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Muddy waters cleared so Caruthersville candidates can be on ballot

Caruthersville attorney Chris McMillin, seated next to Mayoral Candidate Rick Brandon asks questions during testimony over past due water bills.
Caruthersville attorney Chris McMillin, seated next to Mayoral Candidate Rick Brandon asks questions during testimony over past due water bills.Karol Wilcox

Two candidates that signed up to run for office in Caruthersville, MO city elections found out that their names would appear on the ballot after an “informal public hearing” held Feb. 10. Mayoral candidate Rick Brandon and Councilwoman Barbara Rodgers had been told that they would not be able to have their names on the ballot because they owed back water bills.

City Attorney Lawrence Dorroh opened the meeting stating that it was a “public hearing” but not for the purpose of public comment, but to hold testimony as to whether the candidates were in arrears on municipal “user fees” on Jan. 21, the deadline to be certified for the ballot. Testimony indicated that a “bad debt list” was given to four councilmembers on the water committee on Dec. 12, 2013, but was not presented to the entire Council until the Jan. 21 Council meeting, after the filing deadline had expired.

Rick Brandon was represented by Caruthersville attorney Chris McMillin. Rodgers represented herself in the hearing. Water Supervisor Paul Shaw was the first to testify. The controversy with Brandon was concerning the city’s policy of “temp meters” mostly used by landlords after tenants move out of the residence. During questioning, Shaw stated that the temp meters were mostly handled informally, and he followed a policy in place when he came into the department.

Brandon stated that he had never requested the temp meters and McMillin pointed out that the city ordinance requires a $100 deposit on water service, so the temp meters did not seem to fall into the category of “user fees.” Brandon denied receiving any bills and Shaw stated that the temp meters are billed separately from regular water bills and are usually billed once a tenant comes in and switches the meter.

Rodgers presented testimony and checks to the council showing where her bill was paid. Shaw testified that when the City Clerk asked him if all the candidates were paid up, he did not think about the bad debt list and just checked their residential water bills.

Rodgers asked the city to clear her name as she presented proof of payment and stated that she would like her money back that she paid. Rodgers expounded on historical problems with the water department, including a water clerk convicted of theft, water bills that were billed incorrectly, including one to a local business totaling over $600,000.

There was a brief recess while Councilman James Mott met with the Attorney Dorroh outside of the council chamber to question personal liability of state statutes. State law states that to be certified for the ballot the candidate cannot owe the city “user fees” at the time of certification.

After hearing the testimony, Councilman Baughn Merideth made the motion that there was enough evidence to doubt the validity of the debts and Sheila Simpson seconded the motion. The motion carried unanimously with Rodgers abstaining from the vote. The Council was agreement that the informal temp meter policy was in need of review.

“I am relieved and happy,” Rodgers said after the meeting, “But I am going to look into the fact the city will owe me money.” Rodgers is unopposed on the ballot for her Ward.

McMIllin spoke for Brandon stating that he was pleased with the decision and would stand by the Council “for making a fair and right decision.” Brandon faces opponents Rick Davis and Marshall Grubbs in the election that will be held on Apr. 8.