Williamson City Council meeting heated

The room was packed with concerned citizens at last week’s city council meeting.

WILLIAMSON — Things were heated at the regular Williamson City Council meeting that lasted nearly three hours on Thursday evening. Not only because temperatures were hot and muggy and there wasn’t another seat in the small room, but also because discussions got somewhat out of control when budget revisions were discussed and turned into disagreements.

Williamson’s mayor, Steven Knopp, said that the city had budgeted for $1 million in occupational and business tax receipts and had received $950,000 of that amount. He also said that the city budgeted to receive $250,000 in grants but only received $4,500 of that amount this fiscal year and only $492,000 had been collected in the garbage collection account which $517,000 was budgeted for.

Knopp also spoke of a loss on the city’s parking meters because of at least 91 parking meters not being utilized. This equals to $11,000 in lost revenue for the city.

The mayor proposed that the city cut spending on unnecessary things in a previous meeting and said that request has been ignored. He said that he had asked that all department heads limit spending on a voluntary basis on things that are not absolutely necessary.

“Apparently the request for voluntary reduction in spending has not resonated with department heads, not only the ones who are here tonight, but throughout the city,” said Knopp.

Knopp stated that a memorandum of understanding would be sent out on Monday morning from the mayor. He said the memorandum of understanding would limit unnecessary expenditures and would be issued as a formal policy of the city.

Councilman York Smith then asked what the city is buying that is not needed. Knopp replied that all kinds of different items are being purchased and asked Smith if he wanted to know the large or small things they were buying.

Knopp said that they just received a request from the city police to purchase a $23 name tag for a city police officer and asked the council if the officer needed a name tag to drive his cruiser. “That can keep until the next fiscal year,” stated Knopp. Then someone in the crowd said, “You have to be able to identify your officers.”

“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” Smith said to the mayor.

Knopp told Smith that he is talking about unnecessary expenditures, such as traveling out of town. He said that if the expenditure can be deferred then it will be. He said that emergencies are understandable, but not to be spending just because they think there is money in the budget to spend. Although Smith said that he understands that, he still wanted to know what police and fire chiefs were wanting to purchase that wasn’t needed. Knopp then told Smith to take that question up with those chiefs. Knopp said that the fire chief does a decent job managing the costs of the fire department.

“The police department does a good job too,” stated Smith.

Knopp said that the city street department is not managing its costs well. Smith then said that was Veolia Water’s responsibility.

“There are three or four workers that are managed by Veolia and the policy applies to them as well,” said Knopp.

Knopp also stated that if there are places that have holes in the street that are not causing a safety hazard then they can keep. If there is something on the main roads which need repaired it’s different.

“Okay, I have no problem with that,” said Smith, “but we can’t cut the police and fire departments down to the point where they can’t do their jobs.”

“Nobody is proposing we do that,” said Knopp.

Smith brought up the fact that the police department is short by three employees and the fire department is down two.

The city’s attorney, C. Christopher Younger said that part of the problem is that only one applicant passed the last Civil Service test given by the city for the police department.

“I want to hire the applicant that passed the test,” said Police Chief Barry Blair.

Joey Carey, Williamson Fire Chief, said that he had received three applications for the fire department but the clerk said those applications had not been turned in.

Councilman Smith then stated that he wanted to make a motion to have the fire and police chiefs automatically added to the agenda. This would allow them to know what is going on with the two departments. Knopp said that could not be done.

“We don’t need them on every agenda,” said Knopp.

Smith did not agree with the statement from Knopp and said the council should vote on it.

The mayor said that he did not want to pay the chiefs over-time for attending meetings, since they are trying to cut spending and save money. Smith then asked if they were ever paid over-time, which was a question that did not set well with the mayor.

“You do not want to go there,” said Knopp.

Smith asked why not and said if the council needed to address them for something or the chiefs had questions they could feel free to ask without the fear of being fired.

Knopp returned with asking the council if they were going to fire the chiefs.

“You might fire them but the council is not going to fire them,” Smith replied.

The crowd attending the meeting applauded Smith’s response and the mayor called for order.

Knopp told Smith that he was out of control. Then Smith asked Knopp if he wanted to throw him off council. The mayor said no, but said that Smith was acting out of control.

“Would you like to throw me off the council,” asked Knopp? “You voted for me,” he said to Smith.

That discussion went on for quiet some time with all members of the council giving their opinion and going back and forth with disagreement.

The mayor said that if the chiefs had issues they needed to go to the direct source first instead of the council as a whole. But majority of the council disagreed.

Councilwoman Judith Hamrick said she understands that but they are also vested in the interest and are entitled to the information on the chiefs and the decision making as well. Knopp then asked the council if they trusted him to provide them with the information. Hamrick refused to answer the question and Knopp then accused the council of going behind his back and meeting with each other to exclude him from their discussions.

“You have tried this time and time again. You and the chief of police have a certain goal in mind and you’ve excluded me,” exclaimed Knopp. “You don’t seem to understand that you don’t run city government by yourself.”

The radios that are needed for the city police were then brought to attention. Hamrick asked why the radios had not yet been purchased since there is a $35,000 grant available to pay for those radios. The mayor then said that they had to be paid for by the city then reimbursed with the grant and the money was not available to do so. Knopp said that they could not purchase the radios with cold checks.

“You are being silly for a grown man,” Hamrick exclaimed. Then the crowd roared and applauded once more, leaving the mayor to call for order.

The issue became an even bigger issue as the mayor and a couple council members went back and forth in a heated argument.

The clerk attempted to explain that money was not available to make the radio purchase.

Knopp also asked why the city police had not received their new bullet-proof vests yet and acted in concern to what might happen to the officers if they were shot between now and the time the vests came in.

The council did state that the vests had already been paid for and ordered but had not arrived. Knopp asked Chief Blair why the vests were not there yet.

“I can’t make them get here any faster than the company can get them here,” stated Blair in his defense. “They had to be custom made.”

Councilman Newsome then requested the council go in to executive session to discuss personal matters. Executive session lasted about 35 -40 minutes before council returned. The issues that were causing such an eruption were not brought back up at that point and the meeting went on according to the agenda.

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