City settles lawsuit for $30,000

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Caruthersville City Council met on Tues., Jan. 2 as their regular meeting was shifted due to the holiday. Counselor Lawrence Dorroh stated the lawsuit filed against the City of Caruthersville by Erica Grady who alleged Mayor Mike McGraw had sexually and racially harassed her was settled by MoPerm. $30,000 will be paid to Grady by the insurance company with the deductible of $1,000 being owed by the city. No further discussion was made on the subject.

Councilperson Nick Cartee asked about the contract the Mayor had signed with MoDot. During the past meeting, the council had asked to see a copy as they had not been notified before it was signed and wanted to confirm what it contracted the city too. The mayor stated he had not, “run across it, yet.” Councilperson JJ Bullington asked if the council could have a copy before they left that evening since it was requested at the last meeting. The mayor responded, “I doubt it.” When asked why, he said he was not going to go and look for it. Bullington then suggested at the end of the meeting the group could recess, giving him time to go and find it across the hall in his office. “I understand that real well. I also asked you for revised minutes.” McGraw was referring to the financial committee minutes in which he had requested that Bullington include the names of everyone who attended the committee meeting. Bullington explained she had emailed them to him as promised. “That doesn’t count,” said McGraw. He went on to say he wanted to know everyone who was in attendance at the meetings. Bullington again said she had spoken to all the committee members and had emailed him the updates. “As far as the contract with MoDot, it basically says come pick up your signs and stuff like that,” McGraw answered.

Bullington went on to say she did not mind putting who attends the meetings on the minutes but wanted to know why the finance committee was the only committee he ever requested minutes for. Bullington went on to say she had never seen one set of minutes other than the finance committee minutes. The council agreed they had not seen them either. Bullington went on, “I agree with you, what you are asking for is not out of line. But if you are going to require it for one committee you should require it for all of them. That is all I have to say about that.” McGraw responded, “Well good for you.”

Going back to the original topic of the MoDot contract the mayor said, “What it basically says is that we are going to pick up trash and we need to pick up our signs.” The conflict has been ongoing, as the mayor wants the city to take over the clean up of the South Ward entrance into the town that is currently owned and maintained by the state. He would like to regularly pay $800 to have the area mowed and the trash picked up. Many on the council believe there are other pressing things the money is needed for at this time and other options should be considered. When the mayor announced he had signed a contract taking over the responsibility for cleaning the area, the council was unsure as to what degree of responsibility the city had signed on for because they have not seen the contract.

McGraw said he had learned about the closure of Save A Lot and had written an email to the corporate office. “They sent me an email back telling me they were sorry, that the decision had been made and all that. Then two minutes later they sent me another email and they asked if we had any locations available.” He went on to say he had called the number on the email but that it was a St. Louis number and he did not know if they had worked or not because of how cold it was.

He went on to say Liberty Utilities is planning a rate increase but that he had not heard when the meeting about it would be. Cartee stated he had been approached by several business owners stating their concerns about the ever increasing utilities not only from Liberty but from all of the utility services. “Utility bills are skyrocketing and they are having a hard time making it. Have you talked to any of our representatives state wide that could come and be of assistance in these meetings?” asked Cartee. McGraw responded, “All of these utility companies apply to the Missouri Public Service Commission and they’re the ones to make the ruling. And any of those representatives are free to write a letter to them regarding the rate increase or to go to the hearing and I don’t know if any of them have ever attended. I have but I don’t know that they have.” Cartee said his question was whether or not the mayor had contacted any of the state officials requesting their help and assistance in helping our businesses and residents. McGraw said the rate increase was not just for Caruthersville and that no, he had not contacted any state officials regarding this. “To me it makes more sense for the mayor of a town to go and basically assert themselves,” said McGraw. Cartee stated he would contact the state officials and ask for their help the next day.

Councilperson Johnny Hood asked about Save A Lot looking for another location and whether or not the mayor had given them any suggestions. “I believe they are a franchise, and anyone can get a franchise and they have corporate stores and they have franchises. It was corporate that I got this email from, not a franchise,” said McGraw. Hood explained he knew it was a franchise, but wanted to know if they had given any indication they would be willing to stay in the city if a new location could be found. Hood went on to say many people in the community are rightly alarmed by the fact another business is closing and the city should be doing everything they can from the top down to help.

Discussion then turned to an ongoing water issue being faced by James Stricklin at his residence in the area of East 19th and East 20th. Stricklin presented a bill as to what it would cost to have the problem of sitting water fixed so that it would not cause more damage to the homes in the area. Councilperson Barbara Rodgers agreed the problem should be fixed but reminded the council she had been having the exact same issue in her neighborhood to the point of it rotting the floors in her home and it had still not been fixed. The mayor questioned when she had been told about the fix for the issue and Rodgers shared her disappointment in being questioned as whether or not this was the truth. She asked the mayor not to challenge her as she was known for telling the truth and explained the engineer had said over a year ago the issue could be fixed, but like many things it had not been taken care of.

Code Enforcement officer Sonya Fuller asked if the mayor had asked exactly why Save A Lot was closing. The mayor responded saying, “No.” Fuller then asked if the mayor had asked them and he responded, “Well I asked the manager and she said ‘no business’ is what she said. But that is just the manager.”

Cartee suggested the cemetery committee should get together and discuss the contract that has been bid, saying there was a funeral scheduled this week and no one knew for sure who was to mark the grave or take care of anything along the way. “As of right now, it looks as though the city is losing $100 per grave verses before, when we were making $150 per grave,” said Cartee. He went on to say the funeral home business never stops, they must be on call 24/7 and the city needs to consider that as they move forward.

Cemetery Committee member Melissa McClain said she believed the entire committee needed to sit down and start back at square one. She went on to say she has not seen or heard from the committee and the situation as a whole needs to be discussed. It was decided a public meeting will be held to look at the contract and to make decisions to get everything in order.

Bullington explained prior to Jan. 1, the city was charging $600 to open and close a grave with P.G. Maners receiving only $450 to mark, open and close the graves, thus giving the city a profit. Under the new contact the city will charge $600 and Riggs will charge $700 to do the work, which means the city will be out $100 per grave. The mayor responded saying, “It was a bid.” Bullington answered she knew it was a bid, but that it made no sense. “We can not continue to do business this way.”

Cartee stated as of right now there is a plan in place that has been worked out to keep things up and running between Maners and Riggs. Several expressed their thanks to Maners for continuing to help even when he did not have to. McClain then asked, “Is it possible when we have this meeting to have the documents available? The contract with H.S. Smith and the contract with Riggs. I can’t make decisions based on nothing.” Bullington and Cartee agreed they needed to be turned over to the cemetery committee. Bullington said she was curious as to what the concerns of the cemetery board were that brought them to this point where H.S. Smith is no longer in contract with the city. It was asked a second time why H.S. Smith had decided to no longer work with the city, the mayor responded he did not know but that H.S. Smith had simply sent a letter and said they would no longer be in contract with the city. Someone in the audience asked the mayor why he had not called them and asked why. “You are the leader of the city. Your answers are ‘I don’t know about that.’ ‘Save A Lot is closing and I don’t know why they are closing.’ But it seems like the mayor, with the best interest of the city would dig up those answers and try to intervene or do something about it. Instead of just saying well, the manager told me that,” said the resident. The mayor responded, “This is private business, all you can do is #1 call who owns it, they lease that building they are in. As I said when I sent an email to corporate they sent another email and asked if there were any other locations available.”

The resident then stated, “I have been coming to these meetings for several months now and every time you go through your list you say, I don’t know this, I don’t know why, it gets us no where.” The mayor responded saying, “Government is slow.” The resident again said the mayor should be up to date and knowing why a business is closing and how we can either help them stay open or can make sure others don’t fall under the same issue. She went on to say he had given three different reasons as to why Save A Lot was closing. It was asked which one was it? Do they need a location, do they not have enough business, or are they just closing? The mayor did not answer other than to say he had emailed corporate but had not been able to do any more.

Councilperson Hood shared his experience with Save A Lot during a recent fundraiser saying, “We approached them in the store, making personal contact with the manager. He told us he would have to contact corporate office and he immediately got back with us. I probably would not have gotten anywhere if I had not made personal contact with them.” Hood went on to say the mayor needed to follow up in person to speak face to face with the businesses.

Cartee went back to the discussion on the cemetery stating the city is a business and needs to be conducted as such. McClain told him she had recently been contacted by someone who said the council had turned down the mapping of the cemetery to which she responded to them that was not true. The council was looking for more information before making a decision and went over the details of what needs to be found out about the program. The mayor said, “We are going to have a meeting and Kathryn Parkinson is the chairman and I will talk to her tomorrow.” McClain responded, “No, either you’re going to contact them or I am.” She went on to say she will contact the group to get the meeting together. “Someone asked earlier about what happened with Smith. Personally, I am hoping that once we get all of our ducks lined up maybe we can go back to the old days.Maybe if we can get a committee that will work with Smiths. Take whoever the mayor is out of it, then maybe we can go back to the old way when things were working well,” said McClain.

The question was asked again if the council had seen the new contract with Riggs, to which the council said no, they had still not seen the contract. Only the mayor had, but no information was given to them on it. The mayor stated that was the only bid that was submitted, “So whether you like it or not,” he said and shrugged.

Bullington said she hoped the council was paying attention to the sales tax reports. “With businesses continuing to close, this is only getting worse. Everyone sitting around this table is educated. When you get less money, you can’t have more expenditures. If this does not turn around, we have got some problems.” Bullington went on to apologize to anyone who was upset about her not including who was in the finance committee meetings but said they had never been asked to do that before. She introduced the members of the committee who are always in attendance and stated she had gone back through to adjust the minutes and will list everyone in attendance from now on. She said she sent the adjustments to the mayor and members of the committee to confirm they knew of no one else that needed to be added. “We have an insurance committee, a fire committee, and others. I have yet, other than one airport meeting and one cemetery meeting, ever seen committee minutes in our packet. But every meeting I have, I have been asked for the minutes and I have sent them and they have been in the packets. I’ve done my due diligence in doing finance reports, so if you (McGraw) have an issue with the way I handle my minutes, don’t appoint me again.” The mayor said, “My only statement was the people who attended.” She asked again why she was the only one being pointed out for this and the mayor replied others have theirs included. Matt Duckworth disagreed saying since he has been a chairman of the Street committee he has not recorded any minutes. Cartee stated the water committee was the only one who did but that it had only just started because Gena Glass did it.

Cartee spoke about rumors going around regarding theft in businesses causing businesses to close. He said there are ordinances and laws in place regarding shoplifters and that officers are stepping up their visibility in area stores to help.The city will be making efforts to educate people on the laws and consequences of those caught. Chief Tony Jones thanked Nick Cartee for making the effort to actually contact the businesses to talk to them about ways the city can help them.

Jones spoke about the need for more advertisement on the interstate and how important it is for everyone to come together to help make the city better by working with the businesses to see what help is needed. Counselor Dorroh said he will look into the possibility of increasing the fines for shoplifting. Hood said, “I think it is on all of us to preserve and protect everything that we have.” He went on to tell about a group of teens hanging around the entrance of Dollar General making customers uncomfortable and quite probably shoplifting. Jones said this issue has been discussed and officers will be making rounds to monitor what is going on.

The topic of collecting tax on internet sales was discussed. Dorroh said it captures the sales tax on internet sales and helps protect local business. More will be looked at and discussed at a later date.

Councilperson Sue Grantham said she received a call from the mother of Randall Waldrop who thanked everyone for the flowers that were sent in his memory and the many kind thoughts and words said. Money is being dropped off at the Recreation Center to put together a special memorial for Randall.

Resident Charles Cain spoke and said he had sent in his property taxes some time ago and as of yet the check had not cleared. He stated he felt the office needed to be modernized. Council members said they had been contacted by others who were having the same issue. Cain said there was a lot of paper being pushed around and with money and envelopes sitting around and not being deposited there was a danger. He suggested hiring more help for the collector to get things processed but felt that a check should not be held for a month.

Bullington said, “We have had that problem with another employee that was addressed because he held checks. Has this not been discussed with all of our employees?” She went on to say she had also been contacted by someone who had mailed their check a month ago and had yet to receive a receipt. Cain stated he had seen several piles of envelopes and checks in the office and they were working on them, but the process needs modernization to speed things up and that she needs more help during the tax season.

Cartee said there has actually been some issues with additional charges being put on mortgage companies for sending receipts, which he says has not been approved. He went on to say additional help was hired for the tax season without the authorization of the council. Cain replied, “I know but the help that has been in there has another job so hasn’t been there.” He went on to say for that reason there should be more help brought in. A resident replied and said the person who was hired should have been made aware of the hours that would be required and should have to work those hours. It was also mentioned the previous collector had a bigger job because during her time there, there were more businesses and citizens. The city had not provided her with help but she had instead hired help out of her own pocket to ensure everything was done in a timely manner.

Cartee said he did not feel the fees should be charged to the mortgage companies. Bullington asked how this was allowed to happen without the permission or knowledge of the council or the city attorney, “Do we just allow this to happen?” she asked. The mayor said he believed the fault was in the way the county collector had printed the bills but Cartee interrupted saying he had already checked and they were done exactly the same as they had been in the past. “Obviously that was a mistake,” said the mayor. “Live and learn.”

It was then asked why the collector had been allowed to hire someone without the permission of the council and why the previous collector had to hire someone out of her pocket in order to get them out on time. It was then said in the past, the collector was always open through the tax season however now the office is often closed. It was again brought up that in the past the population was higher and the businesses were more plentiful. It was also asked why she is still being paid for 30 hours of cleaning the building when she doesn’t have time to do her regular job. McGraw stated he felt it was a conversation that should be had when the collector is present.

The next meeting will be held Tue., Jan. 16 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.