Leachville City Council hires new attorney, resolves former mayor's retirement

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Town Crier News Staff

The Leachville City Council met for over three hours last Monday evening as they worked through a lengthy agenda consisting of minutes and financial reports from four council meetings, introduction of new city attorney, resolving former mayor's retirement pay, and sale of city equipment.

The first hour of the meeting consisted of City Clerk Ruth Ann Keith's reading of four sets of council meeting minutes (Jan. 2 and 8, and Feb. 5 and 9) and the current financial statement. It was agreed the city would move excess municipal funds to a 5.3 percent interest bearing certificate of deposit at Heritage Bank in Leachville at the end of each quarter.

Leachville Mayor Sheila Spurlock introduced Chris Jester, of Jonesboro, the city's new attorney. Jester replaced former city attorney Mike Bearden.

Keith announced the CenturyTel $1,000 donation had been deposited in the park fund, now totaling $2,767.58.

The council discussed the commission being paid to Water Department Clerk Rebecca Clowers for processing Entergy and cable payments through the Water Department.

"The question here is accountability," said Bruce Wilson. "We don't need to be paying for other towns to pay their bills here. We could compensate in one lump sum instead of so much per payment, which is part of a payroll packet."

"This could be used to give Christmas bonuses," said John Stone.

"I hate to see this taken away from Rebecca," said Johnny Hawkins.

"It's a bonus," said Stone.

"She earns it," said Hawkins.

"I think it needs to be a set salary, not a commission on each payment processed," said Wilson.

"The agreement is the companies pay a percentage to the city, per customer," said Keith. "At one time it was divided by two clerks. The Court Clerk was allowed to work during office hours, instead of getting a raise."

"This decision should be up to the Mayor, as she is in charge of the day to day operations," Wilson said. "How much she is compensated is our choice."

The council tabled the decision to give time to look into the matter and voted for Mayor Spurlock to decide how much would be paid each month and details of compensation.

Police Chief Bryan Crites reported on the progress of the owner notification for property that is in violation of the unsightly property ordinance. Warnings will include premise visits and written notification before violator is cited for being out of compliance.

"This sounds good," Wilson said, "as our mission is to get the place cleaned up, not to write a lot of tickets.

A section of the new Employee Handbook will give the policy for employee drug testing. Different procedures were discussed, which included testing new employees, offsite testing, and random drug testing. The decision to adopt the handbook was tabled until more information could be obtained.

Alderman Wilson read a letter from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel concerning the decision of what to pay retired Mayor Ralph Wells. McDaniel listed no decision. Reference was given to state case 1998-136 where an attorney based the pay on the classification of the city when the mayor retired, with a decision to pay one half of his regular salary.

With the advice of attorney Jester, the council voted to pay Wells half of his regular monthly salary. The retirement was set at $375.00 a month, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007.

Reports of citizens being unable to hear tornado sirens brought about a discussion of installation of more sirens or more powerful ones. New top-of-the-line sirens were estimated to cost $17,000 each.

"The children at the school concern me," Spurlock said. "We don't have the money now, but we need to come up with something we can do."

The city plans to advertise and take sealed bids on a 1999 model street paver. The paver cost $35,000 when new and has only 16 hours of use. The council will list minimum bid of $20,000.

Dogs not in compliance with the city's dog leash ordinance were reviewed. Larry Ballard and Robert Clowers will serve as animal control agents, along with other employees on call. The city will continue to use the Manila confinement pens until Leachville's can be brought up to standard. The two controllers agreed to obtain any certification necessary to do the job.

A Leachville Baseball Association Constitution was discussed to maintain a workable agreement between the Association and the city.

"Many cities are doing paper work to draw up such agreements," Spurlock said. "This just gives us a paper trail to work with."

"This gives us some sort of control," Wilson said. "They keep good records and do the work anyway, and this will let us know what is going on. My hats off to these dedicated people."

"Nathan Sanders does a good job at keeping up with all this," John Stone said.

"It's a good idea to have a regular short and simple report given to the council," said Tommy Stone.

"The gate and concession is done by volunteers," John Stone said.

"The Park Commission needs to communicate with the council," Spurlock said. "They can continue to elect their own boards and bring them to the council to ratify. They can still handle any internal problems as they have in the past. We do need some form of reports however, for auditing purposes."

The council voted to request a starting and ending report for their records.

"Does the (Melody) Theatre have to give a report?" asked Stan Whitlow.

"No, but they probably will," Spurlock said.

Brian Kibler, president of Medic One, requested his ambulances be listed as primary source emergency provider, with the 911 service.

Positive responses from the audience attested to the ability and quick response time by both Medic One and Monette EMS.

Medic One operates an Advanced Life Support system and Monette EMS is a Basic Life Support system.

"We make 90 percent of the runs here now," Kibler said. "I'm not downgrading Monette's system."

"If no one is coming then we certainly want Monette to come and transport us," Tom Stone said."

"Both services work well with our First Responders," said Teresa Johnson. "I have seen Medic One here more than Monette."

The council tabled decision to list primary provider until next month.

Jarred Price reported on restoration work being done at the old Leachville Depot, and asked for advice on applying for grants.

The council recommended the Leachville Depot Committee become a non-profit organization and then apply for available grants.

Attorney Jeremy Thomas spoke on behalf of Ken Womack, former Leachville Chief of Police.

"His termination was not done legally," Thomas said. "It was in violation of Arkansas Code 14-42-110. No vote was taken by the council for termination. An ordinance would need to be passed to give Mayor Spurlock the power to appoint department heads, according to city ordinances. Womack still remains a city employee, because he was never lawfully terminated. He needs to make a living and wants to enforce his rights. He will consider civil action if this is not met."

City Attorney Jester did not find the city out of compliance with the law. No action was recommended or taken.

"The state statute is clear," Jester said. "Employment at will and at the discretion of the Mayor. They had voted at some point, and don't know if the city statute had been enforced before."

"Action on this has been taken already," Mark Wheeler said.

The council discussed buying a sanitation truck and picking up their own garbage. After a brief discussion the council decided to look into the feasibility and come back to the council in May.

"This could be a great source of revenue," Wilson said. "Most cities around here pick up their own garbage."

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