Oskaloosa council does about-face with resident

by Dennis Sharkey

Resident Vernon Sparks thought the Oskaloosa City Council was going to work with him to alleviate a dangerous wall situation but a closed session with attorney Mike Hayes changed everything.

Last month Sparks attended a council meeting after receiving a letter from the Health Board concerning a rock wall that has partially fallen over next to the sidewalk.

Oskaloosa house

The stone wall in front of a house at the corner of Cherokee and Herkimer Streets is protected by an orange construction fence but city leaders want the wall torn down.

During the meeting last month Sparks indicated that he was a retired veteran on a fixed income and could not afford to do anything with the wall.

At that meeting some council members and especially Boyd, appeared to be sympathetic and willing to work with Sparks since he approached the council.

“If we’ve got to work together then we’ve got to work together,” Boyd said at the June 16 council meeting. “People who come to talk to us we’re a little more willing to work with than people who just blow us off.”

Councilman John Norman warned at the meeting that these types of issues would become a problem.

Boyd went on to say after Sparks left the meeting, “The big thing is him showing up and talking to us. It’s a small community and we can help each other out.”

Last week’s meeting with Sparks went much differently. When they left last month Boyd instructed Sparks to come up with some ideas and the city would also try to develop some ideas. Boyd started the discussion last week by asking Sparks what solutions he had come up with.

Sparks said he had not developed a plan because everything centered around his ability to pay.

“I don’t see how the city can let that wall stay in the condition that it is in,” Boyd said to Sparks.

Boyd asked City Superintendent Bill Heard how much man power it would take to remove the wall. Heard said the wall could be removed within a few hours.

Boyd said he didn’t have a problem with Heard removing the wall but the city would not be responsible for any other work that would need to be done.

“We can take care of your wall and get it off of your hands,” Boyd told Sparks.

However, Councilman John Norman questioned how far the city can go and if it will set precedent.

Councilman Allen Wise asked if the city would need an agreement. All of these questions and concerns prompted city attorney Mike Hayes to request a closed door session with the council to discuss the issue.

After the closed meeting Boyd asked for a motion. Councilman Jim Faris made a motion to follow the city’s ordinances.

More than two minutes of silence went by while Boyd and City Clerk Patty Hamm read through the ordinance. Boyd then told Sparks that he had 45 days from when the first letter was sent to fix the problem or go to court. Councilmen Greg Rockhold and Mike Paavola voted against the motion.

The action by the council prompted Sparks to become upset and question the council.

“How does somebody fix it when they don’t have the money?” Sparks asked.

Sparks began laying out his personnel issues to which Boyd responded, “I have the exact same stuff.”

Boyd said Sparks indicated at the last meeting that his home was beginning to slide and the city did not want to be liable if something more drastic were to occur.

“You guys are trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip,” Sparks said.

“It’s not that we want to break anybody. We’re not trying to get blood out of anybody,” Boyd responded. “We have a new council now and we’re trying to follow ordinances.”

He told Sparks that he is not the only person who received a letter.

Sparks then challenged the ownership of the wall. Sparks said the wall is within 30 feet of the center of the street and therefore within the city’s right of way. After a crude measurement by the Independent it was determined that Sparks could be right but measurements are close.

Rockhold made a motion to have the city’s engineer survey the street to see if Sparks’ claim is correct. Councilman Allen Wise voted against the idea.

In other actions:

• The city is still without a contract for engineering services. In May the council voted 3-1 with Wise abstaining to terminate the relationship with B&G Consultants. In that vote the council appointed MHS Engineering and Surveying to be the city’s engineers. Boyd said MHS will be invited to a meeting to work out contract details.

• Hamm read a report from Treasurer Polly McInroy concerning the update of accounting software. The city’s accountant has said a switch to Quickbooks would be worse than what the city is using now and suggested not doing anything if that was the choice.

Last year accountant Abram Chrislip told the council that not only was their software outdated, it was never intended to be used by a governmental agency.

Hamm said the service agreement for the current software is nearing a renewal date at a cost of $1,200.

• Norman reported that three letters have been sent to residents who received previous letters concerning their property. He said either nothing has been done or efforts were not good enough to resolve the issue.

Norman said some thank you letters are being sent out to those residents who have complied. However, Hamm said some residents are habitual violators and are mailed letters four or five times a year. Norman said some people may have been sent thank you letters but will receive a compliance letter the next week.

• The council extended one agreement with a local company to continue to use a city water tower for an antenna. Another was not approved.

• The council will hold a special meeting today (Thursday) to begin discussing the budget.

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Posted by on Jul 15 2011. Filed under Government, Municipalities, Oskaloosa. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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