May 16, 2012 Edition

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City discusses trade,
Midway Road repairs

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

Midway Road will soon receive much-needed repairs and attorneys are working with the municipal league to ensure the trade of a city-owned helicopter for a twin-engine plane is put into compliance with laws that regulate such matters. The Walnut Ridge City Council voted to allow city attorney Adam Weeks 30 days to seek a resolution to the dilemma.

In 2008 the city traded a helicopter they purchased for $10,000 for a 1964 Piper twin-engine plane, valued at $50,000 to $60,000. The plane was to be used for mosquito control. Tony Miles of Bono has now owned the helicopter for the past four years, but it is still registered in the city's name.

The mosquito committee agreed to the trade in 2008, as did the city council, but an official vote for the trade was never taken.

Weeks told the council he had talked to Miles' attorney, Martin Lilly, about the trade.

"I hope the council will allow me to try to undo the trade," Weeks said. "City property valued at $10,000 and over has to be sold by ordinance, otherwise it is an illegal transaction. I would like to continue to work on trading the plane back to Miles and returning the helicopter to the city."

Weeks said the city has three choices: do nothing, attempt to undo the trade or ask the court to issue a writ to get our property back.

Lilly told the council it was an unrealistic expectation to think Miles would trade the helicopter back in the future without a court order.

"A trade is different from a sale, and we're not going to trade this chopper," Lilly said.

"We will work with the municipal league legislative council and your attorney to ratify what transpired in 2008. I believe there is a way to correct this, and we'll do all we can to cooperate."

Alderman Michael "Button" Wallin asked why he was the only one being blamed for the mixup. He served as chairman of the mosquito committee when the trade was made.

"Our mosquito committee voted in favor of the trade, we had a city attorney sitting here along with a mayor and the city council," Wallin said. "We discussed this issue and agreed to do it. We just failed to vote on it.

"If it was unlawful to make the trade, the city attorney should have told us."

Alderman Dirk Davis said, "We (the council) said go ahead and make this (the trade) happen. We needed the plane to assist with mosquito control, and we needed it soon. I think we should abide by what the 2008 council did. We made a deal, and if we made a mistake it was done in good faith. If we have to suffer consequences for that mistake, so be it."

Wallin brought affidavits signed by most of the current council and some from those who were on the council in 2008 saying they all approved the trade. He asked that the notarized affidavits be attached to the minutes of the March 2008 meeting, and he produced the signed bill of sale for the plane, which he found in the plane's log.

"The helicopter we sold for $92,000 had just come out of the shop and had been completely repaired," he added. "The one we traded to Miles will take $50,000 of work before it can be certified by the FAA. We can't afford that.

"All of us were trying to help the city and just failed to do an actual vote at the council meeting."

Wallin and many on the council, as well as Lilly, feel there is a way to correct the situation by getting the correct paperwork completed and turned in. They believe the municipal league will understand that these are exceptional circumstances and will work with the city and attorneys to correct the problem.

Weeks said there is no easy answer for this and still feels the city should try to undo the trade.

"Unless we do what our attorney wants us to do, it will leave an air of impropriety about the way we handle it," Alderman Rob Combs said. "Let Weeks do what he planned or else it looks like a cover up. The citizens want to know what happened, and I think we're making a terrible mistake if we don't undo the trade."

Several alderman stated that the city needs to keep the plane to use for spraying this year because they cannot afford to hire someone else to do the work.

Alderman Wendell Jones said he just wants to make the paperwork legal.

"For a lot of us that was our first year on the council. We were new and made a mistake," Jones added. "I believe in a handshake sealing a deal, and coming back four years later and asking a man to undo a trade would not feel right and would not put our city in a favorable light in the future."

The council voted to allow Weeks 30 days to try and resolve the matter. Jones abstained and Combs opposed the vote.

Mayor House told the council that work to repair a section of Midway Road will begin within the next two weeks.

"We will do a two-inch overlay with the same material used by the highway department, which we have used here in the last few years," House said. "Hoxie and Walnut Ridge will split the cost of the repairs, which comes to $8,085 each. If we had to do the entire road it would have cost us over $200,000." He added that FEMA has already paid over $7,000 to help repair the road.

After going over the financial statement, the council voted to reduce the amount the mayor can spend without council approval from $10,000 to $5,000. Jones and Combs voted against the motion.

Alderwoman Paula Haskins told the council that the general fund balance is the lowest she has seen it since she has been on the council. With warm weather comes more expenses for the city, especially with the high price of fuel.

"It just concerns me when the amount is that low," she said. "I'd like to see us hold off on some things until our revenue improves."

Alderman Spencer Ponder said the $5,000 amount would give the council and citizens peace of mind for the present time.

The Walnut Ridge Regional Airport is in need of a new commissioner, following Dr. Ralph Joseph's retirement from that board at the end of December. He has accepted a commitment to Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

Alderman Wallin asked Mayor House if he had someone in mind to replace Joseph. By law, the airport commission must have seven commissioners on the board, Wallin said.

"We've agreed to work together and make sure we get everything within the law, so we need someone we can vote on," Wallin added. "That way we will be 100 percent legal. We can have a special meeting if we have to."

"I have someone in mind and will bring the name before the council very soon," House said.

In other business, the council:

  • accepted the bid of Mosquito Products LLC of Newport for mosquito control products.

  • learned the city's revenue is up from last month and that the mayor and city employees have been successful at finding ways to cut back on expenses, including $1,000 a month on phone bills.

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