At a special meeting Aug. 7 Fifty Six City Council members made plans to change authorized signatures on bank accounts and computer passwords following the arrest of Mayor Barbara Wallace on charges of theft of services over $1,000, a Class D felony; and abuse of office, a misdemeanor.
Wallace was served with the warrants that morning and released on her own recognizance. Investigator Dammon McGilton completed an affidavit for probable cause showing that Wallace had not paid for municipal water since October of 2011 and had accumulated a bill of $1,944.79.
"She has been using her authority to steal water and has not allowed anyone to cut off her water by threatening to fire people if they cut off water meters," the affidavit states.
In addition to other measures by the council, locks on doors at city hall were also changed. It was decided that Recorder-Treasurer Bill Jason along with council members Carolyn McCoy and Johnny Jones, and Water Supt. Delvin Freeman should have keys to the building.
Check signing authority was granted to Jason, McCoy and Jones, and all checks will be brought before the council for approval for the immediate future.
Council members requested attorney Joshua Collums address the impeachment process, but he declined citing a conflict. He advised the council seek guidance from the Arkansas Municipal League and the prosecuting attorney on removing an official from office.
Wallace, who has been having medical issues, did not attend the meeting, nor did council member Oma Jean Balentine.
Wallace’s daughter Donna West told the council the water bill has been paid in full. This was following an adjustment by a software company technician which subtracted late fees and corrected meter readings at her request. Council members indicated they expect the remainder of the original balance to be paid ($981) before water service is restored. Wallace paid $953 plus a $10 reconnect fee.
Many other water accounts have discrepancies and Wallace had stated previously she was seeking help to get the balances corrected, but was getting no assistance. Freeman was asked to have someone from the RVS Software company come as soon as possible to help correct the accounts.
Freeman said he had pulled six other meters the day before the meeting on the shut-off date given in notices.
The council discussed another customer whose account had become delinquent because he was unaware that automatic bank drafts had been discontinued during the time he was tending his ill wife prior to her death. A family member paid a portion of his bill but refused to pay the late fees. Council members discussed whether late fees could be waived for those who were not notified when the mayor discontinued bank drafts. Jason cautioned the council that everyone needed to be treated equally. They agreed to get a legal opinion about waiving fees.
Page 2 of 2 - Brad Griffith, a customer who was sent a disconnect notice despite having paid a large bill and received a receipt showing his account was paid in full, called the situation a "fiasco" and chastised the council for disconnecting customers’ water when the accounting system is obviously not correct. He urged them to correct problems within the city system before placing blame on residents.
"To strong-arm this is a poor way to do business," he said.
Jason asked if any of the disconnected accounts involved discrepancies over late fees and Jones responded, "Those are not the ones being pulled, only the ones who are refusing to pay because the mayor was not."
The council learned at its regular meeting Aug. 12 that federal withholding and unemployment taxes have not been paid since 2010, meaning the city owes about $39,000 plus any penalties. Recorder-Treasurer Bill Jason, who was appointed last month, is attempting to determine the status of the city’s finances.
The city has about $48,000 in certificates of deposit, but it is unclear in what accounts the money originated – general fund or fire department, for instance. One CD was specified as collateral for a truck loan, and Jason recommended cashing out the CD and paying off the truck because of the difference in interest rates. The council agreed pay off the truck balance ($1,900) and repurchase a CD with the remaining amount (about $1,600).
Council members also discussed the lack of a budget and employees being paid without the funds being allocated. The council had previously defunded the secretary’s position, but earlier this year agreed to fill a full-time and a half-time position. A third person, Justin McIntire, who was a contract employee to assist with trash collection was removed from the payroll during the meeting. The council also agreed to fund secretary positions half through the general fund and half through the water department.
The council agreed to hire Joshua Collums as city attorney contingent on funds being available.