Laying Waste to the Chain of Command

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by Tammy Moore-Teague

The Mansfield City Council meeting was all but ordinary as they met in session on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 7 p.m. Present at the meeting were the Mayor, Dr. Larry Austin, and all Aldermen including Rick McDaniel, Sheri Hopkins, Buddy Black, Dave Johnson, Georganna Mabry, Buddy Black and Beverly Lyons.

On this week’s agenda were the reports from the fire and police departments as well as reports from the city attorney, recorder/treasurer and public works director. It was the latter of those reports that dominated the meeting in a heated discussion. Public works director Ken Swilling began to give his report to the council, claiming the pump at the water treatment plant failed without warning because of an electrical breaker issue. However, plant manager, Braden Purcell had the part, a contactor, that he and consultant Arnold Elmore had deemed necessary to replace. Because Swilling, the supervisor, did not agree the connector was not purchased and ultimately the pump failed.   “This isn’t right,” Purcell exclaimed. “I am tired of being second guessed…I’m outta here.” Purcell holds a class III wastewater license, which is vital to the plant operations and requirements with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, ADEQ. Purcell added that his hands were tied because of the chain of command, and that he demanded the council hear the facts. “You get to go home,” Purcell pointed to the citizens and council. “I have to come in here on Friday and face a hostile work environment and repercussions (from Swilling) because I report the truth to council…it’s what the city needs.”

After a brief recess the council agreed to hear an uninterrupted report from Purcell. He expressed his aggravation in wanting to get the plant up to the standards of the ADEQ. Furthermore, he felt his hands were tied because of his inability to make purchases and operational decisions. Council member, Hopkins responded and spoke openly about feeling mislead about the business at the waste water plant. “I just want to hear the truth,” Hopkins said. When asked by the council what it would take for these problems to be addressed, Purcell directed their attention to a proposal he had submitted.  The proposal, which included a request for a raise in pay to $55k, also offered additional services utilizing him as a department head that would allow the city to cut ties with the engineering and consulting firm, Landmark. “I’ll write the SSO’s (sanitary overflow reports), the non compliance forms and sign the DMR’s (discharge monitoring report)…I want to do the job and will take great pride in it,” he added.

The council, after hearing and reading the proposal, offered to oblige some of his requests. Lyons defended the city’s inability to pay his desired salary. “If you take a look at our budget,” she stated, “there is not any way we are going to be able to pay you $55,000.” The council did propose, however, an hourly wage increase of $18 and included purchase order powers as approved by the mayor. Purcell responded that he was willing to take less of a pay raise in order for the city to send employee Clay Davis to school for him to receive his class I waste water licensure and to increase his pay to $12.50 per hour.  “I’d rather Clay have a raise,” Purcell said. “I don’t want to lose him. Give him a raise.”

Mansfield city attorney Matt Ketcham interjected and recommended that Purcell not get caught up in the glitter of the title of department head. Instead, he suggested him being plant manager and reporting to the mayor and to the council, bypassing the strained relationship between him and Swilling.

The motion made to pay Purcell $18 per hour, for him to report to the mayor and council and to give him purchasing power was made and it was passed unanimously.

Additionally, the council also passed the motion to compensate Purcell for his time and travel if he was needed at the city council meetings. Councilman Black concluded by saying “Please let Clay Davis know we will revisit his raise once he gets his license.”

Another motion was made to end the agreement with Landmark Engineering on consulting work with the waste water plant and to keep Arnold Elmore on as needed. That motion passed unanimously.

The city’s attorney, Ketcham, gave a reading of the new ordinance which will increase water hook ups for new water customers. Additionally, he updated the council on the advancement of the city’s annexation of River Valley Feed and Metal. He stated he had invited the interested parties to attend the next meeting and recommended looking at a feasibility study.

That order of business was slated for next week’s agenda along with further discussion on the issues with the waste water plant. With no other business, the meeting was adjourned.

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