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Tensions high when city discusses water treatment PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 11:46


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Although non-binding, City signed memorandum of understanding without vote of commission



ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of the story recapping the most recent meeting of the Liberal City Commission Tuesday evening. This part will cover the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, and part two will cover the approved budget for 2018 and other matters discussed during the meeting. 


Tuesday evening got off to a heated start for the Liberal City Commission during the Items from Citizens portion near the beginning of the meeting. First to speak was current city commission candidate Chris Jiminez-Carlile, who spoke about some information she had received anonymously. 

“I found the contents very surprising and disturbing since they involved a memorandum of understanding between the City of Liberal and National Beef about the building of the wastewater treatment facility dated June 26, 2017,” Jiminez-Carlile began. “In that MOU, it indicated improvements would be made to the facility at an approximate cost of $57,650,000 and the city would be responsible for 30 percent of the cost and National Beef would be responsible for the other 70 percent.”

This MOU, Jiminez-Carlile continued, also said National Beef wanted a $6.5 million addition to the plant that they would pay for that would allow the processing of effluent generated by National Beef so it could be sold by National Beef to third parties for agricultural services.

“This MOU was signed only by Dave Harrison, city commissioner, and not signed by National Beef,” Jiminez-Carlile continued. “The packet also included a copy of a letter to Mark Hall from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment dated July 24, 2017, which, among other things, said the KDHE understands ‘the city will not utilize the KDHE low interest loan to finance the construction of the alternate two upgraded wastewater treatment facilities.’ I asked Jack [Carlile] if he knew anything about this arrangement as a city commissioner, and he told me he did not.”

Jiminez-Carlile talked about other parts of her research into this information she had come across. 

“I reviewed both minutes and newspaper stories to see if there was anything where this was discussed in an open city commission meeting,” Carlile said. “May 12, 2015, the city commission approved Ordinance No. 4454 and 4455, which authorized two KDHE loans – the first one for the engineering and administrative costs for the wastewater treatment plan of $2,985,000 and the second one for a construction loan of $25,643,080. Since that time, I could find nothing discussed in open city commission meetings about rejecting the KDHE construction loan or entering into an MOU with National Beef for a treatment plant whose cost is now at nearly $58 million. I could not find anything where the city commission authorized Dave Harrison, who is neither the mayor or the vice mayor, to sign the MOU as a representative of the city. So I have a simple question for the commission: What the heck is going on?”

Carlile also expressed concern about discussions of this taking place behind closed doors, saying the Kansas Open Meetings Act is clear about the ability to approve MOU’s (which are binding action) in closed sessions. 

“If this is being done behind closed doors, then not all the city commissioners are involved, so who exactly is making these plans?” Carlile asked. “The three individuals directly involved in the MOU and the copies of correspondence I also received are City Manager Mark Hall, Director of Finance Chris Ford, and commissioner Dave Harrison. What do the other commissioners know about this? The issue is not the merits of the MOU and whether or not this is a good deal for the city, the issue is decisions are apparently being made that supercede the authority of the city commission and commit the citizens of Liberal to plans and costs that have not been openly discussed or duly voted on by elected representatives. The citizens of Liberal have a right to know what’s going on and deserve and explanation.”

After Jiminez-Carlile’s comments, Hall himself began speaking. 

“It is one of those where the MOU was a requirement that both parties are committed to this, we are not doing any engineering,” Hall said. “That letter does explain the engineering for the plant is due, which is 30 percent, by Aug. 15. The commission will make a decision on this in the future that will bind the city, but as far as this, these are preliminary discussions with the KDHE directly, with National Beef. There has been no commitment by the city as far as funds or representation in the future. This is where National Beef is presenting to KDHE, with the consent of the City of Liberal, a combined treatment facility. This MOU outlines in that combined treatment facility, they are willing to pay 70 percent of the total cost. The city would bear 30 percent, but that cannot be done until the city commission is presented the plant in the drawings in the future, which they will make a decision on in the future in public of whether they want to move forward or not. Commissioner Harrison has been involved because of the understanding of the treatment facility for about nine years. This didn’t start overnight, it’s a long process. Roughly nine months from Aug. 15, engineering will be due, and that will be a decision made by KDHE of whether or not this plant can do what it’s required to do. As far as any binding, that has not been done and will not be done until the commission is ready to approve the project.”

After Hall’s comments, the conversation got somewhat heated.

“I know Commissioner Harrison has been involved with this since its inception in early 2007, and we all know, as we’ve discussed, how talks have been ongoing with KDHE and National Beef for quite some time,” Liberal Mayor Joe Denoyer said. 

“See though, I haven’t,” commissioner Jack Carlile said. “You all don’t ever want to tell me (expletive). I asked two months ago what was going on with the plant, the city manager said National Beef had to get their stuff in to KDHE. Not once was it said they were going together.”

Discussion went on between Hall and Carlile for a few minutes regarding the plans. 

“I’m not sure what the complaint is, because nothing’s happened other than I signed a memorandum of understanding allowing National Beef to present their idea to KDHE,” Harrison said. 

“Because I think the memorandum should have come before the commission for approval,” Carlile said. “Because it’s a contract.”

“It’s not a contract,” Hall replied. “This is a request by KDHE to come up with asking if there’s funding for a plant that could cost $65 million. KDHE then asked the two parties to have an understanding the finance would be worked on. This is non-binding, this is one of those right now, we don’t have a design or engineer’s estimate, both of which we need.”

After several more minutes of discussion, local citizen Rita Isaacs spoke before the commission praising City of Liberal Cemetery Supervisor Brad Beer on some recent grounds work around Harrison Circle. Isaacs also asked for an update regarding Zito Media, to which Denoyer replied there was nothing to update, as he was informed by the Kansas Attorney General the matter is now in the consumers’ hands. Denoyer added the attorney general will be in contact with those people regarding the issue. She also asked about code enforcement regarding a property in the city before concluding her comments.

The last to speak was local citizen Doug LaFreniere. 

“Misery loves company, and a lot of misery’s been thrown at you,” La Freniere began. “This was the most negative election I have ever seen while living here. Dave, they did everything but throw dead kittens at you and blame you for it. You’re good people, you’ve done good things, and you have to be a broad-picture person, and the big picture of Liberal is it’s growing, it’s doing well, and a lot of it has to do with you all. Mark, you do good things, and I’m sorry you people have to go through all of this. You all work for what’s in the city’s best interest with the best ability you have. Just keep it up, and when you leave your office, you can leave with your head up high because you’ve done great things. You do have some issues, you’ve got some members who are toxic to the board, you shouldn’t have that. If they’re making everyone else miserable, get them out because poisoned boards don’t work.”

LaFreniere also questioned a recent L&T article regarding the Liberal Airport not receiving any grants. Hall pointed out the city had applied for none, which Harrison said was not in the original article. 

“If I went to Sonic and asked for a footlong coney and they didn’t bring me one, then I didn’t get one,” LaFreniere said. “But if I stand there and don’t ask for anything, and don’t get anything, how does that become a story? That doesn’t make any sense to me, and it was conveniently left out. I’ve never seen it this negative, fairness is out the window, and it’s all agenda-driven. It’s absurd, you’re better people than that. I commend you for it, and good luck to you all.” 

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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