The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

La Harpe City Council In Special Meeting Approves Bills Amidst Overflow Crowd

by Michael Rodeffer, The Quill

The La Harpe City Council held a special meeting at City Hall Monday, April 3rd. Seventy-plus residents attended, the biggest share of them were upset that long-time employee Tim Graves had been fired the previous week by Mayor Kienast.

After refusing entrance to some of the residents due to what the Mayor said was a fire code issue, Mayor Ryan Kienast called the meeting to order at 6:30 p.m. with Alderman Michael Bennett, Marcia Stiller, Greg Wisslead and Darrell Kraft, along with City Clerk Lucretia McPeak answering roll call.

After a heated discussion by the council on whether to retain Attorney Diane Diestler for this meeting, the council compromised on hiring her for agenda items #5, 6, and 7 and then she would be excused or at least not be billing the city for any more time during the meeting.

(Note: Diestler had terminated her own contract with the City of La Harpe as of March 31, 2017).

During public comment, Todd Stevens, lifetime resident of La Harpe, voiced his support of Tim Graves and Dan Carpenter. He stated, "they were the perfect team". In his many comments, Stevens noted, "Tim has worked for the city for 35 years. And to go and do that to him (fire him) is dirty...absolutely dirty!"

Dave Clover addressed the council next. He noted that the city had never had a water violation from 2009-until Daniel Carpenter reported that Mayor Kienast had changed his own water bill somewhere around July 2015. Since then, the city has had seven violations. Two were reminder notices, one was a minor routine monitoring, three were compliance achieved of which two had been sent to the Attorney General before they were achieved, and one says, "referred to A.G. 7/27/2016. His information came from the EPA website.

Clover stated, "You want to contract out water, sewer, and mowing which were all jobs that Tim did, and then you still want to hire someone to replace him! You don't need to hire someone to take his place if you have contracts to cover all the jobs that he has done."

Katherine Hasten addressed the council by introducing herself, noting she was running for the 4-year term for Alderman in the third ward.

She said, "as far as I know, the majority of those running on the ballot are here. So, I would think as a consensus, we would say anything that can be held off signing contracts, wait for the new council, let them make the decisions.

"They are the ones who will have to deal with it. They are the ones who have to continue to explain this to the citizens of La Harpe, why we are paying these bills.

"So, I would ask that you table these and let the new council come on."

Hasten went on to say, "If nothing else you have almost 70 people from La Harpe here. Ask them their opinion. Ask them what they want you to do.

"This is their town. This is about doing what is right for them, not having personal vendettas against anyone else who works for this town:which is definitely what has been going on here recently."

Stevens, Clover, and Hasten received a big round of applause by the audience after each had spoken.

The City of La Harpe was denied their proposal to enter into a Compliance Commitment Agreement with the IEPA. The council agreed to waive their Section 31 rights and send a letter to Mary Reed of the IEPA as to their decision. Attorney Diestler had recommended this move to speed up this process.

The Council discussed the IEPA giving the city 15 days from when Tim Graves was fired to fill the water and sewer operator's positions. Time will be up April 12th. If the positions are not filled by then, the IEPA will step in and fill the positions and the City will have to abide by their terms.

Mike Bennett stated that it was their understanding that Brian McElhinney was willing to step in as he had done a year ago and oversee the water system since he had a Class A license. He also wants a 3 month contract with the city at $5,000 a month and would be at the plant one day a week and any extra hours would be charged at $65 an hour. (Last year McElhinney charged the City of La Harpe $3,000 a month.)

Wisslead felt this was way too expensive and finally agreed to speak with McElhinney about a 1 month contract for more reasonable terms.

Bennett recommended paying whatever the City must pay as they are on a time-restraint.

After further discussion, hiring of the water and sewer position was tabled until the April 10th meeting.

Discussion on McClure's proposed changes to the SE Water Main Project and it was decided to contact WIRC.

There was discussion on Ben Diewold as Street Dept. Supervisor but they held off in making any decisions at this time.

Council approved the purchase of Polymer and 6 water meters.

Police Chief Justin Livingston informed the council of ammunition needs for Kenny Foster's 40-hour gun course. The purchase should cost under $500 so there was no need for a motion.

Alderman Bennett motioned to pay bills and it passed by a 3-1 vote. Wisslead, who opposed, said he had wanted more time to look into the attorney's bills. (Attorney bills for 2016 in September was $3800, October $4062.50, and November $1887.50 that had been received in the last two weeks.)

There was discussion on obtaining quotes for contracted mowing services of city property and the need to hire a city employee. Bennett made a motion to leave these agenda items at the discretion of the new council. Motion carried unanimously.

Council adjourned the meeting at 7:11 P.M.

Eight residents were denied entrance to the meeting and were kept downstairs due to the Mayor's request for over the limit of capacity in the upstairs meeting room of City Hall.