City Council fires CFO; Sixkiller battles for bucket truck

by Charles Gerian

The Blackwell City Council has voted not to renew its longstanding contract with R.S. Meacham CPAs and Advisors, the city's accounting firm.

The two main items on the agenda for the regularly-scheduled Thursday meeting of the Council were measures to renew or end contracts with the city attorney, Bryce Kennedy, and the city's accounting firm, R.S. Meacham CPAs and Advisors, represented by Meredith Meacham-Wilson.

Kennedy said to Council members, “I'll keep working for you as long as you want me to keep working for you.” His contract was approved.

The Council then moved on to the R.S. Meacham contract. Meacham-Wilson opened by saying that her firm has worked for the city of Blackwell under four different city administrations. Over time, her “scope of services” has changed, so she adjusted her contract to reflect that, she said. R.S. Meacham represents over 50 municipalities across the state, she added. Vice Mayor Steve Marquardt asked Meacham-Wilson to state what the city charter was asking of her as a certified public accountant. Meacham-Wilson stated that she was bound by the charter to oversee financial statements and budgeting for the city.

She also said that she facilitates management discussions and conducts financial analyses, in addition to conducting monthly reviews of accounts, preparing the city for audits, presenting financial information to city officials, and serving as a financial consultant. Marquardt then asked why Meacham-Wilson didn't have a remote-access program for financial information installed on her traveling computer. He also asked Meacham-Wilson how she would respond to a financial question from a city official without replying that she would “get back to [them].” Meacham-Wilson stated that she would respond as soon as she was at a computer. 

“I have multiple municipalities across the state, as you know, Steve,” she replied. “I'm hardly at my office. So if I have a question from [a city clerk], if I can't answer it directly, I get to them within 24 hours.” 

Marquardt hypothesized an incident in which the city needed an answer to a financial question “right away.” He then asked how Meacham-Wilson would “rectify” it. She responded that her team of six CPAs “all have access to the program” and that, if she wasn't in her office or in a position to answer, she would call one of them.

No further discussion was had, and her contract was shot down by a 3 – 2 vote. Council members Richard Braden, Tom Beliel, and Marquardt voted against her contract, while Mayor T.J. Greenfield and Councilman Job Webb voted for it. With no new business, the Council members adjourned their meeting and reconvened as the Blackwell Municipal Authority.

On the BMA side, Electric Department Supervisor Greg Sixkiller requested approval to solicit price-quotes for two transformers for the city of Blackwell's electrical overhaul project on South Main Street. The estimated total cost of the project is $40,000. The request was approved. Sixkiller then discussed Resolution 05162019 with the BMA. Under the proposal, the city would declare an emergency and enter into an agreement with Altec Inc., which manufactures bucket-trucks and other heavy equipment. The city would purchase a 2020 Freightliner 55-foot bucket truck in an amount “not to exceed” $188,000.

Sixkiller said the truck is required to operate the city's electrical distribution system because “no other bucket truck owned by the Blackwell Municipal Authority can extend beyond 40 feet.”

The city has not had a larger truck in over a year. Since then, it has relied on help from other municipalities that own such a truck to complete large repairs.

The resolution went on to state that the failure to acquire the vehicle could likely result in loss of life, substantial damage to property, and harm to public peace and safety. The resolution pointed out recent severe weather – like heavy rain, flooding, and tornadic damage – as factors that could endanger the public by bringing down the city's electrical grid.

Kennedy said he felt that recent severe weather has “show[n] the community the necessity of this vehicle.”

Sixkiller was asked by Greenfield why the resolution was never brought to the Council as an emergency item before, as Sixkiller had been asking for the truck for over a year. Sixkiller responded that former city manager Thomas “Chip” Outhier was made “very aware” of the need.

“This needs to happen,” City Manager Janet Smith said. 

Webb then spoke, saying that money had not been budgeted for the expense. Then, both Meacham-Wilson and Smith confirmed that the item had, in fact, been budgeted for. Finances for the project would come from the city's Capitol Improvement Fund. “It's allocated in our bucket,” Meacham-Wilson said. “[It is] not necessarily in our budget, but that funding is there.”

Sixkiller then said that the city has relied on equipment from neighboring cities to complete tasks beyond what the city's equipment is capable of. However, he said he didn't want to overextend the city's welcome with its partners – or risk being unable to get help.

“We depend on each other for mutual aid, like with Newkirk and Ponca,” Sixkiller said. “I'm glad we have that option, but if we depend on them too much, it might bite us. Right now, we're depending on others because we've gone a year without a big truck, and I'm saying that having to depend on others is going to bite us.” 

“You said we've gone without it for a year,” Webb spoke, unable to comprehend the statement. “It is not an emergency. It isn't. It would be good to have, but it's not even an emergency, you just said that … for a year … so we uh, go through the bidding process … . So don't use this weather and flooding as an excuse, you know? I uh, I think that's … wrong.” Webb then said Sixkiller was “making things up.”

“I guess that depends on what side of the road you live on, Jon,” Sixkiller replied. “Your opinion is that it's not an emergency. Mine – having to restore power and provide a service – is that it is an emergency. If I can't get up to the circuit that feeds to the hospital or nursing home, the water plant, and sewer plant … to me, those are emergencies. If I have to wait because all of our mutual aid sites are running around tied up with their own trucks and their own emergencies because they're working the same storm we do, we just sit around waiting on who can get to us the quickest.” 

“There's a lot of different scenarios,” Webb mumbled, to which Sixkiller replied, “Absolutely.” 

Kennedy re-read the statute that the resolution was based on – specifically, the section regarding loss of life, damage to property, and harm to public safety. “That's the standard you have to use,” Kennedy said. 

After more discussion and irrelevant audience input, Beliel made the motion to approve the resolution as an emergency. Webb voted against it and Greenfield abstained.

The motion passed. 

In other news at the City Council meeting, Chief of Police Dewayne Wood, Fire Chief and Emergency Manager Cory Hanebrink, and Sixkiller praised the combined efforts of the city's various departments and workers during the inclement weather.

The Council appointed Marquardt to the Blackwell Hospital Trust Authority as Trustee VII, replacing former vice mayor Webb. The next item was the approval of a yearlong contract with the city's municipal judge, Judge Long, for the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year. Both items were approved. The Council also approved a contract with the Blackwell Finance Law Group to provide legal counsel on bond-related issues to the city for the financing of Blackwell Regional Hospital's reconstruction project, which will be financed by a sales tax extension that was approved by voters in April.

The next item on the agenda was the approval of a contract with the Institute for Building, Technology, and Safety for flood-plane management. The contract was brought up in light of recent flooding across large portions of town.