The Williamson City Council meeting was once again turned into a verbal sparring match with Mayor Charlie Hatfield and Councilman Joe Venturino trading heated barbs and accusations at each other last Thursday, March 25.
Tempers between the two arose during a discussion of the “Paint that Tank” fund. Council members Venturino, Randall Price and Sherry Hairston-Brown have previously accused the mayor of misuse of public funds in reference to the matter. The mayor contends the fund is comprised of private donations and not taxpayer money.
Venturino began by asking City Attorney Nathan Brown if he had checked into a matter requested by Price during a previous meeting regarding the methods in which city contracts could be executed. Price did not attend the March 25 meeting. Venturino specifically asked about the contract with West Virginia artist Tom Acosta signed by Hatfield.
Brown said it was his understanding that Price’s request was about contracts in general and not specifically in reference to the Acosta contract. Venturino and Hairston-Brown continued to press the matter.
“Can I ask you a question?” Hairston-Brown said to Brown. “The contract between Tom Acosta and the city, did the city council have to approve it?”
“I’ll say that generally the case law says that for there to be a valid contract with a municipality, that contract has to come before a city council, duly assembled, for majority vote,” Brown responded. “Not that contract (the Acosta contract), but any contract.”
Brown said the Acosta contract was never presented to the city. Hatfield told her it was presented to the council at the same time the Paint that Tank project was presented.
“It came after it was already signed, then it was presented to us,” Venturino said.
The mayor agreed: “Somebody had to sign it and I gave you a contract for what we were going to do with the tank.
“Who did that?” Venturino asked.
“I did,” Hatfield replied.
“That’s okay?” Venturino said. “You think that it’s okay?”
“True,” the mayor responded. “That’s okay.’
Venturino then began asking Brown about the contract again, but was interrupted by Hatfield: “You all want to go to court and find it out? There is no timeline for it. You can do it during it or at the inception or when it has funding or when it is ready to implement.”
“Mayor, you cannot go out here and get a contract signed without council’s knowledge and then bring it back to council without us knowing about it,” Venturino said.
Hatfield accused Venturino of just trying to derail a project to which Venturino responded by saying there would not be a problem if the matter had been handled correctly.
“Listen, you are here for half the meetings,” Hatfield fired at Venturino.
“Don’t you worry about how often I’m here,” Venturino replied. “Don’t worry about that. You don’t worry about that.”
“I’m just pointing out that you miss half of the meetings,” Hatfield continued, with Venturino countering: “It don’t matter. You don’t know why I’m not here.”
The discussion ended, but Venturino asked City Clerk Cheri Horton to place the topic back on the next agenda for further discussion.
However, during the council member’s remarks section of the agenda, Venturino lobed another volley at Hatfield while asking about the new CARES Act relief fund. “We just need to keep a better eye on that money than we did the Paint that Tank money.”
Heated words once more were traded. Councilman Ralph Hall interjected with motion to adjourn. Hatfield pounded his gavel and declared the meeting adjourned without waiting for a second or vote.