Mayor: Council ignoring state law on spending plan deadline, open meetings

Thursday, July 13, 2006

CAIRO, Ill. -- Apparently moving for a showdown on city spending, Mayor Paul Farris set a public hearing for Tuesday on a proposed city budget for the current year.

In a reply to a critical statement issued by Councilwoman Linda Jackson, Farris accused the council of ignoring state law setting a deadline for a spending plan and of violating the state open meetings law by drafting previous budgets without public input.

City spending increasingly has become the focus of the running battle between Farris and the council. Council members have voted repeatedly to bar the city from paying Farris' appointees.

In recent months, the entire city payroll has been left unapproved by the council because Farris deleted four council members from the payment list after they announced in December that they would not participate in council meetings.

The council has also declined to take votes approving meeting minutes and payment of city bills.

The walkout lasted for one regular meeting and one special meeting before Farris' opponents changed course.

"This council has shown me no respect since the day I took office," Farris said in a written statement issued Wednesday. "I have absolutely had to fight for everything I have tried to accomplish for this city."

In his statement titled "Will the city of Cairo continue to operate after July 1, 2006," Farris set a public hearing on his proposed spending plan for Tuesday evening. The meeting is advertised on a signboard at the north end of town on U.S. 51.

According to Farris and city attorney Patrick Cox, Cairo has until July 31 to pass a budget for the current fiscal year, which began May 1. He questions whether the city must shut down operation after that date if no spending plan is approved.

Spending plan deadline

If a spending plan is adopted, however, it will be the first such appropriation ordinance passed by the deadline during Farris' tenure. In each of the past three years, council members waited until late November or December to pass the ordinance.

The development of those budget ordinances was done without input from city treasurer Joe Bargo or Farris, the mayor said, raising questions about whether the council held unposted meetings.

Council members charge that Farris is violating state laws by withholding their pay and exceeded his authority by claiming veto power. In her statement, Jackson said Farris has engaged in "wild and uncontrolled disregard to the laws of our state and our city budget."

A lawsuit by several council members against former city attorneys McArthur Allen and Alan McIntyre seeks the return of their pay that exceeded the budgeted amount.

In that lawsuit, Circuit Judge Brad Bleyer ruled June 30 against a motion to dismiss the case and set a pretrial conference for Sept. 8.

In their appropriation ordinances, council members have set aside $12,000 for paying a city attorney. Their lawsuit contends that Allen was overpaid by more than $40,000 and McIntyre by $60,000.

Current city attorney Cox is receiving a $106,000 salary. Former city treasurer Preston Ewing said Farris is engaging in scare tactics designed to force the council to accept the high pay for Cox.

Ewing, who has said he helped prepare recent past budgets, said Farris is using the prospect of a city shutdown to cover past incompetence.

"Where was he for the past three years when his administration couldn't even produce a budget?"

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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