Council meeting heated


Citizens protest water, sewage hikes



The council chamber was packed for Monday’s public hearing that allowed Williamson citizens to voice their opinions about the proposed water rate increase. Regardless of the citizens’ opinions, the proposal was approved and changes will be made in 45 days after the second reading. The second reading took place immediately following the public hearing.


Cindy Moore/WDN Photos Former mayors Estil “Breezy”Bevins (left) and Sam Kapourales (right) appeared at the special council meeting. Another former mayor, Butch West, was also there and all three spoke.


By Cindy Moore

[email protected]

WILLIAMSON — A full house of Williamson citizens appeared at the public hearing and second reading of the new sewer and water rate increase proposal and stink was stirring with outraged customers.

The public hearing was held at Williamson City Hall on Monday at 1:00 p.m. to allow citizens and customers to voice their opinions about how they feel about their bills raising almost 50 percent. The hearing began with just that, as the customers’ outrage roared throughout the room.

Some customers claimed they could not hear the mayor well enough as the meeting began and an elderly man asked that he turn up the volume on his microphone. The mayor replied that the audience was just going to have to listen up and that if they would be quiet then they may be able to hear. The elderly man insisted that he couldn’t hear, so Mayor Steve Knopp suggested that the man move to the front of the room so that he would be able to hear.

The audience continued with outrage for several minutes because they said they felt the elderly man was mistreated by the mayor. Knopp then called for order in the room and threatened to have people removed.

“I want quiet in this room. Am I going to have to send somebody back there and remove you? Because I have the ability to do that,” exclaimed Knopp. “Now if you can’t hear, and I think you can hear, but if you can’t hear, I expect you to come up here and take a seat. There are plenty of open seats toward the front of the room. If you can’t hear what’s going on then you move so that you can.”

The mayor called the meeting to order and said that he expects to have polite and respectful behavior because the meeting was public and he said it is not some sort of mob scene and is not some sort of disorganized process.

“We’re not happy to be in a position where we have to propose an increase and the surcharge that we’re dealing with. This is not a happy situation and this is not something that we are liking a bit, but this is a circumstance that’s been brought on over a considerable amount of time,” said Knopp.

Knopp said there were some gentleman at the hearing who were responsible parties who ran the city long before he got the job and they are probably going to tell them that they were not involved in creating the deficit.

“I want them to have an opportunity to set that out on the record, just as members of the community and also to explain how, if they want to, their role in this process developed and how things were fine when they were here,” stated Knopp.

Past mayors, Sam Kapourales, Estil (Breezy) Bevins and Butch West were all three present to defend themselves with the public on the city’s debt.

Kapourales, just as several other individuals, suggested to the mayor that the city do a forensic audit to find out if money is being misspent because he was told money was being misused. After looking over to the city’s lawyers, who are working on this process, the mayor stated that is what’s being discussed and what they intend to get done. The mayor then welcomed Kapourales and stated that they all have a vested interest in assuring the public of what is going on and what has gone on has been proper and appropriate.

“That’s why the three of us mayors are here, to explain to the citizens that when we left the city there was no debt owed,” stated Kapourales. “I’ve heard now for three or four years that there’s wrong-doing in the water department. Why had it not been investigated and if something went wrong then why wasn’t someone prosecuted? When you hear these rumors over and over again, you start to wonder.”

Knopp told Kapourales that just because you hear rumors on the street or on Facebook you still have to be responsible in the way that you deal with those issues and make sure that you’re not just running in the same direction as the mob. “You need to establish what the facts are before you take considered action,” said Knopp.

The mayor went down the list, allowing each concerned citizen to speak about how they feel but when one citizen, Betty Ward, was allowed her turn the mayor stopped her in her tracks after several minutes and stated that each person was only allowed five minutes to talk. “Let’s not run for office Mrs. Ward, let’s wrap it up,” exclaimed Knopp.

Ward requested a detailed break-down of the $1.2 million debt and asked how it came about, the inception of it and the payment of it. “On behalf of every tax payer in this town, I am requesting the mayor and every council member to submit your resignation,” stated Ward. “We need leadership. There is none!” The audience applauded Ward. Knopp stated that was enough and that was not appropriate behavior for a public meeting. “Applause is not called for,” said Knopp.

Ex-mayor, Estil (Breezy) Bevins stated to Knopp that his remarks at the beginning of the meeting toward the three ex-mayors about being there to clear their name, was the exact reason he was there. “I’m here to clear my name. When I left as mayor we were paying our bills,” said Bevins. “What I don’t understand is where the money has went. I’m not accusing anybody.” Bevins said he was a criminal investigator for the State Tax Department and they taught us at the State Police Academy to follow the money. “So I suggest that you start an investigation and I would suggest that you let the State Police do it,” added Bevins. He asked how the $1.2 million debt just showed up and why someone wasn’t on top of it and asked to find out where the money went and what the problem is. “I can assure you that this mayor didn’t take any money,” exclaimed Bevins.

Knopp replied that he thinks everyone was there with the intentions on venting their frustrations with the city council and suggested their frustrations were misplaced. “This matter of $1.2 million that everyone is so excited about here and the overall tone of raising the rates to pay for the services that are being provided and that have been provided in the past, those are Water Board issues, not City Council issues,” said Knopp. “It’s not appropriate to uniformly condemn this council for problems that originated at the water board. If there was wrong-doing, we’re going to be looking for where that was done and looking for who was responsible.”

Ex-mayor Butch West was given his opportunity to speak to the mayor as well and he brought up a rumor of hidden money. He said that he is a lawyer and he can tell the folks in the meeting that they do not have to have positive proof that something is going on, they just have to have probable cause. He said he feels that they do have probable cause. “When I have talked to people around the community after this problem blossomed, I’ve been told that the amount was somewhere in the neighborhood of $635,000 and it was kept in a desk here in this building and was never paid over to Veolia. Corruption has plenty to do with this and I am the reason many of our politicians are in prison right now. I am the one who found out and reported them and that’s where they belong,” stated West. “Many of them had some connection with this body.”

West said that he was only mayor for about two and a half years but in all that time he said he never spent one penny of the city’s money. He said that his parents always told him that if you get to the root of the problem everything will always be alright. “If we have that kind of attitude and work together to do something with this, we will get it done,” stated West.

“Listen to me, if I don’t say anything else, Mr. Kapourales knows this city like the inside of his hand, he knows where every rock is. There was an interest there and the interest continues today or we wouldn’t be here like this,” said West. “But Steve, I’m a little bit disappointed. This freedom of speech is strong stuff and if we had to sit here till midnight, we ought to let everybody have their say. I believe that everybody in this community would roll their sleeves up and get busy.”

West inquired as to why the Mountain Water District was getting their water cheaper than what the city was purchasing it for and suggested that something be done. The mayor asked West if he knew how much it would cost the city to have a cost of service survey done to the Mountain Water District to have their rates increased and West replied, “No sir, but I do know what it’s like to be without water.”

Other individuals asked the mayor why he hasn’t implemented smaller rate raises before since he’s been mayor for over a year and the mayor asked, “Why couldn’t I just take my magic wand and and wave it over this whole situation?” The audience was, again, outraged at Knopp.

Many members of the audience also asked why the city wasn’t working harder to collect past due water bills, which is over $300,000 of the city’s debt. The crowd suggested ways to collect those past due amounts and the mayor said that some of those suggestions are certainly something they can add to the mix. One audience member stated that if a person wasn’t paying their $20 water bill then they sure aren’t going to pay a $100 water bill.

At the end of the public hearing the mayor stated that they have been through the list, allowing everyone to speak, but one concerned citizen had not been given his chance. Michael J. Baisden said his name was on the list and he demanded his right to speak. “I’m not going to raise my hand to speak because I was told to sign the list and I would have my chance to speak,” said Baisden. Baisden told the mayor, “If this is the way you’re going to run this city then God help us all!” Baisden also told the mayor that he has talked down to the crowd like he’s talking down to a step-child. “I think that we need to be given an answer that is not condescending to each and every one of us,” said Baisden. He said that the mayor has been changing the rules during the meeting consistently by allowing some more time to speak than others and answering questions when the mayor said the meeting was not to answer questions and was for comments only.

Baisden told the mayor that was the worst run meeting that he has ever been in in his life. “Like I said earlier, if this is the way you’re going to run this city, then God help the city of Williamson cause you certainly aren’t going to help it,” exclaimed Baisden. Baisden stated that he has seen Veolia workers out mowing private lawns and feels like the city is paying for that as well. He said that he feels part of the problem is gross mismanagement. Baisden said to the mayor, “You sir are the prime example. I’ll bet you that if I looked under Webster’s Dictionary and looked up gross mismanagement, your picture would be right there!”

After every individual had their chance to speak and each one was heard, the public hearing came to an end and the second reading of the proposed ordinance followed immediately. The new rate proposal was read, word-for-word, to the public and the council had to make a decision.

The mayor asked for a motion to approve the new sewer and water rates but not one of the council members made a motion. The mayor made the first motion on his own and asked for a second. Council members sat in silence for several minutes without a second motion. Finally, council woman Sherri Hairston made a second. She stated that the only reason she agreed to second the motion was to avoid the city from having to file bankruptcy.

One concerned citizen, Shawn Williamson, said that the meeting was just to make it legal. “The council did not care what the citizens had to say; they had their mind made up,” said Williamson. “The mayor is the president of the Utility Board, but yet he could not answer any questions. I think the FBI should have to audit Williamson’s accounts to find out why this is happening and where the money went before making us take on the deficit.”

Williamson also said that for someone with the mayor’s authority to talk to a citizen who pays his wages, he should not be the mayor. He said that the mayor belittled an elderly man along with the other citizens of Williamson by his tones and actions throughout the meeting. “He should have to apologize to every citizen for his actions. Not only does he talk down to citizens, but also belittles the city employees like chief of police and fire,” stated Williamson. “His actions are unacceptable for his position.”

The rate changes will begin in 45 days after the approval, unless 25 percent of the customers protest and sign a petition.

Cindy Moore is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. To contact Cindy by phone please call 304-235-4242 ext. 2278 or by email at [email protected].

The council chamber was packed for Monday’s public hearing that allowed Williamson citizens to voice their opinions about the proposed water rate increase. Regardless of the citizens’ opinions, the proposal was approved and changes will be made in 45 days after the second reading. The second reading took place immediately following the public hearing.
http://williamsondailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/web1_crowd1.jpgThe council chamber was packed for Monday’s public hearing that allowed Williamson citizens to voice their opinions about the proposed water rate increase. Regardless of the citizens’ opinions, the proposal was approved and changes will be made in 45 days after the second reading. The second reading took place immediately following the public hearing.

Cindy Moore/WDN Photos Former mayors Estil “Breezy”Bevins (left) and Sam Kapourales (right) appeared at the special council meeting. Another former mayor, Butch West, was also there and all three spoke.
http://williamsondailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/web1_Former-Mayors1.jpgCindy Moore/WDN Photos Former mayors Estil “Breezy”Bevins (left) and Sam Kapourales (right) appeared at the special council meeting. Another former mayor, Butch West, was also there and all three spoke.
Citizens protest water, sewage hikes

Cindy Moore is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. To contact Cindy by phone please call 304-235-4242 ext. 2278 or by email at [email protected].

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