By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Communications from the Public took up a large portion of the beginning of the Hot Springs City Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 7, which also saw the council accept the resignation of Ward 4 Councilperson Caitlin Turner.
In her resignation letter dated Jan. 24, 2022, Turner, who was not present at the meeting, stated her reasons for resigning were “due to lifestyle changes and health reasons.” Turner had been absent from the previous five meetings dating back to Nov. 15, 2021, and every meeting since.
Prior to voting unanimously to accept her resignation, several members of the council thanked Turner for her past service on the council and described her as a productive and knowledgeable member of the council. After the vote, Mayor Bob Nelson said that Turner’s term on the council was due to expire at the end of June 2022, and that the council’s desire was to appoint someone to temporarily fill the seat until the next election. Anyone in Ward 4 who is interested in doing so should contact City Hall prior to the next Council Meeting on Feb. 22 and submit an application.
During Communications from the Public, city resident Wes Grimes asked why the city’s police department does not write citations based on city ordinance, but instead writes tickets based on state statutes which means the money generated from the fines goes to the state instead.
Mayor Bob Nelson said it was a fair criticism and then allowed Councilman Bill Lukens to address the question.
Lukens said when a citation is written on a state statute, the States Attorney prosecutes the case with the money from the fines going towards police officer training. If the citations are written based on city ordinance, the City Attorney would need to prosecute the case and the money from the fines would indeed go to the City of Hot Springs. However, in order for it to be cost effective while paying the City Attorney to drive down from Custer to prosecute, the city would need to be successful in prosecuting at least 10 out of 10 cases per court date to simply break even.
Grimes then also asked if the city council had considered the ramifications of low morale amongst the other city employees when they decided to give police officers and Evans Plunge lifeguards a raise recently. He was told by multiple council members and the Mayor that they had already considered that, which is why there will be a wage study done to see if raises are needed in other departments.
Mayor Nelson further explained that it was determined that the police officer wage issues were the most pressing due to the fact they’ve not been able to fill several vacancies, which has caused 244 hours of overtime in December and about 300 hours of overtime in January.
Another communication from the public came from city resident Ryan Engel who inquired about how the city was addressing the alcohol-related issues involving the Skyline Motel, which was the reason the council had recently denied a beer and wine license to the neighboring Dollar General. Engel said he felt the city should be focused on that issue so that they do not restrict the operating practices of any other businesses in town.
Mayor Nelson said that both he and the City Administrator had scheduled a meeting with the owner of the Skyline Motel later in the week to discuss that very issue.
Former Councilmember Tim Tescher also came to the microphone during Communications from the Public and expressed concern regarding the decision to not issue Dollar General a beer and wine license, due to issues at a neighboring business which are out of the control of Dollar General’s. He also told Councilman Larry Pratt that he felt he should not have voted in regards to the beer and wine license, due to having a perceived conflict of interest because of his personal interest in the matter. Pratt, who lives near the Skyline Motel, was a strong opponent to the beer and wine license and spoke against it prior to the vote last month.
Tescher added that Pratt stated during Jan. 18 meeting, where the license was denied, that he was speaking as a recovering addict and for the veterans in Hot Springs. As a recovering addict and veteran himself, Tescher then told Pratt that he was not speaking for him.
City Attorney Garland Goff and Mayor Nelson both read excerpts from Codified Law defining conflicts of interest, and since Pratt’s vote did not demonstrate a financial interest in the matter and since two-thirds of the council did not identify Pratt’s testimony as being a conflict of interest at the time of the vote, they said Pratt did not have to bow out of the vote for a conflict.