City vs. schools: Pool debate turns heated
School board, council agree to meet again
Both the community room at city hall and the overflow room next door were packed Monday with people eager to attend what turned out to be a contentious meeting between the city council and the Marion-Florence district school board president.
Nick Kraus came to discuss the city’s ongoing dispute with the board and its refusal to pay its share of a 2006 bond that built the pool and expenses related to the pool’s operation.
In recent months the city has been late on making payments to the school district to cover its half of bond payments and operating expenses of the pool, as specified in a 2006 interlocal agreement.
The interlocal agreement contains a termination clause stating that either party can end the agreement upon 180 days notice.
Any interlocal agreement between two government entities must, under state law, be approved by the state attorney general. If it was not sent to the attorney general’s office for approval, the agreement is not valid.
Before Kraus spoke, Marion mayor David Mayfield started the meeting with a statement that made it clear he was offended by community reaction to the council’s Feb. 8 decision not to pay its half of the bond or expenses.
“The position of the city of Marion’s governing body remains consistent in our request for communication and teamwork in the operation of the community pool and recreation department,” Mayfield said. “It is unfortunate that this situation has evolved into public discourse and social media attacks, rather than a mutual quest for a continued partnership.”
Mayfield’s attitude throughout the discussion was combative.
The board and council agreed to meet — possibly as early as next week — but not before Mayfield complained about lack of communication.
“It is our hope and desire that this matter can be resolved in a manner that balances the community enhancements with acceptable, mutual financial responsibility by both parties to our taxpayers,” Mayfield said. “Our desire to continue the dialogue started in confidence between the city administrator, the school superintendent, and the president of the school board on Dec. 17. The city requested the original meeting, the city administrator continued to reach out after the meeting to continue the conversation. But we never received a single response via phone, email or in person confirming a future meeting.”
Kraus frowned and shook his head when Mayfield complained about “not receiving a single response.”
“The last council meeting appeared to be what was necessary to move forward with this process,” Mayfield said.
Kraus disagreed that the school district has not communicated with the city.
“There’s been correspondence back and forth — I just want to set the record straight,” Kraus said.
Kraus read emails sent between city administrator Roger Holter and superintendent Aaron Homburg.
Kraus also told the council that the first time Holter met Homburg, Holter spent the first hour of that meeting trying to talk Homburg into having the school district give the pool to the city.
When Mayfield complained that Homburg has not met with Holter since Dec. 17, Kraus explained why that hadn’t happened.
“We’ve instructed our employee not to have any private meetings with you or Roger Holter,” Kraus said.
Mayfield contended the interlocal agreement doesn’t say the city will make bond payments for the pool.
Kraus said the city set a precedent by paying for 14 years, and asked why it has now become an issue.
Kraus asked what the city wants to change. Mayfield, shaking the interlocal agreement in his hand, said “We need to say in our agreement that we have to pay that.”
Kraus called for a joint meeting between the school board and the city council. Mayfield asked if it wouldn’t be easier for the city to say what they wanted and have the school board look it over.
Mayfield also complained that the school district didn’t consult the city when it gave employees a Christmas bonus.
“In December, you guys voted to give your employees a Christmas bonus, which included part-time employees and full-time,” he said. “We weren’t consulted about that and none of our employees got a Christmas bonus. Yet we’re expected to pay 50% of that.”
Mayfield also took councilman Ruth Herbel, who has repeatedly said the city should pay the money to the school district, to task after Herbel objected to the wording of a letter city attorney Susan Robson sent the school district.
“I was very upset when I read that letter that Susan had sent to the school district,” Herbel said. “It stated that the city council instructed her to notify the school board regarding the party’s partnership on the city ‘as of this time, it is the city’s position to no longer assist with bond payment or share in the operating expenses. Never once have I ever heard the council act on this, and so I’m wondering why that was included in that letter.”
Herbel said the city council makes policy, not the administrator.
“I especially don’t think it’s fair that we had to pay 50% of a Christmas bonus for school employees,” Mayfield told Herbel.
Herbel said also she disagreed with Mayfield and Holter sending an email to council members that Mayfield wanted treated as “confidential.”
“I was very upset how Dave treated Nick and myself last night,” Herbel said Tuesday. “Me, I can take it, but that is no way to treat someone we are trying to make an agreement with.”
Onlooker Gary Carpenter also disliked the way the discussion was conducted.
“Honestly, that was the most amateurish meeting I have ever seen,” Carpenter said. “Is the mayor always so personal? Do the mayor and Susan always treat Ruth like the ‘red-headed stepchild’? It’s sad how she is treated and how contentious the entire meeting was.”
Krause said that during the meeting, he didn’t feel he was personally attacked, but felt the city expected the school district to pay them instead of the other way around.
As to Mayfield’s complaint about school district employees getting Christmas bonuses while city employees didn’t Kraus said the city obviously doesn’t treat its employees well.
He said he felt the school board is dealing with an “adolescent elected official who can’t make the right decision.”
“This poor relationship has spiraled out of control over the last year,” Kraus said. “The sad thing is, he was involved in all the original discussions.”
Kraus said that when he, Homburg, Holter, and Mayfield met Dec. 27, Mayfield said the city would not withhold bond payments “as long as I’m there.”
“Then three weeks later, he changed his mind,” Kraus said.
Last modified Feb. 25, 2021