August 11, 2005

Citizen Concerns Addressed at Special Meeting in Arbela

A town with a population of only 40 doesn’t have a great need for a big city hall, but on August 2nd Arbela could have used a larger community building as a capacity crowd gathered for a special meeting of the board of trustees.
A number of ongoing issues brought out the bulk of the community to discuss ditch work, hiring a city attorney and even the makeup of the board itself.
The meeting began with discussion about appointing a board secretary. Mayor Dick Stevenson asked the board to consider appointing someone to keep the minutes of the meeting. At the past board meeting, secretary Karen Simpson had indicated she would no longer keep the records after the board debated the need for improved record keeping and more timely payment of bills.
Both Simpson and board member Gordon Wiley pointed out that the board never made any corrections or amendments to the minutes, which they stated would indicate they were correct.
The entire board agreed that improved record keeping was needed and also concurred that the group needs to comply with policy and open meeting procedure such as posting minutes and recording roll call votes.
“I guess we’re going to have to do everything differently than we’ve ever done it before,” said Dick Stevenson.
Simpson agreed to continue as board secretary.
In other business, a petition was presented to the board with a number of signatures asking that the village not hire a city attorney.
One citizen asked why the village needed an attorney.
Stevenson noted that an attorney would be beneficial for grant applications as well as regulatory paperwork required by the state.
“It’s just good business to have yourself covered,” Stevenson said. “It isn’t going to cost us anything unless we use him.”
The mayor agreed to request a resume and reference letters from the attorneys to be considered for the position, to be reviewed at the next meeting.
The streets were the topic of discussion for a number of reasons. One citizen questioned why the board had authorized dust control on just part of the town’s roads.
The citizen noted she had health conditions that the dusty conditions made even worse.
Stevenson stated the board had agreed to have sap sprayed on just the “busy” streets and had appropriated $1,300 for the project.
Simpson made the motion to have the company return and spray sap on 8th Street and Jones Street. The board voted 4-0 to approve the motion.
The other street-related issue involved ditch work that the board had authorized.
Several citizens expressed concerns about the work being done to alleviate backups in the road ditches, which are used to evacuate the residents drain water from their septic systems.
One property owner stated the board should have held a public forum to discuss the work that would be done. She noted there were numerous rumors circulating regarding the work and the impact it would have on adjoining private property.
Another citizen questioned the ditch that had been constructed to the canal, noting the belief that the work had been done on railroad property, not on city ground.
Trustee Wiley expressed concerns about the board never seeking bids for the work and never receiving any cost estimates prior to the start of the project.
Stevenson indicated the project had been discussed for nearly a year, with no problems ever being pointed out until this special meeting.
Wiley noted he had voted against the ditch work specifically because of the lack of estimates.
He then turned the questions toward another matter. Wiley, who had resigned as mayor, questioned the legality of Stevenson’s appointment to the position.
He highlighted a number of legal opinions, stating he believed that the mayor should have been appointed from amongst the elected board members. He also expressed concerns of nepotism, suggesting trustee Twila Stevenson had been the board member that nominated her husband for the position.
Twila responded, stating she simply had asked the rest of the board if they wanted her to ask Dick if he would take the job, pointing out his past experience with the city government.
The board finally agreed to seek legal input on the situation from County Clerk Betty Lodewegen and the Secretary of State’s office if necessary.
“To the best of my knowledge, I’ve always done what is right, and best for Arbela,” said the mayor.
The meeting then turned its attention to abandoned wells within the city limits.
Wiley questioned the legality of the city filling a well with dirt and debris from the ditching project. He noted his concern regarding DNR regulations and the liability the city took on for doing the work.
The mayor noted that the number of open wells in the village were a danger to children and that the job had been done for safety reasons.
The majority of those in attendance agreed that safety issues were paramount.
A number of these issues will be addressed at the scheduled August 11 meeting of the board of trustees.

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