Leachville Mayor's decision to terminate police chief stands

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Town Crier News Staff

After two hours of vigourous information gathering during Leachville City Council meeting Monday evening, Jan. 8, while dealing with 2007 budget and cutbacks, the tone quickly turned into a heated controversy when the subject turned to Police Chief Kenneth Womack's recent termination.

"To protect the legal viability of our council, I ask that we go into executive session to discuss the police chief," Alderman Teresa Johnson said.

After reconvening, newly elected mayor Sheila Spurlock explained after the special called council meeting on Jan.2, she had spoken to Womack and asked for his resignation.

"He did not give it, so he was terminated," Spurlock said.

Spurlock referred to laws governing first class cities that give mayors the power to appoint and remove all department heads, including city and town marshals, when they are appointed. It would take a 2/3 majority of the council's vote to override the mayor's decision.

Johnson moved to override the mayor's decision, and the vote was tied 3-3. Aldermen Johnson, Mark Wheeler and Johnny Hawkins voted to override Spurlock's decision, while aldermen John Stone, Tommy Stone and Bruce Wilson voted to let the decision stand. Mayor Spurlock broke the tie making it 3-4 defeating the motion, and letting the original termination decision stand.

Womack asked for permission to speak to the council, but it was denied by Mayor Spurlock as he was not on the agenda. Womack then questioned the rules governing being put on the agenda. Womack was accompanied by his attorney Jeremy Thomas of Blytheville.

After a brief discussion the council approved regulations for request to be on the council's agenda. Persons must make their request known by 3 p.m. the Friday before the regular council meeting, which is set for the second Monday of each month. The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be 7 p.m. Feb. 12. Number of items to be on the agenda will be limited for special called meetings.

Early business conducted by the council went as scheduled.

City Recorder Ruth Ann Keith read the Dec. 11 and Dec. 28 minutes, with decisions not to allow cameras in the courtroom during council meetings, Mayor Ralph Well's retirement scale set by council, and no holdback check due to Mayor Wells.

Old business included budget reports from the Water, Street, and Police Departments.

Water Department Secretary Rebecca Clowers was on hand to answer questions concerning the 2007 Water Department budget of $469,000.

"I met with Jake (Ballard) and we reviewed the budget," Clowers said. "Jake was unable to be here tonight."

After a lengthy discussion, the council complimented Clowers on the department's budget decisions.

"They have done a good job on this," Alderman Tommy Stone said.

"You can tell it," said alderman Wilson. "They have come up with 12 percent in cuts, which will really help."

Street Department Superintendent Dickie Coburn presented the Street Department budget and addressed areas for possible elimination of unnecessary equipment.

"This department was $12,000 under budget already, and it is evident they are doing the best they can," said Alderman Wilson. "We need to advertise the paver and see what we can get for it. That would help some."

"Getting rid of the paver and the extra pick up would save us $1,000 in insurance alone," said Recorder Keith.

"We paid $7,000 in insurance last year just to watch the paver sit there," said Tommy Stone.

The council voted to advertise the paver for bids.

The five Street Department employees were discussed, as to potential 32 hours a week instead of the regular 40.

"We may not need all five employees this time of year, but we sure do need them in warmer weather," said Coburn.

"Coburn has proven that he can be an effective leader and I think we should leave his budget as it is," said Alderman Mark Wheeler. "I don't see anything that he spends frivolous on."

The Street Department budget for 2007 is $132,500.

The ballpark budget was set at $7,864.

"I don't think we can whittle on that budget either," said Wheeler.

The Sanitation Department's name was changed to Maintenance Department to better represent the work done.

The Police Department budget was set at $187,000, and includes three officers and animal controller. This is a reduction of $9,000.

The city is only currently paying two officers, and using one reserve officer. Brian Crites is serving as Officer in Charge for the Leachville Police Department until a police chief is selected.

The council discussed insurance for employees.

"The employees were told when they were hired that we would pay insurance," said Alderman Hawkins.

The council voted to pay insurance with increase as budgeted.

The Council unanimously approved the 2007 city budget.

The resignation of City Attorney Mike Bearden was requested last week but not received.

"We will initiate termination if he does not act on the request," said Alderman Mark Wheeler.

"He has expressed to me he would like to remain as city attorney," said Keith.

"Ask for his resignation as city attorney in writing tomorrow, Jan. 9," said Wilson. "If not received by Friday, as the deadline. We asked him to resign."

The council voted 4-0, with two abstaining, to empower Mayor Spurlock to interview and solicit people for positions of city attorney and police chief.

In other business:

*Jared Price addressed the council about bringing back the Watermelon Festival.

"This could be an asset to the community and provide some good clean fun," Price said. "It used to be on Labor Day. We need a lot of vendors, games and food."

"Festivals are good but usually fizzle out because the people fizzle out," said alderman Wilson. "We need to give some thought to the finances of it before we decide."

"If it was held on main street downtown, I can't see how it cannot be a success," Price said. "We need to give it a try."

Price also asked the council to allow City Beautification and Parks Committees to apply for grants to restore the old depot, with use of tax exempt eligibility.

Price was asked to get details and report back to council.

*Leachville businessman Rodney Robertson asked Mayor Spurlock if there was any truth to the rumours that she had trouble with his boxes or trash all over town.

"I do have an issue with the trash on the street," Spurlock said.

Robertson proposed the use of a covered trash compactor being placed downtown for processing boxes, with the city receiving revenue.

"There is money in this," said Robertson. "I have a lot of boxes."

The council agreed to consider the options and inquire about any benefits.

"Also, why was Ken (Womack) not allowed to be on the agenda during the last meeting," Robertson said. "He was at that meeting, but nothing was said about him being fired."

"The agenda had already been typed on Jan. 2," said Spurlock. "I talked to him the next day. I didn't want to embarrass him the night before by saying anything then."

Robertson asked for a show of hands of people in support of Womack. About 25 people raised their hands.

"I do have a right as Mayor to replace all department heads," said Spurlock.

*Mark Johnson said he planned to call and file suit on behalf of the hearing impaired, because officials did not speak up during the meeting in a manor that could be heard by those present.

After the meeting adjourned and several councilmen acknowledged a large gathering of people at the rear exit to the City Hall building, Mayor Spurlock asked for policeman to ensure the departure of remaining council officials went without incident.

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