City finance meeting turns acrimonious

By Mary Hood
Fairhope Courier Intern
Posted 7/10/07

The finance committee meeting that preceded the Fairhope City Council meeting on Monday became a heated discussion that resulted in Mayor Tim Kant voicing accusations against council members.

Council Chairman Bob Gentle opened the meeting by …

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City finance meeting turns acrimonious


The finance committee meeting that preceded the Fairhope City Council meeting on Monday became a heated discussion that resulted in Mayor Tim Kant voicing accusations against council members.

Council Chairman Bob Gentle opened the meeting by stating that the council was looking for factual answers to their questions.

“We’re getting political answers not real answers,” Gentle said.

Later in the meeting, Mayor Kant accused the council of bringing up financial questions because elections are coming up.

Councilman Cecil Christenberry said he was offended by that.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous in my opinion,” Christenberry said.

One question dealt with the issue of paying invoices and was brought up by Gentle.

He said he had spoken with a vendor, Consolidated Pipe, the day after the first finance meeting (held in June), and the vendor said roughly $485,000 had not been paid to them. Of that amount, roughly $423,000 was between 60 and 90 days old.

The mayor said there were probably errors in the invoice, and it hadn’t been cleared to be paid.

Gentle said when he asked the vendor if that was the case, the vendor replied that if there was a problem, they were never notified about it, but they were sure everything was the way the city required it to be.

The next issue Gentle brought up concerned crushed stone that was to be placed at the airport. He said it was the city’s responsibility to provide the stone, and a contractor was responsible for the transportation and placement of the stone.

Gentle said the contractor sent trucks to the supplier, but they refused to give them the stone because the city was behind on paying its bills. (On Tuesday, Gentle said he planned to pursue this issue further.)

Councilman Dan Stankoski spoke next, airing his grievances about the city’s finances.

“It all goes back to 2004, and all I’ve seen is a shell game,” Stankoski said.

He said the city uses “fuzzy math and shifting payments” and that “the surplus we see all the time is a myth” created by the shifting of funds.

“I no longer have confidence in the information I receive (regarding city finances),” Stankoski said. “It is just not transparent, and I don’t know why.”

Councilwoman Debbie Quinn brought up the issue of utility poles.

The issue had come up several weeks ago during a City Council meeting — a discussion about ordering poles and whether or not they should be painted. The issue was tabled so more information could be obtained.

“I had the City Clerk check the minutes (Monday night) and it said get the information and come back to this,” Gentle said.

However, the mayor ordered the poles in April, without getting the council’s vote.

Christenberry wanted to take a look at the legal fees the city has had in the past year.

In response to a letter written to the editor that was published in a local daily newspaper, Kant wrote that the city only pays $100,000 a year for legal fees.

A report shown during the finance meeting showed the city to have spent a little more than $117,000 in an eight-month period that ended May 31.

At this point, the meeting disinntegrated into a shouting match where everyone spoke at once and no one could be understood. The mayor then lashed out.

He said if council members want transparency then everything should be out on the table.

He looked at Quinn and said, “Who hasn’t paid their taxes in the past 10 years?”

He looked at Gentle and said, “And who is building whose house?”

He took a stab at Stankoski for having a son involved in a lawsuit against the city.

He referred to Christenberry not paying utility bills for his business, Old Tyme Feed and Garden Supply, on time.

“Is the mayor keeping files on us?” Gentle asked. “I didn’t feel threatened, I don’t have anything to hide,” he added.

Christenberry said it seems as though Kant is.

“He’s keeping up with every intricate thing on council, trying to keep a file,” Christenberry said.

Gentle said the mayor’s accusation on him isn’t legitimate. He said he is building a house downtown, and he is using the same contractor that built the library: J.F. Pate.

“What he didn’t say was that I recused myself on the change orders in the library,” Gentle said.

Quinn said she thinks the mayor’s comments are unethical, and that they weren’t talking about personal things but rather about business. She said his accusation against her wasn’t legitimate either. Years ago, Quinn said, she and about 50 others, annexed into the city and was never taxed and after noticing it, went to the city and explained the situation. She said she still isn’t being taxed.

“It’s just the city not doing its job,” Quinn said.

Both Gentle and Christenberry said the purpose of asking these questions was not to attack the mayor but merely to get answers to better understand how the city works to better serve the community.

“He got pressed into a corner because we have legitimate questions, and he came out swinging,” Christenberry said.

The mayor ended his outburst by asking why all these questions have to be aired in the public eye and in front of the press. He asked them why they couldn’t just come to his office.

The council decided to continue having finance committee meetings before every City Council meeting to be able to ask these questions and get answers until the finances are understood by the council.

“I’m excited about (Monday) night because that was a little different from what Fairhope has been, there were real strong emotions there,” Christenberry said.