The action appears to attempt to address Mayor Paulson's refusal to sign a check to pay for a new police vehicle -- a $26,000 expense the council approved at its Aug. 13 meeting. Paulson has raised concerns about the city's finances and does not believe the city can afford the patrol car at this time.
The council's response is to seek an ordinance establishing a new check signing policy, adding Mayor Pro-Temp (Alderman Merle Williams) to the signature card at the bank.
Paulson agreed spending issues need to be addressed, explaining why he refuses to sign the check in question. "When I campaigned for this mayor position, I promised the citizens of Thayer I would dedicate my efforts to get the financial condition of this city in order. And I wrote in the paper that I would stop, what I thought, was the Thayer Police Department's wasteful spending. This is still my focus," Mayor Paulson stated.
Paulson said money for a patrol car is needed to address other needs. To illustrate how tight city finances are right now, the mayor described how, earlier in day, the water department contacted him requesting $134 to patch a hole on Walnut Street. Paulson said that he had to turn down the request because the city did not have $134 available.
The Mayor added the city also needed to purchase straw to cover 100 feet of line dug on Vine Street to make sure it drained properly. Because there was not money to buy straw, the department sold some old brass it has stored for scrap.
"Something's wrong there," Paulson stated, questioning how the city can afford to buy a new patrol car when it does not have $134 to patch a hole or buy straw.
"I have no doubt that the city council will find a way to spend some money without my signature, because I refuse to sign this check. And if they do, fine and dandy - go about it in a legal way. But I believe it is obscene and immoral to waste the tax payers' money on a new police car while our streets are in the shape they are, and I will not be a part of that action," Paulson continued. "Did we actually need this police car, and did we need it right now? My voice may be ignored, but it will be heard. I believe I speak for the citizens of Thayer and that's why and how I got elected. If the council members don't approve, then, by God, start the recall right now."
Applause filled the courthouse as Paulson ended his comments, but he was also met with opposition, as some citizens pointed out that police funds and the city's general funds have nothing to do with one another. The police department has its own funds generated by a ½ cent sales tax, and they cannot be used for general fund expenditures.
Alderman Steve Alford said that it makes sense to buy a new police vehicle now, while the city can still get some money out of the old vehicle which is being replaced. Furthermore, adding a new police vehicle means that all police vehicles are new and up to date, and the city will not have to worry about purchasing new vehicles for a while.
The discussion continued, with some members in the audience criticizing city council spending and blaming the council for the current financial situation. Other's blamed the mayor, who had to struggle to keep order at times during the meeting.
Finally the council moved on to other business, deciding to come back to the check signing issue later on in the meeting. After addressing the departmental requests, the council returned to proposed changes in the city's check signing policy.
The council voted to establish a new policy that would continue to require three people to sign city checks, but would allow the Mayor Pro-Temp to sign in place of the mayor or at the mayor's absence. The motion was made by Alderman Steve Alford and seconded by Alderman Merle Williams. The motion carried with a "yes" from the entire council, except for Alderman Junior Brewer, who abstained. The council indicated it would write up a specific policy that would be voted on at a later date.
Thayer Chief of Police David Bailey later told The South Missourian News that he had requested to be put on the agenda for last months meeting, to ask the council permission to purchase the new police vehicle.
Bailey said that Mayor Paulson managed to keep him off the agenda, which Bailey claimed is not legal. Bailey said that, while he was not on the agenda, he went before the council during the public comment period, and his request to purchase a $26,000 Dodge Charger to be used as a new police vehicle was unanimously approved.
According to Bailey, the mayor's refusal to sign the check is "an abuse of power."
In other business, Aldermen considered a number of department spending requests:
* $720 was approved to purchase parts needed by the electric department.
* $3,225 in expenditures were approved for the water treatment plant.
* Funds were also approved for a $598 water department repair, and for the purchase of about $800 in road base materials.
The Thayer City Council called a special meeting for Monday, Sept. 16 to formally introduce its check writing policy changes, but the meeting was not held because a quorum was not present.
The council rescheduled the meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 17.
Because of this week's publishing deadline, an update on the story will appear in the Sept. 26 edition of The South Missourian News.