Some hot buttons at council meeting
Click here to view this meeting, courtesy of City 73
There wasn't any blood shed at Wednesday's Yuma City Council meeting, but plenty of heated words were exchanged on the dais and with the public over two controversial items on the evening's agenda.
First, despite impassioned pleas from the public, the council by a vote of 4-3 approved adoption of an ordinance to move call to the public to the end of the agenda for all future council meetings.
Second, Councilman Ed Thomas alleged that Mayor Al Krieger inappropriately received more than $800 from the mayor and council's petty cash fund for fueling his vehicle without proper documentation that it was mileage reimbursement for travel on city business.
Both items drew considerable debate among council members and criticism from the public.
The parting shot for the meeting was made by Colleen Langewisch during call to the public when she stated that “it's obvious you guys can't work together. Kids on the playground do a better job.”
It also was observed that for the first time people could remember, police officers are stationed in the council chambers during meetings for the protection of council members and the public.
And Councilman Jerry Stuart reported that the public may not be aware of it, but council members have been subject to threats and harassment for several months. According to Stuart, these incidents include a telephone caller saying there was a 300-pound bomb at Southgate Mall, where Councilwoman Bobbi Lewis is the manager, and council members being stalked and receiving death threats, harassing phone calls and unpleasant notes left on their doors.
No comment was made to Stuart's allegations.
The evening started well with the announcement that the Parks and Recreation Department is the recipient of a prestigious award from the Amateur Softball Association of America for a softball tournament held in Yuma.
The meeting went downhill when it came to action on the ordinance to permanently move the call to the public to the end of future meeting agendas. Call to the public offers an opportunity for people to bring items before the council that aren't on the meeting agenda.
Sharon Merz told the council she objected to being told city residents should sit in the back of the room and wait to come forward until other business is taken care of. “We're told we're valuable ... we put you in office, but I don't feel valuable.”
Ginger Jane Hammack said the action is a symptom of what is wrong with this country, calling it “tyranny.”
Deputy Mayor Leslie McClendon opposed the ordinance, urging the council to revisit the issue and make the call to the public more flexible.
Councilman Paul Johnson reiterated that he's pushed for the change for the sake of professionals and business people who might attend a meeting on city business, often at some expense, business that might be delayed by an hour or more because of call to the public.
Mayor Krieger said he doesn't like making second-class citizens of people who don't have an item on the agenda and called the entire debate about the issue “a waste of time.”
The measure passed 4-3, with Krieger, McClendon and Lewis opposing it.
In bringing up the item about petty cash reimbursement, Thomas said he had been hearing rumors of money missing from the petty cash fund. He proceeded to go through an audit report of several gas receipts signed and submitted by Krieger with a notation the expense was for his travel to various meetings and events around the city and county.
City Administrator Greg Wilkinson said the issue came to light after he moved administration of the mayor and council travel budget to his office. Calling the gas receipts inappropriate, he said the correct way to seek mileage reimbursement is to document the date, destination, mileage and reason for the travel.
Johnson said in his 11 years on the council, he has never received reimbursement for travel on city business within Yuma County. He also stated that he understood the policy is that travel within a 100-mile radius of the city is not reimbursed unless overnight lodging is required.
“It's not a crime,” Krieger responded, complaining that no one on the council had asked him about it and called it “disingenuous to have this discussion at this venue.”
But to clear up the issue, he said he would pay back the money.
“This isn't something to be taken lightly,” Thomas continued. “You are the highest elected official in the city. ... This is not acceptable, Mr. Mayor.”
McClendon suggested that it was time to move forward. “We asked the mayor to explain the issues and we agree it probably wasn't the right to thing to do. The mayor has agreed to sign a check. We're all fully aware of the policy, and I would appreciate if we could move forward to conduct essential business.”