Bryant's city council meeting was nothing short of a circus (with sideshows) last night. Throughout the 3 hour (plus? I don't know, I left three hours in) meeting, the room remained at standing-room capacity. Initially the overflow spilled out the door, but after Pastor Perry Black emphasized how much Family Church does not want a new road to cut through its property and Mayor "Republican" Jill Dabbs said she would work with the church, the crowd thinned out by about 200. And yet, people still lined the walls and crouched in aisles.
The most tense moments came when Interim City Attorney (and Republican party head) Doyle Webb attempted to discredit Nga Mahfouz, former City Attorney, fired by Dabbs earlier this month, and Gary Hollis, longtime Financial Director also fired by Dabbs and reinstated by the Council at the last general meeting. Second runner up — when Mayor Dabbs was served papers notifying her of a lawsuit, filed by former HR Director Shayne King for wrongful discharge and slander.
Webb stated that he could not find files in the attorney's office for particular cases. He also asked the Council's permission to bring a suit against Christopher Barnes, the IT vendor wanted by the county prosecutor for stealing roughly $50,000 from the city. "This breach of contract occurred in 2010, and your attorney took no action," he said. The city attorney cannot file suit without the permission of the council.
According to council member Danny Steele, these IT invoices came up five times at various meetings and Mayor Dabbs never informed the council of any suspected foul play. However, Dabbs said that she brought it to the attention of both the legal and finance departments shortly after taking office, and she was told "you can't get blood out of turnips" (her words), and to leave it alone rather than risk having the vendor return and further screw up office telecom workings. At this point, Dabbs said, she asked the legislative audit committee to investigate the matter.
Webb then asked the Council if they would like to overturn Hollis's reinstatement, in light of the auditing discrepancies that have surfaced. "As long as he is in that office, evidence can be destroyed or altered that can damage the City of Bryant. It is your prerogative, the mayor's hands are tied. You told her not to put him in a hostile work environment when you reinstated him. It's your decision whether you should authorize her to go ahead and relieve him of his duties, pay him through that retirement, or to rescind the action you previously did. At this point, he's in that office, there's documentary evidence in that office, and he remains in that office for several weeks, and let me be clear — the investigation continues. Is there any action you wish to take concerning Mr. Hollis?"
The board was silent. Can't be sure, but I actually got that "if looks could kill" vibe from pretty much every member, even Stephen Gladden, who has largely presented himself as Mayor Dabb's henchman in recent months.
After a long moment, Webb continued — "I just want you to know that as I file suit...if evidence is altered it may inhibit my ability to go after those funds. I want you to understand that he was very uncooperative to my legitimate requests, as your attorney to get to the bottom of this. You're leaving the fox in the henhouse. Okay, next item—"
At which point, council member Scott Curtis interrupted Webb. "Mr. Webb, are you suggesting that Mr. Hollis did something illegal?"
"That is not the case. At this point, we know that he authorized a payment ($25,000) on a contract after the vendor could not be located...I'm not making this up, it's a public record in a criminal file," Webb replied.
"Mr. Webb, we as a council voted on that in 2010, and we agreed on that contract. As CFO, does that not give him the authority to sign that invoice?" Curtis asked.
"Did Mr. Hollis not breach the contract by authorizing substantial payments before performance was complete?" Webb countered.
They went back and forth for a few more moments and then, sounding perplexed, Curtis said, "He hasn't done anything wrong."
The room erupted in laughter and clapping. About a third of the audience and most of the city council found the comment worthy of a standing ovation. Even so, Webb continued, invoking the terms "misfeasance and malfeasance."
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Mayor Dabbs was served legal documents. She looked stunned but recovered quickly and tried to lessen the moment's intensity. "I've been served," she said, smiling. Here's a copy the lawsuit.
Dabbs and the City of Bryant are being sued by former HR director Shayne King for wrongful discharge and slander. King is seeking compensation of $333,104 and attorneys fees. According to King, she was fired because she questioned Dabb's attempt to raise her own salary and the process used to hire city clerk Heather Kizer's husband, Mark Kizer, as police chief.
Later Dabbs asked for the financial report. Instead, Hollis offered Webb his keys and addressed the Council. "I am ready to leave. Enough is enough. I tried to serve citizens as best I could. I tried to do right by you guys."
As he returned to his chair (ironically, directly beside Webb's), Dabbs said, "So is there a financial report?"
Quietly, Mr. Hollis said, "no."
Several council members publicly thanked Hollis for his service.
Worth mentioning: Early in the meeting, James Bellew spoke in defense of his use of Family Fest funds and the illegal presence of beer in city parks. He said that his protocol for 13 years has been to give the city invoices rather than receipts, which is why he can't provide the Council the requested receipts. He also said he chooses to provide alcohol to performers for the sake of hospitality.
"I have to make decisions to make this (Family Fest) the best event it can be, and by the way, it is the biggest event in Saline County every year, and it has an enormous economic impact on the hotels and restaurants in the city," he said. "These performers come to this town because of the relationship I have with them."
Bellew interpreted the city rules to mean that it's okay to have alcohol privately, in the hospitality house, as long as it isn't sold or publicly consumed. "If we're so backwoods that we don't realize that every town, dry or wet, takes care of their artists...we're just lucky to get them...they certainly don't want to talk about the church service we had there, and there were 18 people saved at that service," he said (or actually, shouted).
Hmn, a church service as part of an event that accepts public funds? And, according to mysaline.com, cost of entry helped send teens to a Christian camp, at least in 2010. (I can't find an online schedule for Family Fest 2011.) Is there something illegal here besides the beer? Trying to find out more details, will get back on that one...