Eutaw City Council concerned about financial recordkeeping and reporting

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, the Eutaw City Council was unable to get a second and vote on a motion made by Councilman Joe Lee Powell to pay bills for the month of August.
Three Council members present, LaTasha Johnson, Jeffrey Carpenter and Sheila H. Smith expressed misgivings about paying the bills without a more detailed financial statement and record of the City’s finances and bank accounts. Councilman Bennie Abrams was absent and was not present to second or vote on the motion. Had Abrams been present, the motion may have resulted in a tie vote on paying the bills.
Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson said she sent Mayor Steele a letter asking for specific information about bills and bank accounts especially the funds coming from electronic bingo. Councilman Carpenter said he has been pushing for many years for the city to have a budget and pay bills based on a plan and a budget.

Mayor Steele said the City of Eutaw did not have its records in proper form to provide the reports and budget that were being requested. Steele said Council members could come to City Hall “at any time and request that the City Clerk show them any bills, bank statements or other financial data they want to see.”
Steele said that he had discussed this with James Gardner, the City’s CPA and accounting firm and was advised that additional funds were needed to train and support City Hall staff to enter information in the computer system to generate the needed reports. Steele said that he would invite Gardner to speak with the Council at a work session on Monday, September 18, 2017 to explain the situation.
At the Council Work Session, Gardner explained that the last audit for the City of Eutaw was done by him in FY2012 and that a Financial Compilation Report and Financial Statement was done for fiscal year 2014, through September 30, 2014. There have been no financial statements or reports done by his firm for the ensuing fiscal years of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Bank statements and files of receipts and expenditures are on file in the City Hall, which could be used to construct a financial statement and reports.
Gardner said that he would send an estimate of the cost to do these unaudited compilation statements by the next City Council meeting. Gardner said it would cost $4,000 to $7,000 to train City Hall staff to enter financial information in a modified QuickBooks system, for the city’s multiple accounts, starting October 1, 2017. Once this training was done and the system was properly maintained he could do an audited statement for the FY2018, which ends September 30, 2018.
Mayor Steele said that he would bring a report from the CPA firm on recordkeeping, accounting and financial reporting to the next meeting for the Council to make a formal decision.
At the Council Work Session, Mayor Steele reported that the City water system expansion project was moving toward conclusion. More new digitized self-reporting water meters will still be installed, including individual meters in Carver Circle taking the place of a single master meter.
Steele said the new water tank would be painted by the end of October and put into operation by the end of the year. This would allow the power pole to be moved from its temporary location in the street near the Courthouse to its permanent place. The Mayor also indicated that the water line contractor would return to fix other areas that were affected by the construction.
The Mayor indicated that the City’s knuckle-boom truck to cut and remove trees from city roadways was in the shop and would require $18,000 to $20,000 to repair. He reported that both City backhoes were also in the shop for repair and that the city workers were doing their best to pick up branches piled up on the side of roads and streets.
Steele said, “Our equipment is very old and in need of repair and upgrading. We are going to do our best to prepare for the Tour of Homes, scheduled for October 7 and 8, in Eutaw.”
At the September 12 Council meeting, Councilwoman Sheila H. Smith confronted Mayor Steele and tried to make a motion to deny the Mayor the use of a new 2017 Tahoe, he uses for conducting city business. Smith said the vehicle could be better used by the Police Department.
Steele said he needed the car to show visitors interested in the community, a positive image of the community. He also said he needed a reliable vehicle to travel to meetings to seek resources for the city. The Mayor suggested that Smith was taking these actions against him, as personal retribution, because he had requested that she turn in her city issued cell phone. The Mayor was successful in ruling the motion out-of-order but the issue lingers and may come up again in future meetings.

Eutaw City Council learns that $110,000 remains on Prairie Avenue contract that may be available for other street repairs

At the regular Eutaw City Council meeting on June 13, 2017, Torris Babb, City Engineer for the Prairie Avenue resurfacing project, reported that $110,000 was left of the original $500,000 grant for the project. Babb also indicated that the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) was willing to allow this money to be utilized for other road projects in Eutaw that directly connect to a state highway.
While the roads in Branch Heights, which are in the greatest need of repair, cannot be included in this project, other roads at West End, M and M Subdivision and others that directly connect to a state highway can be considered. Babbs said even pothole repairs on tributary streets could be included. The Mayor and City Council took this report under consideration and will come up with a list of potential projects to negotiate with ALDOT. Babb emphasized that there was some urgency to begin discussions, make plans and contract the work before time expires on the grant.
The Council also considered the payment of bills for the month of May 2017. There was much discussion of the bills and the specific accounts from which they should be paid. Council members requested a meeting of the Finance Committee and a Council Working Session on June 20 to review the City’s bank accounts and the sources and uses of funds coming into the City for operations, capital improvements and other services. The City is not operating with a budget, which defines income sources and uses of funds. Councilwoman Sheila Smith voted against paying the bills. She said, “this is a protest to the way the city is operating.”
Councilman LaJeffrey Carpenter said, “ I tried under the last administration and this one to get a budget, so we would know and could project expenses, and which accounts to use to pay our expenses, but no one wants to make a budget. I have given up raising this as an issue – but the problem remains.”
In other actions, the Council approved travel for the Chief of Police and Assistant Chief to attend statewide conferences on law enforcement. Travel reimbursement for Councilman Carpenter to the League of Municipalities meeting was also approved.
Mayor Raymond Steele reported on needed sewer repairs, including replacement of pumps. The Council approved these expenses to be taken from the Water-Sewer Fund not the Capital Improvement Fund. The Mayor also reported progress on the USDA Loan and Grant water project. Work will resume on the Water Tower after the July 4th Holiday and may take until the end of the year to complete.
The Mayor said he was meeting with the Chair of the County Commission on placement of a power pole, in front of the William M. Branch Courthouse, on a temporary basis during construction of the water tower. The pole has subsequently been placed in the street on the side of the Courthouse, according to the Mayor, at the recommendation of project engineers and Alabama Power Company.
The County Commission and many citizens are not pleased with the placement of the pole in the street and wish that the City and County governments could come together on a better location.

The Mayor also reported that city workers were following behind the water construction contractor fixing streets and curbs, installing new digital self-reporting water meters, clearing drains and doing other finishing and follow-up work. Council members said that the contractor should reimburse the city for this work.
The Mayor said the City’s knuckleboom truck to cut limbs of trees blocking the streets was being repaired and would be put to work as soon as possible to keep up with fast growing grass, weeds and other vegetation. “We have so many problems and requests for street and drainage services but very little money to do the work,” said the Mayor with some degree of frustration. Residents of various areas of the city raised more issues of needed maintenance work during the public comment sessions.
Ms. Deloris Powell of Lock 7 says she was grateful to get the water but that the contractor had left the construction areas and drainage pipes in a mess.
Councilman Joe Lee Powell thanked the “Tommy Summerville Police Support League, Inc.” for donation of a police car for the Eutaw Police Department. Councilwoman Sheila Smith is a leader of the Tommy Summerville Police Support League, which is the charity that holds the license for the Palace Bingo Hall.

Eutaw City Council approves proclamation honoring E-911

Mayor Steele and Eutaw City Council members present proclamation to E911 staff and officials and new officer’s : Tommy Johnson, Jr. and Christopher Gregory

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2017, the Eutaw City Council paid its March bills and claims, approved Good Friday as a holiday for the staff and approved a proclamation honoring the E-911 staff for National Public Safety Communications Week.
After taking these positive steps, the City Council and the Mayor began arguing about past issues and discussions.

The issue that precipitated the arguments was a motion by Councilwoman LaTasha Johnson to advertise in the newspaper for four weeks, the contents of a bill to be introduced in the State Legislature to change the selection process for members of the Board of Directors of the Eutaw Housing Authority to give the Council a role with the Mayor in appointing these board members.The Eutaw City Council, the Mayor and the city and county housing authority boards have been in an uproar for the past several months over who was properly appointed to the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and how to proceed with the merger of the city and county housing authorities.
Mayor Raymond Steele strenuously opposed the motion to advertise changes in the Alabama statute on the selection of members to a city housing authority. He said, “You are trying to take away powers given to me by the law, I am not trying to take away your powers as the City Council.”
Latasha Johnson replied that the purpose of her amendment was, “To share your role in appointing housing authority board members not to take away your authority.” She went on to say, “ In a way we are married for four years, the Council and you the Mayor and we need to learn how to work together.”
Councilman Joe Lee Powell said he was concerned that the mayor seemed to want to have “a dictatorship over the City Council.” Powell indicated that he was still concerned that the Mayor would not accept documents that he provided showing that Veronica James was incorrectly removed from the Eutaw Housing Authority Board and should be reinstated.
Mayor Steele complained that the City Council was retaliating against him by proposing to change the legislation to share the power of appointing the Eutaw Housing Authority Board. The Council then voted 4 to 2 to approve advertisement of the bill proposed by Latosha Johnson. The Mayor and Councilman Bennie Abrams voted against the motion.
Mayor Steele raised the issue of revisiting the rules and procedures for community groups to use the National Guard Armory for meetings, social events and fundraisers. The mayor said that he would like to discuss his concerns about improving and maintaining the facility at the next City Council work-session scheduled for next Tuesday, April 18. Councilman Powell reminded him that community groups charging admission or raising funds at activities using the National Guard Armory needed to come before the City Council if they were seeking a waiver of the rental fees.
Mayor Steele said the air conditioning and heating system in the building needed to be updated and other improvements made to the building. The Council agreed that a community group that had reserved the Armory for a music concert on April 15 could proceed with their event.
Council members said that they approved payment of the bills and claims but wanted a better reporting of funds and a budget against which to approve expenditures in future meetings.
Councilwoman Sheila Smith asked about the status of enforcement of the vicious dogs ordinance. Mayor Steele said the Eutaw police were issuing summonses for people to register their animals and to see if sufficient space was available to keep the animals in the city. If the owners were not complying with the ordinance then the police were taking action to correct the problems with stray and vicious dogs.
Valerie Watkins, a resident in whose house there was a sewage back up asked when the City was going to make the repairs to her home. Mayor Steele said that he was working on the claims with the City’s insurance agent and would be able to respond soon.
In the public comment sessions, several citizens rose and spook to urge the Mayor and City Council to work more closely together.
David Spencer distributed a written letter to the Mayor and City Council members concerning his allegations of voter fraud in the October 2016 Municipal Election Runoff.