Hiney, Buum weigh in on Armstrong issues
By Amy H. Peterson
ARMSTRONG – Armstrong City Council member Rhett Hiney wrote a letter addressed to the citizens of Armstrong and Emmet County. The full text of his letter is on page 4. Mayor Greg Buum addressed the issues Hiney raised in an interview last week.
“It is time that I share information. My term on the Armstrong City Council started January 1, 2014. The one thing I have done wrong is disagree with the Mayor and the Police Chief,” Hiney wrote.
Buum said, “Every city government, even our federal government, has disagreements. Our U.S. Congress doesn’t seem to be able to get through a day without disagreeing. Anyone can disagree.”
Hiney said for three years he requested complete monthly financial statements, and that the complete financials were not provided. He said in January and February of 2016, the council was told there were no funds for infrastructure, including streets, water tower or water treatment.
When asked where are the financial statements, Buum said, “The city has all the records, except some cemetery records, which are held at the maintenance shed.”
Buum said, “We had an accounting firm helping us.”
Buum said, “No financial records were kept from March to November 2016, and no audits or other records were filed.”
Buum added, “After we brought in [retired city clerk] Connie Thackery, we had to rebuild using bank statements, so any financial record is simply an estimate at this point.”
After city clerk Kate Staton was reinstated April 10, Buum said the financial firm and accountant who had worked with the city said they were done and wanted nothing further to do with the city’s financial records.
Hiney said the mayor would put plans like upgrading the water treatment plant and the sewer upgrade on hold.
Buum said there is a timeline for moving forward on these projects, and that he will address this in a future interview, once more information is available.
Hiney said the mayor places on hold items already approved for payment by the council and does not pay the bills.
Buum said, “I sign checks as presented. As a nonvoting member of the city council, I don’t have authority to put anything on hold.”
Hiney addressed paid time off banking for Armstrong Police Chief and only law enforcement employee Craig Merrill.
“The city budget for police protection in 2015-2016 was $90,953, but reported expenses are $181, 417,” Hiney wrote, referencing the State of Iowa Auditor Report.
Buum said, “Banking paid time off has been allowed for years. I would point out that Merrill is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
In October, 2016, upon signing a check for an initial payment to the county to restore dispatch services, then city attorney Chris Fuhrman also presented an agreement to allow Merrill up to 96 hours of time off within a month if needed for vacation, holiday or sick time. The agreement provides 72 hours each week of law enforcement coverage from the Sheriff’s office to cover time off for Merrill, as well as additional time as needed for sick and vacation leave, within the available scheduling of the Sheriff’s office.
Hiney raised the issue of the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation becoming involved in an investigation with the Emmet County Sheriff and State Auditor of the city employees and mayor.
“We had no cash deposits made, nor any banking for several months of 2016. We found out bills, unemployment and withholding was not paid,” Buum said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
Buum said he wants to move Armstrong forward. “I want to concentrate on future projects and put to rest special, hidden agendas,” he said.