The ongoing struggle between Presiding Clay County Commissioner Jerry Nolte and Commissioners Owen and Ridgeway continued this Monday at the Commission meeting.
Commissioner Nolte asked that four items be placed onto the Commission’s weekly agenda. Two discussion items included a concern Nolte had about a portion of a budget ordinance that was passed recently and the other had to do with policies related to late payments at the boat docks at Smithville Lake.
During the agenda setting portion of the meeting, Nolte said that he wanted the budget ordinance discussed because “it had come to his attention that the documents related to the warrants that are related to 2017 Ordinance 2, which I assume is the reason behind it, had in fact been mutilated, official signatures of an official of this county had been removed which I believe is something that should be discussed.”
Nolte also had two agenda items listed that included an attempt to terminate the contract with Spencer Fane LLP. They currently handle the County’s Sunshine Requests. He also proposed an ordinance requiring that the county budget would be required to be searchable on the County website.
We spoke with Nolte about the items and he told us that he’s concerned that he’s never seen an invoice from Spencer Fane LLP since they began working with the County back in mid-summer.
The budget is currently posted on the County website in PDF format only. It’s available HERE. He thinks that the budget should be searchable because it would increase the transparency of the County and aid in a search of a 600 page long document.
We arrived late to the County Commission meeting and did not capture the full discussion, but you can watch the portion we recorded. Owen and Ridgeway voted to remove Nolte’s items. A visibly frustrated Nolte called the action outrageous while speaking over Ridgeway. Cory Booth, a member of the Smithville Board of Alderman and one of the individuals who brought up issues with the County maintenance of Camp Branch back in May of 2016, got up and left the room frustrated.
Nolte continued telling County Administrator Brookshier that he would not be recognized for the remainder of the meeting until Nolte received a legal decision on his concerns about the County Budget ordinance. The Commission soon adjourned into an Executive Session to work out these issues.
After about 45 minutes the Commission returned from Executive Session to resume the meeting. The issues between Nolte and Brookshier have been temporarily resolved as Brookshier was recognized to resume the agenda.
As the meeting continued, members of the public who had come to speak about their concerns with slip fees at Smithville Lake left the meeting.
The issues stem from a recent decision by County staff to not accept any late payments from slip holders who had not paid their slip fees on time by the deadline on January 12th.
One member of the public, Stacy Long, stayed through the entire County Commission meeting. Long sat patiently in the back of the room with her three little children for nearly three hours before she was able to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. Readers may remember that Commissioners Ridgeway and Owen voted to move the public comment portion of the meeting from the beginning to the end at the end of 2016.
You can watch Long’s full comment and the interaction with the County Commission here:
Long told the Commission that she was concerned her family was caught up in a huge political mishap. They first became slip holders back in April of 2016 and paid by phone for their slip. They were recently contacted by the County by phone, informing them of the due date, and were told that they could not pay by phone. Long’s husband told the County that they’d be able to make a payment in the next week. The County employee then informed him that it would be fine.
They were contacted last Saturday by the County and told that they had 10 days to remove the boat and the lift that they own. The Longs are concerned that they will not be able to find the money to meet the demands as they don’t own a trailer for the boat. Sometimes slip holders use the lake as permanent storage for a boat and leave their boat docked year round.
We spoke with another slip holder recently who was affected by the County’s refusal to accept payment.
Jim Johnson was contacted on Tuesday, December 10th by an employee of the County reminding him that payment was due on on the 12th and that he could make payment by phone. This stands in contradiction of what Long stated in her public comment.
Johnson informed the County that he was out of town and would not return until the evening of the 12th. He told us that he was not comfortable with paying over the phone and would appear in person as soon as he returned to town. He was not home on the 12th until after business hours at Camp Branch Marina and attempted to pay on Friday, January 13th. He appeared at the marina with cash in hand but was denied payment.
Long stated in her public comment that she understood there was a document that indicated the County’s policy was to accept late payment 30 days after the due date.
According to the County’s policies that were passed last year on January 25, 2016 (2016-Ord-01 Approve Amended Five Year Fee Schedule), slip holders may make a late payment to the County within 30 days of the due date: “Late Fees – Late contract payments for previous slip holders will result in a 10% late fees with renewal of contract.”
We were provided a copy of the 2017 slip renewal notice and contract that was mailed to slip holders by the County. The front page letter, signed by county employee Madelyn Rawlings, does not indicate any change to County policy that slip holders should be aware of.
It does however state in the Boat Dock Placement Policy section: “If full payment is not received and your boat or trailer is on park property, it will be treated as abandoned property and put up for sale.”
According to Cory Booth, there may be 60-70 slip holders who have been affected by this abrupt change in policy. It’s the position of Booth and other slip holders that the county is in violation of their own policies and contracts initiated in 2o16. Slip holders are currently contemplating legal action against Clay County.
During Long’s public comment, Commissioner Nolte stated, “I have not run into anybody who has been involved in the situation who didn’t say, ‘you know what, I was late, my fault, I will take care of the fee.'”
We heard a similar comment from Jim Johnson. He admitted to being late to us, realized it was a mistake, and was even willing to pay any late fees that have been incurred. Johnson has been a slip holder for several years at the County. He also told us that all payments were late the previous year as there was no clear policy communicated in the past.
This story has received larger media attention, too. 41 Action News ran a report last night with an interview of Cory Booth. You can watch that here:
The County issued a statement about the slip fee issue to 41, that comment is below:
The last lease contracts expired December 31, 2016. Boat slip holders were notified by mail in December and with reminder phone calls in January that there was a payment deadline of January 12th for the January – June lease term. The Clay County Code of Ordinances does not entitle a non-paying customer to a boat slip at Smithville Lake.
When payments were not received timely, the county began calling the list of customers who have been waiting for years to lease a boat slip at Smithville Lake.
Anyone wishing to add further comment to this story or correct the record may send an email to [email protected]
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