Former Helena-West Helena police officer Tim Fugate managed to get on the agenda of Tuesday night's Helena-West Helena City Council session. Fugate said he was seeking answers to some questions regarding a not-so-recent theft from the local police station in which several weapons were reportedly stolen.
However, before he even got to the podium, Mayor Arnell Willis told the council that he “firmly opposed” Fugate addressing the city council at this time, pending litigation. City Attorney Chalk Mitchell agreed with Willis' assessment of the situation.
“This is a very sensitive matter,” stated Willis, “and in my judgment, this is not the proper venue to air this matter out.”
Fugate told the council that the questions did not concern the lawsuit to which Willis referred.
Despite Willis and Mitchell's objections, several members of the council opted to let Fugate speak.
According to Fugate, H-WHPD Chief Uless Wallace suspended him 45 days without pay when his personal vehicle was broken into and his badge stolen. Fugate added that Wallace was going to charge him to replace the badge.
“It was brought to my attention that recently the police department was broken into, weapons were stolen and no report was ever filed because in Chief Wallace's words, he has 365 days to complete his report, ” stated Fugate. “But Wallace ordered his officers to have their reports turned in within three days. The question I wish to raise is why wasn't Chief Wallace suspended?”
Fugate's presentation was terminated when Mitchell strongly urged the council to not go on public record in response to Fugate's questions.
“Again,” stressed Mitchell, “this is a delicate matter.”
Fugate thanked the council for their time and left the meeting.
The remainder of the marathon 2-hour session resulted in a lot of heated discussion but no action. Discussions regarding a new “Drug Free Workplace” ordinance and quotes on prices for new sanitation trucks quickly deteriorated into shouting matches with five or six people speaking at the same time.
Willis attempted to regain order by banging the gavel loudly several times.
The city has re-enrolled in the Arkansas Municipal League's program for employee drug testing and compliance. Since the previous ordinance elapsed it is necessary for the city to approve a new “Drug Workplace Ordinance.”
Some council members had questions regarding the validity of such an ordinance.
Willis stressed that the Arkansas Municipal League supplied the wording of the ordinance.
“This particular ordinance has been tested in court, I'm telling you it will stand up,” said Willis.
The floodgates opened wider when Willis presented two options for obtaining a new 40-yard front-loader for the sanitation department. The city's current front-loader is in serious need of repairs. The first option, said Willis, was a five-year payout at a total cost of $253,843. The second option was a six-year payout at $258,100. Cornerstone Leasing presented the proposals.
Page 2 of 2 - At the April 23 meeting, the council agreed to repair the broken truck and lease a truck for two weeks and place bids for front-end loader and discuss the matter at the next council session. Some council members were under the impression that the repair cost of the truck would amount to just under $2,500. However, at Tuesday's session the council members were hit with a bill totaling $11,700 for repairs to the old truck.
Council member Jay Hollowell pointed out that it has become a pay now or pay later situation for the city.
“We are going to continue to get hit with repairs for this old truck and eventually we are going to pay more out in repairs than what we could be paying on a new truck.”
The issue remained unsettled.
The Helena-West Helena City Council will meet again May 21.