Tempers flare at Kingston meeting
by Matt Shinall
Aug 19, 2010 | 2513 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The city of Kingston held a special called meeting Wednesday evening to discuss matters of personnel and city finances. With the topic of deputy city clerk coming into question, tempers and voices were raised.

Dominating the scene was a heated argument between Mayor Dexter Jones and City Clerk Michele Jones. Disputes over the capabilities and merits of temporary Deputy Clerk Kimberly Lovins led to personal attacks and insults between Dexter and Michele.

Accusations were hurled back and forth between the two officials during open session before a crowd of onlookers present for the meeting. The outbursts lasted for more than 30 minutes as allegations over policy and procedure were used by Dexter to defend Lovins as counter measures were used by Michele to defend herself and her claims of Lovins' inability to fulfill the job description.

Personal barrages continued to be traded with only occasional comments harkening back to the intended item of discussion as presented on the agenda. The vote to hire Celeste Keeter on a 90-day trial basis in replacement of Kimberly Lovins for not fulfilling job requirements was hotly disputed before being approved by the council in objection to the mayor's defense.

Preceding Dexter and Michele's quarrel was a rash of comments from the council, specifically councilmen Chuck Wise and Louise Howell, about the manner in which Lovins' initial hiring transpired. Lovins was originally placed in office by the mayor on a trial basis before the council's approval. The action was taken legally, as City Attorney Peter Olson advised at the time of the hiring, but none the less displeased the council.

"You have gone behind us on several items Mr. Jones. This is one of them, this is one of them. You brought this person in to work under your leadership. Without approval this lady was brought on as your hire. We sat there and decided to work with you on this but then when we get the report back that the young lady is not reporting for the times that she is asked to work, she leaves the building at will. You're not here all the time," Wise said.

The report that Wise referred to was from Michele advising the council of problems arising from Lovins' job performance. Expounding on her complaints of Lovins and her approval of Keeter's work thus far from her trial period, Michele came back to the matter at hand during the dispute with Dexter saying that the need for Wednesday's called meeting arose from the council's decision to table the vote during the August regular meeting.

"The issue is that Kimberly was hired on a part-time, temporary basis. Celeste is a good employee, Celeste is doing a great job, Celeste believes in teamwork," Michele Jones said. "Kimberly sits there and hands all the work off to her and she wants to know what is her job title. Celeste was actually going to quit last week when the council didn't vote to hire her on a temporary basis because she was not going to sit there for another month and let Kimberly give her everything to do."

Defending Lovins and disagreeing with statements made by Michele, Dexter rebutted with praise for Lovins and her work.

"The city clerk and the mayor at this point have a strong disagreement about what's happening here with Kimberly. Kimberly has been nothing but a godsend for this office. She is the only person in there that understands the financial workings of this office. This place has been in total shambles for the last two years," Dexter Jones said. "Everybody we hire we hire on a temporary basis, a 90-day basis, but this lady has done nothing, nothing to be fired for."

During this argument, members of the audience tried to speak out only to be denied by Dexter. One citizen stepping forward did so trying to speak on Michele's behalf while the other spoke in hopes of ending the debate which he called "a disgrace."

After the vote was taken and passed to hire Keeter in place of Lovins, Dexter showed his disapproval by vowing to the audience and council that he would fight their decision in defense of Lovins.

"I will continue to do this job to the best of my ability as I was elected to do but I will not close my eyes. I will fight this with everything I have, everything that is possible for me to fight with because I see things going on inside city hall," Dexter Jones said. "There have been some things said tonight that were blatantly false and I will defend my decision to put forth Kimberly Lovins as an employee.

"This has been the absolute low point of anything that I've seen since I've been here. Why we had the meeting tonight I'm not exactly sure -- I guess it was just to come here and ambush Dexter. Well maybe right now, temporarily, you got what you want but I swear to you all that the people of Kingston are going to see and hear everything that goes on in there and as long as I'm here I'm going to put it forth."

In addition to those comments, Dexter and each member of the council apologized for the manner in which the events of the evening transpired.

"There was no reason we couldn't have sit down and had this decision like grown adults and to get out here and throw salacious comments that attack people's character like this is beneath us and I hope that something like this never ever happens again. This was absolutely totally distasteful, ugly and awful."

Financial Reports

Before the fireworks began, Sabrina Cape, CPA with Capable Financial Solutions presented city financial statements with the mission to warn the city of concerns with over spending.

The presentation was made in light of account balances on the June financial statements and the changes which have occurred since that time.

"Things have changed between June 30th and today and that's sort of why I'm here. I just want to bring your attention to a couple of different things because this is sort of an unprecedented time with the economy so there's a couple things I want you to watch and a couple of things I want you to pay particular attention to," Cape said.

Making her presentation to the council, she noted that using June as a benchmark can be helpful to determine where problems may arise since it marks the year's half-way point.

"There are a couple of departments that basically are already over that 50 percent mark," Cape said. "A couple of those top departments right there are ahead of schedule in their spending which means that if you keep going down the current path that you are on you will be over budget at the end of the year -- just to let you know kind of where you are."

With half of the year behind them, Cape discussed diminished revenues in several areas due to the shrinking economy and the toll that can take on city finances. Highlighting for the council troubled areas, she showed how expenses are being funded greatly by the water fund. The budget had 80 percent of the water fund to be transferred into the general operating fund for the year, yet the city has already transferred 60 percent of the water fund as of July said Cape.

"Cash is being [depleted] and not being replenished as quickly as it is declining. So the next three months, I just want to caution you to make sure you have a plan in place for your cash flow," Cape said. "You're going to have to transfer a lot more money from water to pay the bills out of the general fund in addition to what has already been transferred."

She warned the council that generally speaking, August, September and October are economic slow periods for municipalities.