Overflow crowd attends Leachville Council meeting

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Town Crier News Staff

The Leachville City Council met at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 filling the court chamber with an overflow of visitors and guests, with some of the 45 people present sitting on the floor.

City Clerk Ruth Ann Keith read the minutes from the September meeting and reviewed in detail the finances for the past month.

"The September balance of Police Department fines and forfeitures is $24,995." Keith said. "We have not got all the kinks worked out for our new computer system. I'm still making mistakes but it is getting better. I always go back over everything to make sure it is correct. We have $51,529.80 in the General Fund and $18,582.29 in the Street Fund."

Alderman Bruce Wilson asked for clarification on some of the balances reported for the Police Department.

"We have a lot of money in fines and forfeitures," Wilson said. "Why don't we take some of this and put it in a CD or savings?"

"The criminal justice money can't be done like that," Keith said. "We can't touch it."

Mayor Ralph Wells objected to Wilson asking detailed questions about the financial report.

"This is not the proper place to do this," said Wells.

"Yes it is," said Wilson.

"We shouldn't be auditing the records in a council meeting," Wells said. "We haven't done this before."

"If you don't like it, Ralph, you can leave," Alderman Bill Hetler said.

"So can you," Wells said.

"This is the time to take care of this, and we should have been doing it all along," Hetler said.

After the council was satisfied with the treasurer's report and had the clarity and answers they requested, they unanimously approved the report as presented by Keith.

Mayor Wells reported that Teresa Johnson and Police Chief Ken Womack had applied for a 100 percent AED grant, estimated at over $3,000 for equipment, from the Arkansas Department of Health.

A detailed and thorough report was given for the Fire Department, listing balances in CDs, checking and savings accounts totaling $55,406.53.

Police Chief Womack presented a detailed Police Department report listing $51,359.14 in receipts and donations. Actual income for 2006 was listed as $59,002.50 with a previously proposed income for this date of $65,000.

The Police Department has been named as a State Incentive Program Winner, dealing with drunk driving, etc., and awarded $2,000, which is to be received soon. A letter was received from Governor Mike Huckabee commending city police officers Treadway and Womack for handling a special health related case for city resident Dennis Cardin. Cardin's mother was present to express her appreciation.

Mayor Wells announced the Arkansas Department of Economic Development is accepting application and is presenting a block grant training program in five different cities throughout the state.

"The nearest program to us will be in Wynne," Wells said. "It will be on Oct. 24 at 10 a.m. Ruth Ann Keith, and others, need to attend if at all possible."

Wells read a letter from water tower engineers, Miller and Newell of Jonesboro, stating the pilings have been driven for the new tower with concrete to be poured by the first of the following week.

Wells reported notice that a Pandemic Preparedness Conference will be held Oct. 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at St. Bernards in Jonesboro.

"Our teams are working to have us prepared for this," Wells said.

Marilyn Looney reviewed funding and needs for EOC, Migrant and Head Start programs, with Leachville seen as site for a center. She has more information on possible lots for housing and benefits.

"Just like Bruce is learning about our bookkeeping system, I am learning about the process of finding programs and ways Leachville can benefit by special programs and funding," Looney said.

Mayor Wells expressed his pleasure in announcing the horse show to take place at Adams Estate soon.

"There are going to be over 200 horses out there," Wells said. "There will be three olympic riders there. Young children and adults can all take pleasure is seeing such a national event take place right here in our own town. Tina Adams has been working on this and serves on the national committee."

City Attorney Mike Bearden addressed the progress made on the compromise agreement and proposal to IRS to solve the issue of back taxes.

"Frank Heath is not involved anymore, but he can provide us with information about the compromise, that the city has previously worked on with him," Bearden said. "There has been no offer made as yet. We have to find a figure that we are comfortable with and pay in one of two ways, within 90 days or 24 months. I need you to give me a figure to submit, and how you want it done.

"I plan to get the reports from Heath, that Ruth Ann has supplied previously," Bearden said. "The city is current on employee payments."

Mayor Wells again expressed his disappointment that auditors or tax people had not notified the city earlier to inform them that the tax payments had not been received.

"Are our penalties and interest still going?" Wilson asked.

"Yes," Bearden said.

The total listed as of May 2006 is $469,000.

"We need to meet soon and come up with a figure," said Alderman Mark Wheeler. "If they would take $105,000, we could make that offer tonight."

"We have to start somewhere," Bearden said.

"It will be a major ordeal just to go through the paperwork," Wilson said.

"Should our first proposal not be accepted, it would not take us as much work to come up with a second one," Bearden said.

Wells reviewed how the missing payments were discovered.

"Don Ray did a 2003 tax audit, but the missing funds were found in 2004," Wells said. "Actually Stan Whitlow found it."

"How can you say that they didn't find it in 2003, when his report said he did," asked Jerrod Price.

Price read from a report prepared by Ray.

"This was after the fact," Wells said.

"Don Ray was engaged by the city to find out what had been done," Bearden said. "State auditors do samples, to compile their standard report."

"Why has it taken two years to do something about it?" Price asked. "In 2003 they found a written report and in March of 2004 validated it. Why did it take a whole year to do something about it the first time?"

After a brief discussion the council called a working committee meeting for 7 p.m. Oct. 12 to try to come up with an amount to offer in settlement.

Council reports included:

*Alderman Anna Beth Thomas announced the city Handbook had been printed and waiting to put it in proper order.

*Alderman Wilson addressed the issue from the September meeting where Police Chief Womack said he was told by Bearden not to talk to Wilson or answer any of his questions. Wilson made an inquiry to the Arkansas Municipal League, as to the legality of such advice. Wilson read from a three page answer received from David Schoen, Municipal League legal council.

"I asked if the city attorney had the authority to instruct a department head to not discuss city financial matters with a council member," Wilson said. "He said in general, a city attorney would not have the power to prohibit a department head from discussing anything with a council member. However he merely advised the chief not to respond. City attorneys are allowed to give advice to city officials.

"I asked him what we could do to set a procedure for Mayoral spending without council approval, as Mayor Wells told the council he could spend up to $20,000 without council approval," Wilson said. "He said that the $20,000 referred to 14-58-303 and 22-9203 is not a limitation on how much the mayor can spend, but rather a minimum amount triggering the requirement that an item be put out for bid. The basic provisions to consider deal with the budget, amending the budget at the end of the year, and authority to buy and sell real and personal city property."

Schoen recommended the option of hiring a mediator, or having a Municipal League attorney visit with the council to discuss "rules of the road" involving city governance. There are not legal solutions to many of these problems, which often arise from political and personal factors.

"Bruce had a conflict with the Police Department and that is why I advised him (Womack) not to answer his questions," Bearden said. "I wanted no involvement until his (Wilson's) case was resolved."

"I disagree completely," Wilson said. "This is a financial situation with the city, not a personal issue. If there is nothing to hide, I am entitled to an answer."

*The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 13, due to the upcoming election preparation.

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