City restarts search for administrator

City's pick for administrator turns down job, so the city will start over in its search for someone to fill post.

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August 11, 2020 - 10:38 AM

Iola Gas, Water and Wastewater Superintendent Mitch Phillips speaks at Monday’s Iola City Council meeting. Also attending the meeting are City Attorney Bob Johnson, left, and Power Plant Superintendent Mike Phillips, right. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

Iola is back at square one in its search for a new city administrator.

Mayor Jon Wells said after Monday’s City Council meeting the city is starting over in its search.

Iola had agreed to terms last week to a three-year contract with Garnett City Manager Christopher Weiner. However, Weiner was enticed to remain in Garnett after Garnett city leaders reworked his contract at a special meeting Friday.

Iola Council members discussed the events privately for 15 minutes Monday. The city has been without a full-time administrator since Sid Fleming left his post in March.

Assistant City Administrator Corey Schinstock has filled the position on an interim basis since then.

A SERIES of treatments seems to have mitigated an ongoing cockroach infestation in the 300 block of South Buckeye Street.

Several neighbors surrounding the house at 323 S. Buckeye St. complained to the Council in July about the creepy crawlies that infiltrated nearby yards and homes.

Matt Kerr, who owns the house in question, apologized Monday about the roaches, explaining that while he had scheduled regular treatments, unbeknownst to him, a former tenant would prohibit exterminators from entering the home.

“I take full responsibility for his action and my lack of knowledge,” Kerr said. “I thought it was getting taken care of.”

In a letter to the Council, Jerad Larkey of All In One Pest Home and Lawn LLC said a series of treatments in July have made the issue “immensely better,” but that getting completely rid of them can take a while.

Larkey said that spraying for cockroaches kills the bugs, but not the egg sacs containing between 30 and 50 baby cockroaches.

The best course of treatment is regular spraying, Larkey wrote.

Former Iola Mayor Bill Maness, who lives near the infested home, said he appreciated the apology, but pressed the city to take a deeper look at regulating rental properties.

“He can apologize,” Maness said of Kerr, “but it’s costing my neighbors and myself quite a bit of money. It’s very frustrating to pay for someone else’s negligence.”

Maness and others spoke about how they had to treat their own homes regularly when the infestation was at its worst.

“I seriously encourage the Council to take this instance seriously and give some thought to some type of regulatory resolution.”

Council members asked City Attorney Bob Johnson to look into the legality of such regulation.

AN ORDINANCE affecting past-due utility bills for properties that have sold will remain unchanged.

At issue is a request from Jason Barnett, asking the Council to waive a past-due bill of more than $300 from a property he purchased earlier this year through a sheriff’s sale, arguing that since he had not incurred that debt, he shouldn’t be required to pay it.

However, the city’s ordinance mandates that a property’s past-due bills must be paid in full before service is restored.

Johnson told the Council it’s incumbent on a property buyer to check to see if there are past-due utilities or taxes.

“That’s your ordinance, your law, your rule,” Johnson said. “I have no problem recommending you follow your own ordinance.”

The city has been challenged on the issue numerous times since the ordinance was enacted in 1991, Johnson noted.

Still, Council members asked if there were ways to better communicate with sellers about past-due bills connected to specific properties.

Iola Mayor Jon Wells, left, and City Councilman Nickolas Kinder listen to a speaker. Photo by Richard Luken / Iola Register

COUNCIL members agreed to “kick the can down the road” before deciding how to proceed with using a centralized asset management software program to track such things as vehicle repairs.

Schinstock said a lack of training and less-than-enthusiastic buy-in from department heads have frustrated efforts to fully implement the program over the past two years.

Schinstock recently reached back out to SEMS Technologies, the company that developed the software, to determine if additional training could be provided, or services upgraded.

During those discussions, the city also began talking with Cartegraph, a company that has since acquired SEMS, about using Cartegraph software instead.

The cost would be slightly higher than what Iola pays SEMS (about $13,000 annually), and would require additional training at a cost of about $8,000.

Council members balked in July about using the Cartegraph program, leading to Monday’s discussion, which at times grew testy.

Much of the friction revolved around how much data the city needs (or wants) from a software management program; whether department heads will fully buy into such a program; or if there are cheaper, more efficient ways to track maintenance records.

Councilman Carl Slaugh’s suggestion following the 35-minute debate — unanimously endorsed by the rest of the Council — was to wait until a new city administrator is in place.

COUNCIL members approved expenditure of $51,900 in convention and tourism funds, generated from excise taxes on hotels and motels in iola.

A breakdown: The Iola Area Chamber of Commerce will receive $35,000; Farm-City Days Committee $10,000, Veterans Day Parade Committee $2,500; Southwind Rail Trail $1,000; Elks Lake Fest, $1,500; Community Involvement Task Force/PRIDE Committee $1,400; and Fearless Fred Trolley, $500.

City Clerk Roxanne Hutton noted this year’s disbursement is down from past years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

THE COUNCIL also:

— Reappointed Beth Ann Turner to the Convention and Tourism Board.

— Approved a request from Scout Troop 55 to have an overnight campout Aug. 28-29 at Riverside Park. 

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