I attended the Village of Four Seasons Board of Trustees Meeting on December 9, 2022 at 4:00 p.m.
The Village Board consists of four trustees and a chairman. Trustees Randy Engel, Tony Baldridge, Ron Weihs, and Dave Perdue were present. The Chairman, Jim Holcomb, and the Village Clerk were not present for the meeting.
I’ve been to a few Village Board meetings, but this one was a real humdinger. Normally, there are only a few of us in the audience and it’s a good meeting to hear about what’s going on in Horseshoe Bend.
This meeting drew a crowd of about thirty folks. In addition to a handful of residents, the Horseshoe Bend Special Road District (HBSRD) was there. 1st District Commissioner Gohagan and Presiding Commissioner-Elect were in the front row. They were wearing suits which is Camden County’s instinctive behavior to warn predators that something is about to go down.
The new Camden County County Attorney, Jeff Green, was present (also in a suit). Two representatives from the Four Seasons POA and a representative from Missouri Association Management were also in attendance. My Gadfly senses were tingling.
The only agenda item for the open portion of the meeting was the Village of Four Seasons CART money for the Horseshoe Bend Road District.
Since Jim Holcomb wasn’t present, Randy Engel ran the meeting in his role as the Vice-Chairman. Engel stated that he had expected this to be a short meeting and was surprised so many people had shown up.
Randy Engel explained that the Village has the CART money ($42,665) that was passed through to them by Camden County. They have not distributed those funds to the HBSRD and he said he was not aware of any requirements or state statutes that dictate when the Village has to distribute those funds. Commissioner Gohagan told Engel he had sent the Village a letter, but Engel said the letter did not include a required date for the distribution.
Engel stated they did not distribute the funds and had wanted to get in touch with the HBSRD to discuss some things. He complained that the HBSRD had not attended a requested Village meeting and the Village’s correspondence to the HBSRD had been ignored. Engel had unsuccessfully attempted to schedule an unofficial lunch meeting between himself, Jim Holcomb and the President of the HBSRD.
Engels explained that they had never intended NOT to give the CART funds to the HBSRD. Instead they just wanted to meet with the HBSRD and make them aware that those CART funds did not necessarily have to be passed through to them. It was his opinion that the Village could instead spend those funds on lighting, policing, and other things at their discretion. Engels also wanted a maintenance contract from the HBSRD in the amount of the CART funds so the Village could write them off as an expense.
Jerry Jackson, the President of the HBSRD, responded that the road district has never provided a maintenance contract to the Village before. Sarah Amsinger from HBSRD told Engel the district had received a letter from the Village in past years documenting the CART funds the Village had passed through to them, but they have not received such a letter in the last few years. She said nobody from the Village told them that this was an issue. The Village has held the CART funds since October 14, 2022.
Engel claimed it was not an issue and all he wanted to do was have a meeting with them. He reiterated that he just wanted to “get it out in the open” that the Village can spend those CART funds on other things and he wanted a maintenance contract for the Village’s accounting procedures.
Presiding Commissioner-Elect Ike Skelton read from Missouri statute that “all moneys received by a county from the county aid road trust fund shall be used within the county solely for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance, and repairs of roads, bridges, and highways as the county commission shall direct.”
Commissioner Gohagan explained that this money was pass-through money from Camden County.
Engel responded that he had a different source that authorized the Village to use the funds for other costs like lighting and policing.
Commissioner Gohagan then read aloud from what sounded like a legal opinion that stated there was no compelling reason for a village or township within Camden County to retain CART funds and not forward them to the entity responsible for maintaining their roads and bridges unless they had their own street department.
Engel said they would just have to continue to disagree and perhaps get attorneys involved. Commissioner Gohagan asked Engel where was the Village’s legal counsel? He wasn’t at the meeting. (Interestingly, the legal counsel for the Village is also the legal counsel for the HBSRD so the Village might have to hire a different attorney for this matter if they wanted to get into a legal fight with the HBSRD and Camden County over this issue.)
Trustee Tony Baldridge assumed the role of peacemaker in this meeting and said he felt that Camden County had made its point and he felt the CART funds should be distributed to the HBSRD.
Tony asked Ike Skelton how he felt about the issue. Skelton said it was his position that the funds should be distributed. He further stated that if there are currently no written rules directing this distribution then the Village can be assured that in short order, there will be such written rules.
Baldridge told the audience that the decision to withhold the CART funds was never communicated to him. Ron Weihs and Dave Perdue, the other two Trustees, both agreed that this decision had never been communicated to them either. (This is pretty remarkable because it now became apparent that a majority of the Village of Board Trustees were never even told the CART funds would be withheld, much less voted on by the Board.)
Engel admitted to Commissioner Gohagan that Engel knew that the CART funds were going to be withheld. Engel asked when the funds had to be distributed. Gohagan answered that Camden County uses a state statute that requires that the funds have to be remitted by the 15th. Camden County sent the funds to the Village on October 14, 2022. Engel then again questioned when the funds should be distributed.
Sarah Amsinger (HBSRD) said that in the past, the Village has distributed the CART funds promptly. There was no reason the HBSRD would assume that the Village was going to withhold the CART money and not tell them why. Engel responded that he couldn’t tell them why because they wouldn’t meet with him.
Baldridge asked Engel (who ironically is the Village liaison with the HBSRD) if he ever let the road district know the Village was going to withhold the CART funds? Engel responded that he had been at one meeting. Baldridge pressed him on it and Engel admitted he had never told the HBSRD that they intended to withhold the funds.
Kevin Luttrell, the HBSRD Administrator, assured the Board that the 42 miles of roadway in the Village receive a level of road maintenance and service that far exceeds the $42,655 being withheld.
Jerry Jackson, HBSRD President, asserted that they had never been invited to a Village meeting to discuss CART funds. They had only been invited to a meeting to discuss hiking and biking trails.
Commissioner Gohagan said that he felt that any meeting discussing the expenditure of public funds should be an open, public meeting.
Baldridge said he was disappointed that there was no voting or discussion at the Trustee level about the retention of the CART funds. Baldridge stated that when he discovered from the Camden County Treasurer that the funds were being held up, he called Engel. According to Baldrige, Engel initially told him over the phone that he wasn’t sure if the funds had been retained and then told Baldridge that “maybe they were held up for bargaining with the road district.” Baldridge said he then told Engel to give the HBSRD the money.
Engel said he had still wanted to have a meeting with the HBSRD to discuss “differences, either perceived or real.”
Baldridge wanted to know who was involved in the decision to withhold the CART funds. Engel told Commissioner Gohagan that the Village Clerk normally writes the checks for the CART fund distribution.
Trustee Dave Perdue stated they have always paid the CART funds to the HBSRD in the past. He was really exasperated that the money hadn’t been distributed, especially when three of the five trustees didn’t even know what had happened. He said that he prefers to talk to people with an open hand rather than holding something over them to get them to talk. He seemed really angry about the whole way this had been handled and he praised the HBSRD for the great job they do for the residents of Horseshoe Bend.
It was also mentioned that on the same day of this meeting, Commissioner Gohagan had sent an email to the Board with a letter written by Charlie McElyea explaining that the Village had to distribute the CART funds to the HBSRD. Camden County received an email response from Board President Jim Holcomb, but Holcomb had only copied Engel and the Village Clerk on that response email.
Baldridge said that this was just one more example of the other Trustees being left out of the loop. He was sad that he had to find out about what was happening in Village government from people outside the Village and it has to stop right now. He felt like they owed it to the Village residents and wanted to repair the damage that has been done to the relationship with the Village’s partners in the HBSRD and Camden County government. Baldridge wanted Engel to make an effort to help improve communication within the Board. Engel agreed he would.
Commissioner Gohagan explained that the reason CART funds pass through intermediate agencies is to provide a system of checks and balances. That’s why the CART funds don’t get distributed directly from the State of Missouri to the road districts.
Engel said once more that he wanted a maintenance contract for the CART funds. The HBSRD responded in unison that the CART funds are documented in the letters the Village used to send the district.
Trustee Dave Perdue said he was still upset that this had all happened without three of the Trustees knowing about it. He then made a motion that the $42,655 of CART funds be distributed to the HBSRD by noon on December 12, 2022 (Monday). The motion passed 4-0.
Baldridge suggested they change the trustee assignments so that he could be the liaison with Camden County, the HBSRD, and the water districts and repair the relationships with those entities. He made this motion and it passed 3-0 with Engel abstaining.
Commissioner Gohagan then explained that some of the misconceptions about people not wanting to meet with each other come from his personal policy of conducting county business in open, public meetings. He was not interested in having private, business lunch meetings with people in his official capacity as a county commissioner. If the Village has issues that they would like the Camden County Commission to address, he welcomed them to get on the agenda for a County Commission meeting so any issues could be discussed and resolved publicly.
Trustee Baldridge stated that he felt confident the relationships could be repaired and looked forward to strong relationships with Camden County. A representative from Four Seasons POA spoke and mentioned that she attended because they support the HBSRD and wanted to know what was happening.
The Board of Trustees then adjourned the open meeting and went into closed session.
And that was that.
I did feel a little bad for Randy Engel since he was the only trustee aware of the CART withholding who was at the meeting and had to play the role of defending the Alamo. He did try to use a little humor at times but it went over like Frankenstein trying to loosen up the village mob.
The strategy of withholding CART funds from the Horseshoe Bend Special Road District appears to have been a bad idea. Especially when you consider that the CART money doesn’t just pay for asphalt and salt. It also pays the salaries and benefits for the families of those road district employees who are soon going to be plowing the roads at 2:00 a.m. on cold winter nights, keeping our roads safe while we sleep warm and snug in our beds. The residents of Horseshoe Bend universally appreciate the work that the HBSRD does. The lesson learned here is that the HBSRD is the political “third rail” of Horseshoe Bend. You touch it at your own peril.