A sharp critic of Monroe City government posted a solid defeat of the incumbent mayor on Tuesday night, setting the stage for major changes at City Hall.
Jerry Potterfield, 69, a retired banker and business owner, and U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, downed first-term Mayor John Long, 258-203, following a bitter campaign that featured clashes over city operations ranging from the delayed selection of city attorney in 2018 to contracting practices to blighted properties in the city limits, and economic development.
The feud between Potterfield and Long started almost immediately when Long took office in April 2018, after the Monroe City Board of Aldermen was challenged over the award of a no-bid contract to Colorado-based PeopleService Inc. to operate the city's troubled water plant, which was woefully short of qualified employees.
Potterfield led a citizen petition in July 2019 for an audit of Monroe City's finances and contract practices that generated enough signatures to produce an announcement from the office of Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway in January 2019 that her office was opening a full audit of the city in response to the petition, which was expanded to cover Municipal Court and will likely cost the city at least $55,000. The city was also investigated by the Missouri Attorney General for alleged Sunshine Law violations that mostly preceded Long's term. The Attorney General's Office issued a finding that the city "likely" violated the Sunshine Law, leading to training for appointed and elected officials in Monroe City that was conducted by AG staff members.
Over the last several months, Long and Potterfield clashed over how the city handled troubled manufacturer Arcadia Metalworks, which fell behind by nearly $286,000 in utility payments in November following the General Motors strike last fall. After a brief disconnection of service, the city extended payment terms to Arcadia, which closed for good at the end of February when an announcement was made that the company is changing hands and names, leaving the city with a bill of slightly more than $190,200 in utilities.
“I am prepared to work with everyone to improve our community,” Potterfield said Tuesday night. “I think the issues that people were concerned with covered Arcadia and the money we are losing, our water system, which I want to make a decision on quickly, and I think people are tired of the blighted properties that are bring down homeowner values.”
Potterfield said that one of his first moves will be to appoint Monroe City lawyer John Russell as city attorney to replace incumbent City Attorney Michael Williams, who told the Hannibal Courier Post on Wednesday morning that he would not submit a bid to remain in the position. Potterfield's appointment will have to be approved by the Board of Aldermen.
A disappointed Long said Wednesday that he is proud of his two years as mayor.
“As for Arcadia, I am pleased that we tried to keep jobs in the city,” Long said. “And look at the numbers. We are spending a lot more on the audit that will not show much than we would have lost on Arcadia if we had not tried to work with them.”
Potterfield, meanwhile, refuted widespread rumors that he plans to make wholesale changes with City Hall leadership.
“I am not that kind of person,” he said. “I am an easy guy to work for. Just come to work with the right attitude, if not, they probably need to leave.”