River Falls meeting gets heated

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, October 3, 2012

There was a bit of trash talk at Tuesday’s River Falls council meeting – both in terms of garbage collection and heated words between members of the council.

Citing “difficulty in speaking,” Mayor Mary Hixon relinquished control of the meeting to Councilwoman Mattie Freeney, who said the purpose of the hour-long meeting was to discuss the lack of garbage collection services. Rory Cassidy, the governmental affairs manager for Allied Waste, said the town is covered under the county’s garbage contract. Residents must pay an estimated $150 start-up cost to participate – a $50 deposit for the can and two quarters of service at $45.48 per quarter.

Currently, residents are charged $4.50 per month on their water bill for garbage service; however, those bills have not been collected in months, residents said.

Before the council tabled the discussion, Hixon asked the crowd of nearly 20 for a vote on how to proceed, but was quickly told the council was responsible for the vote, not the attending public.

Now, a comparison of the cost of hiring a town garbage man versus entering into a contract with Allied Waste will be prepared. Hixon said she will compile the customer numbers.

“The county has the water books, but I think I can pull the numbers from the old, old records,” Hixon said. “I still have one or two left.”

Hixon was referring to town records seized by investigators from the district attorney’s office while executing a search warrant after the municipal election closed on Aug. 28. District Attorney Walt Merrell has confirmed that his office is conducting an investigation, but will not disclose the nature of the investigation.

After that discussion ended, Hixon and Freeney engaged in a dialogue about why meetings were held without proper notice.

The council has held at least three illegal meetings in the last three months. Under Alabama law, no meeting – even an emergency meeting – can be held without proper notice. Law also dictates that meetings must be held at least twice a month, unless otherwise decreed by ordinance. For River Falls, meetings should be held on the first Tuesday of each month at town hall.

“I had minutes, until they were stolen, that gave me permission to treat my office as my mayor’s office,” Hixon said. “You knew the meetings were scheduled each Tuesday. You’ve been on the council for 20 years. Is it necessary to baby you?”

Freeney said, “Yes, if it means you’re having a meeting in another place that I don’t know about.”

At one point, Hixon addressed the crowd.

“I used to be so proud to be from River Falls,” she said. “I’m ashamed now. There have been things written that are not true, and you can write that down in your little notebook, Stephanie. (Referring to Star-News’ reporter Stephanie Nelson.) That’s why we are recording this so we can compare what was said to what is printed in the newspaper.”

Hixon was referring to numerous articles published by The Star-News about actions taken on behalf of the town that appear to be illegal. The newspaper also recorded Tuesday’s meeting.

This was the last regular council meeting before the new council takes office in the first week of November.