Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2013, 10:13 pm

Colona fights over electronic attendance, hazard plan

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Lisa Hammer,

COLONA — The council sparred over the mayor's veto of the council's vote to allow electronic attendance of council meetings and the Henry County Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan on Monday night.

Ald. Larry Ropp, 3rd Ward, maintained that Mayor Rick Lack's veto of electronic attendance at council meetings was invalid because the council approved a state statute allowing electronic attendance Sept. 9 and the veto was submitted Oct. 23, not within the required five days.

City attorney Graham Lee maintained that the council's action Sept. 9 was simply to have the attorney create an ordinance on electronic attendance, and the veto stands. He advised Ald. Ropp to take action to override the veto at a future meeting.

Among the mayor's concerns involved whether there would be adequate equipment if two or more aldermen wanted to attend via technology and what procedure would be taken if equipment broke down.

The council did vote 7-2 to record even open meetings using old equipment for now and to improve equipment after the start of the next fiscal year. Voting no were Ald. Larry Swemline, 2nd Ward, and Mike King, At-Large.

Approval of the hazard mitigation plan was part of the consent agenda with four other items, but aldermen wanted to know more about it. Ald. Swemline simply answered that it involved the ability to receive funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. When several aldermen persisted with additional questions about the plan and whether it might obligate the city in any way, Ald. Swemline called them "stupid" a couple of times. Mayor Rick Lack called him by name and used his gavel to no avail. Ald. Swemline walked out of the meeting.

Public works director Rick Crew and economic development director Judith Gilbert then told how compliance with the mitigation plan has allowed Colona to be reimbursed $5,000 to $6,000 several years ago after a severe winter storm. Mr. Crew said the police chief and fire chief head up the plan, and it lists the school and churches as potential emergency shelters. The council then approved the plan 7-1, with Ald. Rafe Thrasher, 4th Ward, the only no vote.

Mayor Lack announced five staff members worked on Indian Trails' water/sewer bill and ultimately determined the resort owed a net $5,324 for water. The 75-acre resort, which is in the process of being donated to the city, had been undercharged for water and overcharged for sewer. The entire facility was on city water but only the farmhouse and adjoining office were on city sewer; there are six septic tanks. The mayor noted they offered to give the city two new ice machines valued at $3,000 each in exchange for the bill. Ald. Ropp and Ald. Trish Ruhl, 3rd Ward, said they didn't believe the city could forgive water bills. The council voted 6-2 to bill the resort for the water, with Ald. King and Ald. Dale Hillman, 1st Ward, voting no.

Aldermen also voted to table the first through third readings of an ordinance creating a standing committee for Indian Trails, with some saying existing standing committees should be employed to work on various aspects of the facility. Ms. Gilbert warned city staff would like to work with a committee to prepare for a July 1 deadline for an Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant which she said could help the city with funds for roads, utilities and parking. Mayor Lack said he was looking at having Ald. Jen Roth, 4th Ward, Ald Ashley Stover, 2nd Ward, and Ald. Swemline on the new committee.

Ald. Jack Richardson, 1st Ward, said Colona should have a parks committee to work on the city's seven existing parks as well as Indian Trails, but the mayor said "if the resort goes through, (the committee) is going to have enough on its plate just for that."

Ms. Gilbert said she'd spoken with a representative from Scott Properties of St. Louis, the owner of Indian Trails, earlier in the day, and their attorneys were working on the closing document at that time, and as soon as they were done it would be forwarded to the city.

The council also mentioned its request for bids for the former Smokey's restaurant property and four surrounding lots. A minimum bid of $195,000 was approved earlier. The property is in a tax-increment-financing district, and the city has requested, along with bids, detailed plans and a timeline for construction.