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Sparks fly at Sulphur City Council meeting over building purchase

Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 10:05 PM

By Natalie Stewart / American Press

SULPHUR — A city councilman at Tuesday night’s meeting told Mayor Chris Duncan he was trying to “bully and be the bad guy” when he requested the council’s approval to send an invoice to the City Court for the purchase of the former Old Tyme Variety store on Ruth Street.

The council approved the request 3-2, with Mike Koonce and Dru Ellender opposed.

Councilman Stuart Moss said that he had the item put on the agenda after the city obtained documents it requested stating how much money was in the City Court’s building fund.

“There is some $561,000 ... this account is dedicated for acquisition, leasing, construction, equipping, maintenance of new and existing courthouse, and maintenance or payment of any bond,” Moss said. “The city just expended $475,000 for this purchase of the property. I think that we should send this bill on to the courthouse and to the judge for payment. That’s a lot of money that we expended out of our accounts.”

The council OK’d the purchase of the property, which is also known as the old George Theriot’s Super Food Mart, in January with plans to turn it into a judicial center. The city plans to use the 12,000-square-foot building to house courtrooms and the judge’s and city marshal’s offices.

Koonce pressed the issue at the meeting, suggesting that a meeting with Judge Charlie Schrumpf be called in which negotiations could be made as to how and when the court should reimburse the city.

Councilman Randy Favre told Koonce that the letter being sent was to open negotiations.

Koonce also questioned why the building fund was under the court’s control and not the city’s, to which Moss said the statute read that the court should have control over the fund and all disbursements made from that fund. Koonce also expressed concern about depleting the court’s building fund.

The building fund grows from fees paid with each court cost transaction made, Moss said. Asking the court to pay won’t “wipe out” the account.

Duncan said the city met with Shrumpf many times to determine and understand how the court’s funds are set up.

“There are two things we are trying to find out,” Duncan said. “We have a state statute that has a building fund. Second thing is how it’s structured and what the city is suppose to be paying for. ... We have this building fund that we know is set up by state statute ... the reason why we found all of this is we started looking into how the court is set up. We feel like we can ask (Shrumpf) for this and rather he pays it or not is two different things. I have no problem sitting down with the judge, which we have.”

Koonce pointed out to the council that because Shrumpf has control of the fund he could elect not to pay the city anything.

Duncan said because of repairs made to the building, the city can request reimbursement from the court.

“I agree 100 percent,” Koonce said. “But we don’t understand the system right now and we are sending somebody a bill before we have everything worked out.”

Moss said the council and the city understand the part of the court system concerning the building fund and that the city can, according to state statute, request reimbursement.

Koonce again pressed that rather than sending an invoice to the judge that someone would sit down and talk with him.

“I think if we sat down and talked with him and showed him what we got and showed him all this stuff then maybe we could just work it out,” he said. “I would rather see him voluntarily pay us then us demand it. Sending a bill is kind of demanding.”

“Has anyone approached (Shrumpf) and said ‘Charlie can you pay us for this building,’” Koonce asked. “No, we tried to bully and be the bad guy. Let’s just go ahead and sit down and talk to the man and say ‘Hey Charlie, we want you to pay us for this building.’”

Duncan said by the city sending Shrumpf the invoice they are formally asking him to pay, and that the city has met with him to discuss the building fund and how much money the account contained.

“I don’t think we are bullying ... we had the meetings,” Duncan said. “We asked for the amount in the account and we got a letter.”

Shrumpf couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

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