Leachville council discusses possible FOI violations

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

The Leachville City Council met in regular session on Dec. 3 and discussed alleged FOI violations, approved city employee raises, and discussed street lights.

Mayor Wells read a letter from city attorney Mike Bearden in response to an alleged Freedom of Information Act violation, concerning two Leachville City councilmen.

"Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, there can be no meetings between two or more council members to discuss city business and further, there can be no meetings with other members of the public present," Bearden wrote. "These are violations of e law and could be turned over to the prosecuting attorney for filing charges if he felt they were warranted.

"I do not want anyone on the city council to be involved in anything that can cause problems in the future and that is why I am writing you this letter," Bearden wrote. "In the event there have been any meetings called by less than three city council members and if they were not held in a public place after notice to the press, the meetings are illegal."

Mayor Wells was asked about the alleged illegal meeting, referred to in Bearden's letter, following Monday night's council meeting.

Mayor Wells stated that Al Barnhart, with Thomas, Speight and Noble of Blytheville, confirmed that the meeting did actually take place. Mayor Wells turned the matter over to Leachville policeman, Kenneth Womack.

"Not only did Al tell Ken (Womack) and I about being called to Leachville last month for the meeting (at the home of alderman David McCoy) but he came to Leachville and pointed out the house," Wells said. "Al told us that alderman Rita Wildy and about 15 other people were in attendance at the meeting. Al said they had questions about the water and sewer department audits. When Al discovered he was at an illegal meeting, he left."

Officer Womack researched several laws regarding illegal meetings, which include: The Supreme Court FOIA ruling (Section 25-19-106) applies to an unofficial meeting called for the purpose of discussing a matter on which foreseeable action will be taken by the governing body; State law 25-19-104 states that violators shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars or thirty days in jail, or both, or a sentence of appropriate public service or education, or both; and State law 14-42-109 regarding removal for nonfeasance of office.

"Can a regular person bring charges," Barry Wells asked.

"Yes any citizen can," Mayor Wells said. "The news media was not notified on this either, and that's a big thing with them."

"I hate it every time we try to do something positive, our own people, of all people, trying to hijack it," Mayor Wells said. "Trying to say I got you, I got you again. It is costing the heck out of the town. Our attorney has had to write letters like this before. Members of our council even talked to the prosecuting attorney, about having me kicked out of office, for not having two meetings, when our attorney advised me not to."

Alderman David McCoy was contacted in reference to the meeting at his house, following Monday night's meeting.

"I have been unable to get information about the audit report from the mayor or city hall, and had a lot of questions it," McCoy said. "Al had told me he had sent 12 copies of the report to city hall, but I could not get a copy from Treasa or the mayor. I asked him (Al) to stop by my house because I had some questions. I only told one person he was coming, but word must have got around because several people showed up. Al (Barnhart) was very open about answering my questions. Rita Wildy did come by, but she and I did not have discussions. As a new alderman, I don't know all the details about FOI rules and I couldn't see anything illegal about wanting answers to my questions. I felt I had a right to know. Al and his wife stayed long after the meeting was over. He did not leave quickly. He never informed me that we were doing anything against the law, so I did not think we were."

Alderman Rita Wildy was also contacted about the meeting in question.

"I knew that an auditor was supposed to come over, but I did not know when," Wildy said. "I was on my way to another meeting and saw all the cars at David's and just had to stop by to see what was going on. I left early to go to my meeting."

Wildy told the mayor that she has still not received her copy of the audit. Alston agreed to get her a copy of it. Mayor Wells stated that the audit report had been legally filed.

Al Barnhart did not return a message left at his office in Blytheville on Monday morning.

A council discussed street lights and the Entergy donation of $4,500.

"How much is the city going to have to pay for the lights?" Alderman McCoy asked.

"We have had people say they would make donations on the lights," Alston said. "It was made mention that you would even pay for installation."

"We discussed these lights at last months meeting, and the council never approved buying anything," McCoy said.

"You don't have to approve them," Mayor Wells said.

"You spent $2,000," McCoy said. "How do you figure that?"

"We spent more than $2,000," Mayor Wells said. "We can spend up to $10,000 without your approval."

"No you can't," McCoy said. "The law that went into effect Aug. 13 of this year says that a city of the second class could do it if it was budgeted, and we did not budget it."

"Why don't you have me impeached, David, like you have tried to do on everything else," Mayor Wells said.

"I'm just telling you that you are spending money the city did not approve," McCoy said.

"Last month it was eight to 10 lights and now it is 16."

"I don't know what I would have to do in this town that you did not complain about," Mayor Wells said. "The lights are going to be donated, and we have a grant from Entergy. No one said eight or 10 lights. You don't know what you are talking about, as you never come around here."

"I was at the last council meeting," McCoy said.

Other city business or reports:

*After a short executive session, the council voted to hire Anthony Ray Petty as patrolman beginning at $375 per week on a trial basis.

*Orion T. Osborne, of Phoenix Tank Services, a division of Phoenix Fabricators and Erectors, Inc., addressed the council concerning a city water tank proposal. Osborne explained that a water tank evaluation would be necessary, which would involve draining, washing out with high pressure hose, disinfecting it with chloride and checking it out .The Phoenix company provides water tank maintenance agreements, builds new water tanks, and promotes the generation of revenue by marketing with companies for placement of antennas on top of water towers.

No decision was made by the council.

*The council discussed city employee raises.

"How much an increase in income will the city have?" asked alderman Monte Grimes.

"I don't think you can base it on that," replied Mayor Wells.

"Well what are we going to base it on then?" Alderman Grimes said.

"We may not have a lot of additional revenue," Mayor Wells said. "They were a little shy on their Christmas bonuses, compared to other cities."

"Our turnback went up more than that this year, about 10 percent or more, because of an increase in our population," said city treasurer Treasa Austin.

The council approved a 2.6 raise for city employees.

*Austin reported that the pavilion and park equipment will be put in place as soon as the installation contract is approved.

*Beginning January 1, 2003 all police departments are required to go online to the National Crime Recording System. Training will be provided for this task.

*Approval of removal of tree at sewer plant.

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