By Stephen Wagner
After a very contentious Tuesday night at the board of aldermen open meeting, we are now finally beginning to see some light shine on the back room operations of our local government in Lake Lotawana.
Alderwoman Marie Aholt had requested on July 1 information from the city’s “staff” (read: city administrator) about a contract with J&N Utilities to repair the sewers. In part, Aholt wished to see:
1. The actual contract between the city and J&N.
2. The “scope of work,” which is a detailed set of instructions to tell J&N exactly what we expect for our money.
3. Paperwork indicating charges for materials used in the repair.
4. Any paperwork or documentation on inspections performed by city personnel that the work was completed and performed appropriately.
5. The bonds that would be required of J&N: performance, property and maintenance bonds. These bonds are the city’s warrantee.
Now it was bad enough that city “staff” didn’t show the information to Aholt, as she was just trying to fulfill what she feels is her obligation to her constituents. And the board decided, without precedent or statutory authority, that Aholt could not see the documents without a vote of approval from the board. So she filed as any private citizen would under the Sunshine Law to see the documents.
And this is not the first time the city has done this. Other “troublesome” aldermen have run into the same obstacle. If memory serves, Chris Jackson, ward two alderman representing annexed areas, had to do the same to get information for his constituents. Former Alderman Terry Reed was plagued by this same tactic when he tried to get documents from the city about unwarranted investigations and alleged the abuse of power by a former chief of police. Reed said, “Even as an elected official I saw and was victimized by the layered secrecy of our local government. It’s a way they hide the truth from us.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, the city administrator said that “staff” could not locate the contract or anything beyond the five document sets provided. The mayor commented that if they couldn’t locate the documents then they were not withholding them. He seemed unconcerned that not having the documents could be a statutory violation.
I wonder if they knew then that Aholt had already notified the state attorney general’s (AG) office about the failure to maintain records. Aholt waited until August 8, over a month, to make her report.
The AG’s office apparently did see merit in the complaint.
A staff member from the AG’s office called Lake Lotawana City Hall to discuss this complaint. And, as was related to the Tribune, the city administrator told the AG’s representative that a contract copy had been delivered from the contractor, J&N.
That was a miracle of timing. Or I’m sure just a coincidence.
Just like the board-wide attack against Aholt happening on the night that Jackson was scheduled to be absent. Coincidence.
And when I recently filed a Sunshine Law request for emails from the city and the only missing email was the one damaging to the mayor. Coincidence.
Since this had gone on for a month and a half, and considering that from the beginning the city “staff” was unable to find the contract, it occurs to me that the highly self-touted “professional” city administrator should have had enough experience to have called the contractor a month ago.
Are we to believe that that vexingly simple solution never occurred to her?
Keep digging, Mrs. Aholt. That nasty smell sure ain’t the crappies washing up on the lakeshore.