HANNIBAL | The relationship between the Hannibal City Council and Hannibal Board of Public Works Board of Directors hit a new low Wednesday afternoon when the council voted to replace two members of the utility's board.
On a vote of 5-1 the council removed board members Steve Smith and Stephan Franke. Confirmed to fill one of those vacancies was William Dees. John Zerbonia was nominated to fill another of the openings.
“This was one of the hardest things I have done,” said Councilwoman Melissa Cogdal, before casting a “yes” vote to relieve Smith and Franke of their BPW Board duties.
“There were some issues that developed where the council felt that the (deadline) ordinance that voters put in place was to be enforced and the board members felt that wasn't in their best interests,” said Mayor James Hark, regarding what prompted Wednesday's special call meeting at Hannibal City Hall. “The council gave directions that we were going to honor the ordinance and when it was obvious that it wasn't going to be done the council members requested a special meeting to discuss the future of those board members.”
City Attorney James Lemon told the council that more than the HBPW's reluctance to turn off the ammonia, which occurred on Tuesday night, needed to be taken into consideration. Among the issues raised by Lemon was the board's attempt to hire outside legal counsel to explore securing a temporary restraining order against the city.
“The board was trying to use your money to sue you,” he said.
Tensions between the two entities have risen rapidly since late March. After stating that it was in position to meet the end-of-March deadline set three years ago by the city council for the removal of ammonia from the city's water treatment process, the HBPW announced Monday afternoon that because of COVID-19 concerns it intended to delay the transition over to a granular activated carbon treatment system.
That decision did not sit well with the council, a majority of which advised the HBPW to go ahead and comply with the ordinance deadline, Franke told The Courier-Post earlier this week.
Late Tuesday afternoon the clerk's office at city hall announced that a special call city council meeting had been scheduled for April 1. On the agenda for the meeting was the removal of two HBPW Board members and the appointment of two new members.
Tuesday evening, the HBPW announced that it would “reluctantly” comply with the council's wishes and start using the new GAC water treatment system in accordance with the ordinance deadline.
Dees, whose appointment to the board had received a first reading during the council's March 17 meeting, was appointed to fill an unexpired term that expires in July 2020. Zerbonia, whose appointment was given a first reading on Wednesday, was nominated to serve an unexpired term that ends in July 2023. His nomination will come up for a second reading at the next meeting of the council on Tuesday, April 7.
It had been anticipated that the appointment of Dees, a native of Illinois, would fill the vacancy created by the Dec. 13, 2019, resignation of Lennie Rosenkrans. He stepped down after reportedly being told by two members of the city staff that a pair of city council members were going to seek his ouster from the HBPW Board on the grounds that he was not making decisions in the best interest of the city. Wednesday night's shuffling of the HBPW Board still leaves it a member shy.