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Front Page » March 31, 2011 » Local News » ECC council grills mayor
Published 1,654 days ago

ECC council grills mayor

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Sun Advocate reporter

A good deed may be overshadowed by what the East Carbon City council has concluded over the past few months is a major problem: communication between the city council and the mayor.

At a special meeting on Tuesday night, the council discussed events that took place over the weekend involving work on a road leading up to the drill sites for the new reservoir. Orlando LaFontaine, East Carbon City mayor, said that the city went up to the site and helped the engineering company get back down the road, which was affected by snow storms over the weekend. LaFontaine also mentioned that one of the drills was stuck at the site and needed water. Core testing is currently being done at the site where the reservoir may possibly be located.

On Friday, LaFontaine said he was notified that there was a serious problem and that the rigs needed water, which was determined to be about 6,000 gallons. Because the road was impassible, the engineering firm RGB looked into the possibility of putting in a connection to the city's water line to get the water they needed.

LaFontaine said volunteers and others helping the city spent all day on Saturday and Sunday working on clearing the snow, grading the road and laying down rotomill. Because there was no snow removal equipment available at the site and some equipment was broken down, the city needed to step in and help out, LaFontaine said.

"I felt like I needed to be there to see what was going on," he explained. "We felt there was an emergency and we accomplished what we were able to do."

LaFontaine went on to say that he felt the city was just helping RGB, the engineering firm working with West Ridge Mine on the drilling project. RGB is the engineering firm of the mine, not with the city, but Jeremy Humes, East Carbon City attorney, said that because of the importance of the reservoir project to East Carbon, the decision to help out may have been done in the best interests of the city. Humes also said that because the project involves a number of entities, including Sunnyside City and Sunnyside Co-Generation, RGB has been working with everyone affected by the project.

But some city council members felt LaFontaine did not communicate what exactly was going on with the work. Councilman Darrell Valdez said LaFontaine called him on Saturday morning and asked him to drive a truck for the city hauling rotomill, which is ground up asphalt, to cover a portion of the road leading up to the site. Valdez also claimed the mayor said the company was paying good money for people to drive trucks hauling materials. While the road leading up to the reservoir is a county road, LaFontaine said the city was helping maintain it.

Code does provide for leeway for the mayor to take these sorts of actions, Humes said. The mayor is considered the budget officer and Humes provided an example saying if the roads department had unexpended funds in the budget, the mayor could transfer those funds within that department if there was a situation that the city needs to deal with and there is a need to transfer the money.

"The transferring of funds could not exceed the department budget," Humes said, "but there is some leeway." The city does have a strict spending policy and the mayor must comply with that, he added. The current policy states that up to $25 can be spent before needing to have the city council approve any expenditure.

"All in all, I think it was a wrong choice," Valdez said of the city getting involved in the road project.

With claims of people being paid for their work, Councilman Andy Urbanik said he was concerned about who was keeping track of the cost of the workers and the equipment that was used during the work.

"Take it out of my pay," LaFontaine said.

Because of the work that was done on the road over the weekend, a water truck was able to reach the drilling site on Monday, LaFontaine insisted.

Halfway through the meeting LaFontaine said he wanted to leave, citing that he only heard about the meeting two hours before and he had family obligations. Walking out of the chamber, LaFontaine said, "Once again I killed everybody." The council asked him to return to the chamber and explain what he was saying. LaFontaine retorted that the city has gone over the issues discussed during the meeting many times already.

"If you would communicate with us what you are doing and when you are doing it, that would be really nice so that we aren't being asked by residents 'what the hell is going on?'" Urbanik said. LaFontaine also suggested that the city council should be better informed about what is going on, saying councilman David Avery should have known what was going on with the road because he works at the mine.

Councilman Avery, who works out at the West Ridge Mine, said he didn't hear anything about the project until Sunday night. He is concerned that the city may have developed a liability with the work that was done on the road and how all of the work will be paid for.

"The city should have had nothing to do with this project," he said.

The council also discussed the situation that occurred during the work with non-city employees using city vehicles and equipment. Councilman Urbanik suggested that the city look into the issue and look to prevent people who are not city employees from using vehicles citing insurance and liability as the main reasons.

Some residents were expressing concern about the work being done with city equipment and seeing trucks, owned by Circle K Construction, hauling materials to the road, Valdez said.

Communication between the city council and the mayor has been discussed before at previous council meetings, but Valdez thought LaFontaine didn't notify all city council members about what was taking place.

"We have to find things out through the grapevine around here," Valdez said.

With a special meeting being called to discuss this project, Humes said the council did not ask the questions about the project, and that members should have tried to find the answers about before the mayor left.

"If you want my opinion, this kind of meeting is the time that you ask those questions about that and the city council did not ask the questions that needed to be asked.

"The city council needs to delve into those details and try to get the responses that you need in order to properly deal with it," he said.

Councilman James Wayman said the mayor needs to improve his communication with other council members when an event like this occurs.

"I think the mayor thinks when he tells me something that I call everyone else about it," Wayman said. "I'm not going to go chasing around and telling everybody everything. To me, that's his [LaFontaine's] job, he's the mayor and he should contact you."

Despite not fully informing the city council about the road project, Wayman said that LaFontaine cares for the city and is all for helping people.

"He has always been about helping people," Wayman said of the mayor. "The only malice I see about this situation is that we didn't get informed about the project."

The council requested that Humes draft a letter to RGB and any other contractor that will be involved in the project stating that if there are any concerns that they should be addressed to West Ridge Resources because they are taking the lead on this project. Humes said he would first address the issue with all of the attorneys involved before possibly drafting a letter.

The council also said that they will look into drafting language for a purchase policy and check into their insurance to see if non-city employees using city vehicles is allowed at their next meeting.

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