water operator Daniel Carpenter and the water bill of Mayor Ryan Kienast's apartment building.

The council approved spending $389.00 to buy 1,000 sheets containing three red cards on each sheet to use as water shut off notices. The red cards are sent with the late notices that warn residents their water bill is overdue.

The council also increased the late card fee charged to residents from $3 to $5 to cover the extra cost of the red cards.

Council member Amy Palmer volunteered to cross out the $3 late fee charge on the late fee cards and write in $5. The city wants to use the rest of the purchased cards before ordering new ones with the updated $5 charge on them.

The council approved a roll over amount of $10 or less on water bills. Any water bill which has an unpaid amount of $10 or under is rolled over to the following month. These residents do not receive a late fee charge or a late notice.

Council member Marcia Stiller asked residents and council members to think about whether they want a direct billing system (automatic withdrawal) to pay water bills. Water Supervisor Tim Graves said he has received several requests for this, mainly from out-of-town people.

The council approved spending up to $900 to buy six new water meters. Graves requested the purchase, because the city is out of replacement meters.

In response to an audience question, Stiller explained again that the reason she began looking into the water billing was because some, not all, home businesses were being charged for the water used according to their meter, plus an additional charge for having a home business. She did not believe this was fair. She said that the city's former ordinance was turned into the state's attorney, who told the city to clarify its billing practices. That was why the ordinance was changed in November.

Council member Darrell Kraft said he knew of a few small businesses that had left LaHarpe due to the above practice.

Other residents in the audience asked Kienast about the money he saved from the water billing ordinance being changed. Kienast has been accused by several residents of having his water bill adjusted down for his apartment building beginning in July. The water billing ordinance was not changed until November. That change effected two buildings in LaHarpe, Kienast's apartment building and a building owned by Kreps.

Kreps stated he had seen Kienast's July water bill and that it was $105 less than a previous month. Council member Josiah Neff stated Kienast had saved a total of $863. He did not indicate how he arrived at the number.

Two bids for tree removal were opened and read before the issue was tabled to the January 25th meeting due to the fact the issue was not on the agenda.

The Police Department ordered two new flashlights to replace ones that had been damaged in a car fire. One of the flashlights was the cause of the fire, which shorted out a charger inside the car.

The keys to an F-250 vehicle are being kept in the city's maintenance shed. Stiller has them now and will take them to the shed.

Stiller asked council members to look at copies of DeKalb's municipal code. It includes rules and procedures for their municipal government to follow. Stiller thought it had a lot of ideas that La Harpe could use.

Treasurer Marcia Neff took exception to Stiller inviting the city's insurance agent to speak to the council. Neff is the city's risk management coordinator. She felt Stiller went over her head instead of asking her questions about the city's policies and inventory.

Stiller reported the Insurance representative had left booklets for the council and would return at a later date.

Treasurer Neff informed the council that she had the same information, and would have been glad to answer questions.

McPeak informed the council that her and the treasurer are more than willing to answer any questions the new council might have.

The council tabled a vote on allowing Graves to attend a conference in March.

Graves spoke out on the firing of Daniel Carpenter at the Dec. 14 meeting, calling it a poor choice. He pointed out that nothing was in writing for when Carpenter was required to have passed his Class A license exam, which was one of the reasons given for the firing. Graves stated Illinois law requires a water operator to have five years of work experience before they can take the exam. Carpenter was in his sixth year of service.

Graves said he wanted the city to find a replacement and he wanted to be part of the hiring process.

About 90 residents attended the meeting, which was again moved to the La Harpe Community Club House. Several residents spoke during the public comment period. Lacie Thompson, Dave Clover, Delbert Kreps, Ben Hitz, Jason Siegworth, Brian Covert, Tina Lionberger, and Chad Burt spoke to the council concerning the water bill issues, and agenda changes.

Resident Lacie Thompson called on the council to pass an ordinance allowing a mayor to be recalled.

Dave Clover asked the council if a person in Stronghurst was contacted for the open water operator position. The response was no decision had been made on the position.

Jason Siegworth asked the council to approve a motion to collect the money Kienast saved from July to November.

Brian Covert asked why the agenda was changed to take off an item to discuss the city attorney position.

Kienast said he asked city clerk Lucretia McPeak who asked for it to be on the agenda and what it was about. He said she told him she received several calls about it. McPeak said an alderman asked for it to be placed on the agenda.

Kienast said if he had known an alderman requested the item, he would not have removed it. The item is to be placed on the next meeting agenda.

Josiah Neff told the council that Kienast had given his signature stamp to City Attorney Kurt Dittmer to co-sign Dec. 30 paychecks with Treasurer Marcia Stiller. Josiah Neff said Marcia Neff was unaware that Kienast was leaving the city before Dec. 30. She asked him when he would return to town, and he replied he did not know. Marcia Neff contacted Dittmer about this. Dittmer contacted Kienast, and Kienast then left his signature stamp with Dittmer to use on the payroll checks. Payroll checks were signed by December 30.

Josiah Neff referenced an ordinance stating the treasurer was the only person authorized to use the stamp.

Both Neffs accused the mayor of not trusting the treasurer. Kienast replied that he left the stamp with a person he trusted would be able to use it in time to sign the paychecks.

The council recently passed an ordinance requiring the two separate signatures on payroll checks. The signatories were to be the mayor and treasurer.

No comment was made about how having the treasurer signing the checks and using the mayor's stamp seemed to violate the spirit of this requirement. No comment was made if the two-signature requirement conflicted with the ordinance Josiah Neff referenced.

Answering roll call were: Amy Palmer, Dave Mershon, Marcia Stiller, Kenneth Foster, Josiah Neff, Darrell Kraft, Treasurer-Marcia Neff, City Clerk-Lucretia McPeak, and Mayor-Ryan Kienast.

Also signing in were:

Naomi F. Lipper, Justice Shoemaker, Tim Graves, Monalisa Graves, Courtney Graves, Dean Spangler, Kurt Dittmer, Dan Gillett, Wayne Humphrey, David Little, Krista Little, Doug Endres, Justin Livingston,Wayne Yetter, Ted Shutwell, Jan Stokke, Karlene Kurtz, Bette June Mapes, Justin Graves, Michell Brown, Jana Finley, Mike Lionberger, Tina Lionberger, Carl Reeder, Dave Clover, Randy Shumaker, Mellissa A., Shirley Anders, Max Owsley, Bill Burt, Rex Stewert, Harley Palmer, Bart Thompson, Lacie Thompson, Niki Maske, Amber Pence, Nate Todd, Ben Hitz, Delbert Kreps, Barry Wright, Brian Covert, Gary Stiller, Lacey Covert, Larry Hobby, Shelby Jones, Shirlene Jones, Jason Siegworth, Ashley Derby, Marcques Derby, Tiffany Foster, Lindsay Shoemaker, Cassidy Burt, Daniel Carpenter, Jason Graves, Mike Rodeffer, Jonah Burt, Donna Wood, Richard Wood, Holly Willdrick, Marlie Burt, Chad Burt, Brandon Boyer, Nate Trout, Dallas Neff, Sherry Ragain, Greg Ragain, Jimmy Ford, Reyanna Ford, Brittany Krzyzania, Tiffany Finch, Madilyn Finch, Colton Ragain, John Louden, Alan Striecher, Terry Jones, Sheriff Bentzinger, and 2 Illinois state troopers.

The regular meeting adjourned at 8:38 p.m. The next La Harpe City Council meeting is set for 7:00 p.m , January 25 at the La Harpe Clubhouse.