Volume 106, Number 16 - April 16, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Council debates ‘charges’
Plenty of people have struggled with the burdens of a credit card.
At the Pinedale Town Council meeting on Monday night, Mayor Stephen Smith was the one bearing that burden when resident Gary Heuck continued his accusatory quest during Citizens Concerns.
Heuck’s accusations also spurred councilman Dave Smith to draft a letter to the state attorney’s office, requesting an inquiry into the events if the situation was not rectified locally.
After it came to light that Mayor Smith used the town’s credit card during his visit to Washington D.C. for the presidential inauguration back in January, Heuck has been scrutinizing the mayor’s overall credit card usage and raising his concerns during the past few council meetings.
The inauguration expenses have already been justified and reimbursed, after the mayor’s wife had her credit cards lost or stolen during the trip, which forced Mayor Smith to cancel his own, since the cards were on the same account.
“If one card is stolen, the other one is jeopardized,” Mayor Smith explained to Heuck.
Heuck was not satisfied, however, and he used the opportunity to voice other credit card concerns.
“There’s too many mistakes,” he said. “The timeframe is screwed up. There’s charges for other things. There’s booze. There’s Sierra Trading Post. If there was just one and possibly two things, but we got a whole list of things here.”
While the mayor promptly reimbursed the inauguration expenses upon his return from Washington D.C., he failed to notify the council of the events, which subsequently raised the eyebrows of a few residents as well as a few council members.
“You didn’t tell (the council) about it until people started saying stuff, and I have a problem with that,” said councilman Smith. “There were two council meetings that went by when this stuff could have been brought up and addressed.”
After looking over the town’s previous credit card statements, Heuck also found a few other charges, beyond the inauguration, that he found troublesome, including $102.93 spent at Country Lane Liquors back in November, a purchase at the Sierra Trading Post in Cheyenne and a charge for local laundry services.
Mayor Smith did his best to explain the charges.
“Well, (the liquor store purchase) was a mistake,” he said. “I didn’t catch it when I originally went through the billing statement. The only explanation I have is I saw Country Lane and assumed it was gas.
“I made a mistake, an honest mistake. I’m not going to use taxpayers’ money to buy anything, much less beer at the liquor store when I know I’ve got four different people that are going to review the bills and audit.”
Councilman Smith was skeptical that the town credit card could be used by accident.
“I have about five credit cards,” he said. “And when I use a credit card, I know which one I use.”
“And most of the time, I do too,” answered Mayor Smith. “It was a mistake. We should have (caught it). I missed it when we were reviewing the bills. Patti (Racich – town clerk) missed it as well.”
According to the mayor, the purchase at the Sierra Trading Post was also accidental, and it too was reimbursed.
The mayor, however, stood behind the charge for local laundry services, though Heuck still found it problematic.
“That charge for laundry was to launder a suit so I could travel to Cheyenne and meet with legislators,” said Mayor Smith.
“I didn’t ever do that when I went,” replied Heuck.
“Well, I’m not sure you ever spoke to the governor in Cheyenne when you went,” said Mayor Smith.
“Oh yes I did, I most certainly did, at the Hitching Post, twice,” retorted Heuck.
“Well, maybe you should have worn a suit,” answered Mayor Smith.
Discussion continued to circle the issue before councilwoman Nylla Kunard finally spoke up.
“We can go over this time and time and time again without getting anywhere,” Kunard said. “Now, do you (Heuck) have a solution that you would like to see taken?”
For Heuck, the entire situation was a misuse of “town property and town funds.”
“What I would like to see done is have this turned over to the state attorney general and let them decide,” said Heuck. “And then, whatever it is, the council will go with it.”
“Worst case scenario, it goes to the attorney general,” said councilman Smith. “There are at least three state statutes that have been violated, all of which put you (Mayor Smith) in jeopardy and the council members in jeopardy. I don’t want to do that.”
Councilman Smith asked that all the town’s credit cards be brought in and cut up on Monday night.
“If not, this is going to go to Cheyenne,” he stated. “It’s a lot bigger deal than what you’re saying. It may be petty, but it’s illegal.”
Resident Linda Baker spoke up in defense of the mayor.
“I have a business credit card, and on several occasions, I have mistakenly used it and reimbursed my business for it,” she said. “I think it’s an honest mistake, and I think it’s a waste of the town’s time and money to pursue this with the attorney general.”
“If you question that it was an honest mistake, then that’s your right,” said Mayor Smith to councilman Smith. “But I can tell you, the mistake that was made was an honest mistake.”
The council took no action on the matter, though the mayor said that he and town attorney Ed Wood “have already talked about initiating a credit card policy.”
— Resolution 2009-03, which addresses reimbursement for pipe thawing expenses to residents in the southwest area of Pinedale, was passed in a 3-1 vote in which councilman Dave Hohl opposed the action.
The resolution was drafted by Wood and presented to the council at the last meeting. The mayor and councilman Smith were absent from that meeting however, so the council decided to wait until Monday’s meeting to take action on the matter.
Up for debate were both the maximum amount and the total percentage that would be paid to the individual residents, and each issue was discussed at the meeting, as well as who the responsibility should fall upon for the rise of frozen pipes in that area this past winter.
“(The town’s) responsibility is to pay (the engineers’) bill when it comes in, which we do, every single one of them,” said councilman Smith. “(The engineers’) responsibility is to make sure the project works…so I want the engineering companies in on it.”
While the engineering firms initially said they would help pay for any reimbursements, that willingness hinged on a case-by-case analysis. The blanket approach outlined in the resolution was unacceptable.
“This isn’t the first time this has happened after a construction project,” said Brian Gray, of WLC Engineering. “We’re willing to help with what we can, but just to blanket and give anybody a check for $1,000 or whatever just because they forgot to leave their water running doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
One charge against the sewer project that was carried out last summer was that the ground level was dropped, thereby leading to a shallower water main and an increased likelihood of frozen pipes.
Gray confirmed that the frost lines were “a lot deeper on both of the projects that were done last summer…in some places, six to seven feet deep…versus two to three feet in other places around town.”
When asked what should be done to rectify the situation, the council had mixed feelings.
Councilman Smith wanted to pay 100 percent of the thawing costs, with the town and the engineering firms splitting the cost 50/50.
Kunard agreed that residents should be repaid something, but she did not agree with 100 percent, since “we hear it time and time and time again — you have to keep your bleeders running.”
Hohl was against any such payment, since residents are responsible for their water lines up to the town’s water main, even if it does run under the town’s roadway. He also pointed out that the town has no control over whether residents run their bleeders or not. He was willing to pay $500 per resident however.
Councilman Chris House also agreed that residents should be provided some financial relief.
With that, the council voted 3-1 that any residents with frozen pipes in the areas of Shanley and Quartz Ave. could present their bills to the town and be reimbursed 50 percent of the thawing costs. Whether the engineering firms would share in the cost remained unclear.
— Kathy Anderson, the Sublette County Treatment Court coordinator, presented the town council with a draft ordinance that she wanted the council to consider.
Based on ordinances from other municipalities, including Douglas, Anderson’s draft ordinance outlined the compliance requirements for liquor-license holders, location restrictions, grounds for license denial, annual terms, violations and penalties.
“As you go through this, you’ll see that one of the things that we suggested was rather than the two citations that would (revoke) a license, we actually upped it to three,” said Anderson.
She was also at the last council meeting, when she voiced her desire to see more ramifications on businesses where citations were issued for underage serving in February and March.
“I’m not asking you to act on this today,” concluded Anderson. “I am asking you to consider it.”
— The council voted in support of Resolution 2009-05, 2009-06 and 2009-07, which are applications that seek to secure stimulus money for new water and sewer projects, as well as a new ultraviolet disinfection system for the town’s water supply.
— Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development (CURED) was given council support for a petition it is sending to the governor’s office requesting that the ozone limits in Sublette County be lowered from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 65 ppb.
— Resident Linda Baker voiced her concern over the chemicals that are being stored at Baker Petro Lite, which include a number of 50-gallon drums. The business is located close to residents as well as a new restaurant. The council agreed to determine whether the business is using the location for industrial use, despite being zoned for commercial use.
— The council voted in support of the county’s request that parking signs be erected on the west side of the courthouse, limiting parking to one hour in that area.
— $30,000 was allocated to replace 12 picnic tables and 12 benches, as well as grills, in the town’s parks.
— A budget workshop will be held on April 22, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall to discuss the town’s new upcoming budget.
— Three town vehicles will be put up for sale, including two Ford Rangers and an Oldsmobile SUV.
— 140 pine trees on town property will be removed this summer due to pine beetle infestation.
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