Smithville Mayor Jimmy Poss has been formally censured by the Aldermen for violating the city’s nepotism and hiring policies by putting his son Tony Poss on the payroll last September without the board’s approval.
During a special meeting held Thursday night at city hall, the aldermen took the action against the mayor which is basically a reprimand or expression of disapproval. The vote was 5-0.
In a separate move the aldermen voted 3 to 2 against asking that the city be reimbursed for the salary paid to Tony Poss during the six month period he was a part time employee. From September 1 to March 2, Poss’ gross amount of pay was $300 per week for a total of $8,100. Aldermen Gayla Hendrix and Shawn Jacobs voted to ask that the money be repaid. Aldermen Jason Murphy, Josh Miller, and Danny Washer voted against it. Had it been approved, the aldermen admitted that a reimbursement request probably could not be enforced.
As with the informal workshop last Thursday night, Mayor Poss again opted not to attend last night’s special meeting, the sole purpose of which was for the aldermen to decide whether to censure the mayor.
After calling to order the special meeting, Vice Mayor Jason Murphy recognized City Attorney Vester Parsley who read a prepared statement from the mayor who explained his actions in putting Tony to work at the golf course and swimming pool during the fall and winter.
“My hiring of my son to maintain the pool and equipment at the golf course has become an issue because of our charter and city ordinances. I want the council and the public to understand that my only goal was to safeguard and maintain the equipment located at the golf course. I want to assure you that it wasn’t a waste of the city’s funds because the equipment must be maintained and my son was the most logical choice. In hindsight, his hiring without council approving may have been a mistake. I have, however, hired other part time employees without the approval of the council in the past and at the time felt it was not necessary to seek the council’s approval,” wrote Mayor Poss.
Alderman Hendrix said while she is glad he issued a statement, the mayor’s response “didn’t really answer a lot of our questions. I think we were all hoping the mayor would be here tonight so we could communicate and ask some questions”.
“As we talked in the workshop this is in direct violation of the nepotism portion of our personnel policy by hiring an immediate family member and then hiring anyone without board approval,” said Alderman Hendrix.
Tony Poss had a ten year lease of the city’s golf course and swimming pool but he surrendered his lease of the facilities in August. The following month, the city entered into a one year contract with Riverwatch Golf & Resort to upgrade and maintain the golf course at a cost to the city of $74,115. It was also in September that Tony Poss became a part time city employee.
“We hired Riverwatch to repair and maintain the golf course at a substantial amount of money. Tony Poss had terminated his lease with the city. I don’t think his services were needed and we have no proof that anything had actually been done to earn the money that was paid out for the last six months,” Hendrix continued.
Meanwhile the aldermen raised new concerns Thursday night about other possible violations of the hiring policy. For example, Alderman Washer said he learned by accident that a cleaning service is now being paid to perform janitorial services at city hall instead of a part time custodian as had once been the practice. “I found out by accident by kind of being nosy, wondering what somebody was doing up here. I didn’t know anything about it. That’s when I was informed that we had contracted that out,” said Alderman Washer.
“We didn’t contract it out. That is the problem. This board didn’t know anything about it. We all thought we had a custodian. After the last meeting we were walking down the stairs and asked if there was somebody here to unlock the door so we could get out. One of the employees said we don’t have a custodian anymore. We have a cleaning service. I thought how can we have a cleaning service when it has not been brought before the board? Again that is a complete violation of the charter. This is as troubling to me as the other alleged violations at the pool. More and more is happening at city hall without this board knowing about it,” said Alderman Jacobs.
In response to questions concerning the city hall janitorial services, City Administrator Hunter Hendrixson explained that “we had a full time (custodian) in the past but when she retired we used a couple of part time people several years ago that didn’t quite work out. Under our repairs and maintenance line item (of the budget for city hall) we have $35,000 budgeted which I assume (this service) falls under for the maintenance part because we haven’t actually hired an employee. We have a gentlemen who comes in and does the maintenance two to three times a week. He buffs our floors and empties our trash,” said Hendrixson.
Before the vote on censure, the aldermen discussed whether to include in the motion a request for reimbursement to the city for the money paid to Tony. Both Aldermen Miller and Murphy said they had recently spoken to unbiased sources who told them they had seen Tony at the golf course/swimming pool when he was supposed to have been working there.
Alderman Murphy said he had reservations about asking that the money be paid back when there are unanswered questions about how much work he may have done there.
“Do we know how much work was done? To me that is a real gray area,” said Alderman Murphy.
In response, Alderman Hendrix suggested that Alderman Murphy’s point was moot because Poss’ hiring was a violation of the nepotism policy anyway and the board had not approved it.
Both Aldermen Hendrix and Jacobs said constituents have told them they would like for the city to be reimbursed. Alderman Washer agreed but moved that the censure go forward without a request for reimbursement.
“I know the public would like to have some money back. I hear the same thing you do but I don’t know how we can prove what was done (work) and how much money should be paid back if any,” said Alderman Washer.
Washer then moved to censure the mayor. Alderman Miller offered a second to the motion. The vote was unanimous.
Alderman Hendrix then moved to request that the money paid to Tony Poss be repaid to the city. Alderman Jacobs seconded the motion. The motion failed on a 3 to 2 vote.