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Property owner objects to city plan

As the Clinton City Council considered a condemnation resolution, the property owner objected to their plan.

Gerry Patterson, owner of the building that housed the Van Buren County Title Co. until it burned three years ago, said he had no problem with condemning the property. But when he heard Mayor Roger Rorie said that only the top floor of the building would be torn down, Patterson objected.

“If you’re going to condemn my property, condemn it all. Don’t piecemeal it,” he said.

If the council does that, “it will be another three years” before anything is done to the property, warned Patterson, a lawyer.

Rorie drew a parallel to the Morrilton building that collapsed in 2011 killing a small child, and said he would rather be sued by Patterson than face a lawsuit over a death. Patterson suggested that Rorie consult with his city attorney who could tell him that cities have immunity from lawsuits.

The mayor said the city paid a structural engineer $2,000 to look at the property, and the engineer said only the top floor needed to come down. Patterson said he had paid three appraisers $5,000 to look at the property and they said the entire structure should be torn down.

Patterson said he was perplexed by the resolution because the city already has a nuisance ordinance and a lawsuit pending against him. He was told the new resolution was meant to streamline the condemnation process.

“You guys go ahead and pass your resolution,” Patterson said, “then we’ll deal with it down the road.”

Voting for the resolution were Sammy Ward, Wendy Russ, Gayla Bradley and Johnny Moore. Voting against the resolution was Jason Lynch. Nina Baker was absent from the meeting.

Earlier at the meeting, water department manager Isaac Keeling came under fire for filling an office position without advertising the job. A longtime employee has turned in her resignation and September is her last month at the department.

The starting pay for the job is $12 per hour, which will increase to $15 per hour after a 90-day probationary period. Keeling said there was no time to advertise for the job because the current employee had so few days left to work, so he hired Wendy Henderson for the position. Henderson formerly served as city recorder/treasurer after Merl Eoff’s retirement. Dena Malone was elected to the position last year.

Bradley said because of the pay and the benefits, many people would have been interested in the water department job, and said she has received several phone calls about it.

Councilwoman Wendy Russ was concerned that the loss of one person could cause the office’s “whole system to crumble.” She said if the department needs another person in the office, Keeling should request one.

Rorie said the department is written up in audit reports every year for not having enough employees and that it’s not something that is likely to change.

“We’re not going to eliminate being short-handed,” he said, noting that the police department and City Hall also are short-handed.

Nothing was mentioned at the meeting about the city considering purchasing the Payton Dodge property. Asked why after the meeting, the mayor said he had spoken with an architect about the cost to renovate the building to meet the city’s needs and had decided to present those figures to the council at a later date.

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