A typically calm meeting turned hostile Tuesday evening as citizens clashed with Roachdale Town Council members about accessing public information and the spending of taxpayer dollars.
At contention was salary ordinance 2008-1, a measure quietly passed without description, at the beginning of the council meeting. The ordinance gave a pay raise to certain town employees, but is not an across-the-board cost of living increase.
When Roachdale citizen Dennis Gentry asked for clarification on the raises, he met strong resistance from Town Council President William Long and council member Jack Jones, despite the fact that the salaries of public officials are a matter of public record.
"I know it's public information," Long replied, "but do I ask what you make?"
"It's my business because I'm a taxpayer," Gentry said. "If you want to give a 3 percent cost of living increase I'm OK with that. If you want to single out one or two people, then I do have a problem with that."
According to open record laws, public information must be provided to anyone who requests it. That person does not have to give their identity or answer any questions about why they are seeking that information.
Board members told Gentry that they would not release any information without consulting the town's attorney, who was not present at the meeting. When further pressed on the issue, tempers flared. Jones rose from his seat and threatened to have Gentry physically removed from Roachdale's Town Hall by the police.
Gentry caused further controversy when he requested that the board push back its public meeting time by one hour, which is currently set for 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month.
The request, which has been made at other Roachdale meetings, is geared at bolstering public turn-out for meetings and ensuring that the third member of the town council, Barbara Scott, could attend meetings as she commutes a long distance to work. Scott was not present at the meeting.
However, board members reminded those in attendance Tuesday that passing any measure only requires two board members to vote in favor.
In rebuttal, Gentry suggested that Long and Jones could effectively run a two-man operation in Scott's absence.
The absence of town attorney, Tom Casey, also prevented the board from answering any questions regarding former Roachdale Clerk-Treasurer Jennifer (Archer) Crum.
A recent state audit showed that Crumb cost the town $49,337.40 in late fees, interest and other charges the town incurred from 2005-07, while Archer was in charge of Roachdale finances. The matter is currently under investigation by the Indiana State Police.
After confirming that the town was only insured for a loss of $20,000, Long said that prior to the Crum incident, they thought the town had been adequately prepared for this type of funding emergency.
When asked how the council planned to fill up the hole Crum left in the town's coffers, Jones replied: "That's a very good question."
In other business:
* The board accepted a bid for the removal of several dead or dying trees on town property. Trees to be removed are located at 105 E. Railroad St. and 208 and 206 E. Washington St. Total cost was estimated at $1,200.
* The board accepted a report submitted by accountant Pat Callahan stating gas bills for Roachdale residents have increase by 2 percent from November through January, but that the overall rate is still down 19 percent from the same time in 2006.
* The board stated that they are still considering raising the price of a building permit from $1, arguing that the price is out of step with other local communities whose permit policies are far stricter and more expensive than Roachdale. The board also stated that a water bill increase is inevitable in 2008.
* The board accepted a bid from Hannum, Wagle and Cline Engineering to serve as inspectors for a $1 million road improvement project currently slated for 2009.