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Selectmen Hire Prisock as Water Dept. Superintendent — Bennett Sharply Questions Mayor, Board

At their December 13 meeting the West Point Board of Selectmen appointed a new water and light superintendent; heard complaints from a citizen, and a request to participate in drug court; and discussed two potential grants.

Interim Water and Electric Superintendent Dwight Prisock got to drop the word “interim” from his title following a 4-1 vote by the board.
For several months the city has been moving towards hiring a permanent water superintendent. Prisock was hired as interim superintendent at the same April 22, 2010 special meeting at which former interim superintendent Shasta Plunkett was fired.
Mayor Scott Ross explained the hiring process.
“A citizen board was formed to help with the selection process,” Ross said. “There were 11 applications for the position. Six of those did not meet the minimum requirements of the job as advertised. Five went to the selection committee, and the selection committee chose not to interview two. Three were to be interviewed, but one candidate withdrew just prior to the interview. Interviews of the remaining candidates were held last Friday. The committee made a formal recommendation to the city board that Dwight Prisock be selected.”
Both Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer and Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman served on that committee, although Pittman was not present when the vote was taken.
“You said the committee recommended Mr. Prisock,” said Ward 2 Selectman Homer Cannon. “What was the vote of that committee?”
“It was 3-2,” McBrayer said. [Mr. McBrayer and Mr. Pittman both spoke up at the same time, but I believe it was Mr. McBrayer who made this statement. – Brian Jones]
“So it was a split decision,” Cannon said.
“It was a nine-member committee….” Ross began.
“The reason I say that is that the police chief was a unanimous decision,” Cannon interrupted.
“You and I were both on that committee,” Ross said. “There was never a formal vote because we believed there was a consensus. We never voted, as I recall.”
“The committee did,” Cannon insisted.
“You were on there and I was on there and [Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo] was on there,” Ross responded.
“We didn’t have a vote,” Cannon said.
“That wasn’t the way I understood it,” Ross said. “There is a recommendation here.”
Prisock was hired 4-1, with Cannon voting no.
[Packet readers will remember that several of the selectmen have tried to fire Mr. Prisock repeatedly in the past. In an executive session on July 13, 2010, the board voted 3-2 to fire Mr. Prisock (along with Chief Administrative Officer Randy Jones), with Messrs. Cannon, Collins and Pittman voting to terminate him. The mayor vetoed the firing. [On August 10, 2010, the board again attempted to fire Mr. Prisock, with the same result. I’m delighted that the board has realized the asset they have in Mr. Prisock. – Brian Jones]

Dr. John Bennett addressed the board with several complaints during the public appearances section of the meeting. Bennett was originally on the agenda last month, but was bumped at the mayor’s request; Ross stated that he had to drive to Jackson that night and asked that the public appearances be rescheduled to December. Ross stated that Bennett had been contacted beforehand and had agreed to the postponement, but Bennett, who was in the audience that night, was clearly angry.
Bennett took the mic Tuesday night and proceeded to berate the selectmen on a variety of issues, ranging from taxation to the school district.
“Please keep your remarks under five minutes,” Ross told Bennett as he approached the podium.
“Okay, so you’re indicating that I have five minutes,” Bennett said.
“If you need it,” Ross responded. “You don’t have to use all of it.”
“I probably need a little bit more than that,” Bennett said. “I have a short version and a long version, so I’ll just give you the short version. I am here tonight because I am having difficulty figuring out where in the city to go to get resolution to problems that seem to go on and on. It would be nice…you know if you go out there and buy a $5 light, you get operation instructions. There’s some kind of indication of how to use it. I assume that the city has something like that, but I have not been able to obtain it. I think the people on the board are quite aware of what my concerns are because I have mentioned them. I’m here while you’re in session and I’m going to mention it again, and hopefully it’ll lead to a solution.
“One issue is that a reappraisal was done, and when one company did it and submitted their report you all had differences with it,” Bennett said. “You asked for changes, and when the changes did not occur that company was dismissed and another was brought in. I do have information that two appraisals were done, but I would like specific information and since this is an abbreviated appearance I will be submitting a specific request for the information I want.
“The second item I would like to bring to your attention was that some things happened at the last board meeting,” he said. “I’ve talked to the mayor and gotten some explanation of why some things occurred. But I told the mayor that I am very concerned that we go in and pave a street and then we cut it off and go on to something else. He tells me that the money that was available was only enough to do that one block. He also told me that the funds available were associated with Navistar and could only be used there. [The paving projects were funded by grant money; to qualify for the grants the project had to pertain to industry, if I remember correctly. – Brian Jones] But the intersection Martin Luther Kind at Main Street every day, that’s an impossible situation and that’s because of Navistar. If you don’t have funds to pave the entire street, at least get that bottleneck out of the way. I was also told that a future project will be undertaken to pave the access roads. There are just some questions I have about this.
“I’ve got some questions about the tax situation,” he continued. “The citywide audit answered a lot of questions about how we do things. I noticed every year that when my taxes come out they increase, but then you say we’re not having a tax increase. I got the feeling from reading the audit that the city is allowed to increase taxes up to 10% without any authorization. My question is, within that flexibility, who decides how much we’re going up, if it’s a 4% increase rather than the full 10%?
“The other thing that I wanted to talk about was the public schools,” he said. “The schools are rated in the previous years as unsuccessful for the most part. [The West Point School District was rated as Academic Watch for the last two academic years; before that it was At Risk of Failing. – Brian Jones] As a city it doesn’t seem the board has taken a position as far as what our expectations are. Maybe unsuccessful schools is the most you aspire to. This board appoints three people to that school board, and those three people ought to reflect the thinking of the city.”
[Packet readers will remember that in September, while setting the FY12 millage rate, the mayor and board indulged in much breast-beating at the school district’s tax levy. The district asked for an increase of 1.88 mills to offset the loss of some state funding; the selectmen all but directly stated that they would have liked to refuse the request. The district, from what I understand, is to the point where further funding cuts will likely result in the loss of teachers, which will in turn drive teacher/pupil ratios up, a situation which is known to reduce student performance. [The West Point School District, as I stated above, is already on academic watch. According to the state department of education, its graduation rate fell from 67.5% in 2009-10 to 59.5% in 2010-11. As long as the mayor and board of selectmen continue to view education solely as a matter of dollars and cents, the district will continue to underperform and West Point will continue to wither on the vine; people drawn to the area by industry are not going to settle in a community with such obvious education shortfalls. But at least the board of selectmen can continue to boast about keeping the tax levy down. – Brian Jones]
The board took no action on Bennett’s comments.

Grant Writer Melanie Busby approached the board about two grants.
The first was for a proposed skate park for which the city has received a $100,000 grant from the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. Grindline was the sole bidder on the project.
Busby came under close questioning from the board over the requirement for a $20,000 match. Busby explained that the match could be provided with in-kind services, which seemed to confuse several board members.
“We can get the in-kind match through labor from city workers, part of my salary, things like that,” Busby explained. “It’s like free money. If we use city workers or machines, every hour they’re used can be counted as the match.”
“So you’re saying the city’s not going to be out a dime,” Cannon said.
“I wouldn’t say a dime,” Ross said.
“Then how are we assured that we won’t spend our money,” Cannon said. “I hear what you’re saying, but how…”
“This is how I do all the grants,” Busby said. “My job is to figure out the in-kind amount.”
“Look at the bridge work on Dunlap Road for an example,” Ross said. “We got Community Development Block Grant funds, which had a local match, but we got to count all the hours Mr. Prisock and other city workers put in as part of our match. So it didn’t end up costing us any more money out of pocket.”
“I understand what you’re saying,” Cannon said. “I am asking for an assurance that if we accept this the city won’t be out anything. How can you be sure of that?”
“Can you give us an estimate of what it will cost?” asked Ward 3 Selectman Charles Collins.
“Zero,” Busby responded. “The in-kind is where we use what we already have. For example we can use part of my salary as in-kind. It’s money that you’re already paying me, so it’s not costing the city anything additional.
“Are you nervous?” she asked Cannon.
“Yes, I am, because when we bought new police cars we were assured that the city would not have to pay anything,” Cannon said. “We were assure that. We ended up paying.”
“That was due to improper purchasing procedures by a former police chief,” Busby responded. “That didn’t have anything to do with me.”
The board eventually voted unanimously to approve the grant.

Busby’s next presentation was not so successful, however. Her second grant was for $100,000 in historic preservation funds that are earmarked for repairing the roof of the light and water department building. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places; its roof has been leaking for years. Prisock estimated that the roof repair would cost at least $200,000; the additional monies will come out of the water department’s coffers.
The sticking point here was whether or not the city would owe money to architect Pryor and Morrow for drawing up plans if the city elected not to proceed with the repair. Busby didn’t know, and so the matter was tabled.
[Part of the issue here is also the fact that, because the building is on the historic register, it must be repaired using very exact methods that will not compromise the historicity of the building, which in turn means the project will be much more expensive than it otherwise would. Mr. Bobo also seemed skeptical that money should be spent on the project at all, noting that there are many other projects in the city that are more deserving of the money. However, the grant is specifically for the light and water building and the funds may not be transferred to other projects. – Brian Jones]

In other business, the board:
agreed to let municipal court refer cases to the Clay County Drug Court.
approved changes to the peddler and alcohol consumption ordinances, both of which are inaccurate. The alcohol ordinance prohibits alcohol sales that are already occurring, and have been for some time; the peddler ordinance, as written, prohibits the Prairie Arts Festival.
Carolyn Poston was appointed to the housing authority board, and two members of the planning commission whose terms were about to expire were reappointed.

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