It’s been nearly two years since Leadwood City Hall caught fire, causing enough damage to the building to warrant tearing it down completely, but a new one has emerged to take its place on the site of the old building.
Area residents were invited to attend a grand opening ceremony and open house on May 22 to celebrate the hall’s completion. Mayor Dennis Parks and the Board of Alderpersons performed the ceremonial ribbon cutting, followed by an open house where area residents enjoyed hot dogs, cookies, cupcakes and other complimentary refreshments that had been set up in the public meeting room.
Just prior to cutting the ribbon, Parks thanked First State Community Bank for financing the project, Lewis Builders for constructing the building and others who were instrumental in its completion. He also thanked everyone who was in attendance for joining him and the other city representatives.
Within days after the fire in September 2015 that forced city officials to abandon their former headquarters, an interim office was opened in the basement of the Leadwood United Methodist Church, directly across the street, and business was resumed less than a week later.
On May 4 of this year, the temporary office was closed in order to move into the new building, which was officially opened for business on May 9. Water Department Clerk Winnie Gallaher, Municipal Court Clerk Marti Francis and City Clerk Charlotte Lewis can now be found at their new work stations in city hall.
The hall also contains a small office for Parks, who will share the space with the municipal judge and any other court officials who may need to use a private room before or during court hearings. The largest room is a public space, complete with a bench and seating for the judge during court and for the mayor and board of alderpersons during city meetings. The room is large enough for most city board meetings and all municipal court hearings. People will no longer have to wait outside the Leadwood Police Department in order to appear for court.
“The wall (of the bench) is actually bullet-resistant,” Charlie Lewis said previously. Lewis is the owner of Lewis Builders and one of the city’s aldermen. He explained that, during construction of the building, his crew built a “demo” bench, filling it with sand, and then took it to a safe place where they shot it numerous times to ensure it was constructed properly and would help protect the judge, mayor and any other city officials sitting behind it in case anyone ever attempted to fire a weapon at them.
Once they were satisfied of the bench’s integrity, they built another bench for the city hall.
The three clerks will also be protected within their work area in the next room, which was constructed to include a customer service counter with bullet-resistant glass separating the clerk’s work space and the public entrance and foyer. In addition, there is a lockable door leading into the clerks’ office area.
“They get people in from time-to-time that wants to yell at them or whatever,” said Lewis, “so they’ll be able to step back from the counter and tell them when they wanna calm down, they’ll finish doing business with them … It’ll be a lot more secure than what they had before. A lot safer.”
In addition to the combination courtroom/city meeting room and the office area for the municipal court clerk, city clerk and water/sewer department clerk, there is a public restroom just inside the entrance. Along the back of the building, there’s a breakroom and kitchen, storage space and restroom facilities for employees and public officials.
Some finishing touches are still needed to complete the city hall project, including paving the parking lot and adding some landscaping around the outside of the building. Parks mentioned that the board had previously discussed adding a three foot landscaping border around the building with plants and flowers.
The path to actually begin construction of the new building was not a smooth one, with controversy, conflict and disagreement putting several bumps and hurdles in the way.
Although the investigation into the cause of the fire by the State Fire Marshal’s Office was, and is, still ongoing, city officials were given the go-ahead just a couple of weeks after the fire to begin cleaning out the building and salvaging any content that had not been completely destroyed.
Less than a month after the fire, in early October, a preliminary insurance settlement was reached and board members began to make preliminary plans for a new city hall. The initial settlement included $39,405 for the building, $25,000 for contents and city property and up to $10,000 to tear the building down.
The first major decisions the board faced were choosing what features would be ideal with a new city hall facility and whether it would make more financial sense to build anew, to buy an existing structure and remodel it to suit the city’s needs, or to perhaps even rent an office from a new water department building that could be built using monies from a bond issue recently awarded to the city’s water and sewer department.
After lengthy discussion and a vote at a special session in October 2015, the board agreed it would be more feasible to tear down the entire current structure, including the foundation. Board members also voted to begin the process of negotiating the purchase of an existing building so they could better analyze the costs of such an option.
A conclusion disputed by no one was that the final costs of either rebuilding or buying an existing structure would exceed the insurance payout regardless of which option city officials chose.
After careful consideration of their options, and despite some significant doubts about whether the city could afford it in the end, city officials decided the best option would be to rebuild on the current site rather than rent or buy a new building.
In the meantime, city crews went about tearing down the old building and pulling out the concrete foundation.
By this point, it had been three months since the day of the fire and plans for rebuilding were still in the very early stages. According to Charlotte Lewis, the city had been given several months to stay in the basement of the Methodist church, but it was uncertain whether they would be allowed to stay until the new city hall was completed.
Once again, however, church administrators showed city officials some Christian kindness and charity and allowed city business to continue uninterrupted inside their basement with no demands or pressure to move out.
Moving tentatively forward with the construction project, the city began by soliciting bids from contractors in mid-January.
After receiving only two sealed bids for the construction project — one from then-Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Lewis — numerous residents protested, claiming that it was unethical, and perhaps illegal, for Lewis to submit a bid in the first place. It was also argued that his position with the city gave him an unfair advantage in the bidding process.
In light of the controversy, the board chose to table a vote on the bids so advice and counsel could be obtained to address the residents’ concerns.
At a public meeting in late January, then-Alderman Matt Peery reported that board members contacted the Missouri Ethics Commission and Eric Harris, the city’s attorney, to inquire about the ethics and/or legality of the bid.
Peery then read a portion of the letter received from Harris that included language from the relevant state statute:
“RSMo 105.458.1, the fifth paragraph down it says ‘no member of any legislative or governing body of any political subdivision of the state shall perform any service for the political subdivision or any agency of the political subdivision for any consideration in excess of $500 per transaction or $5000 per annum, or in the case of a school board five thousand dollars per annum, unless the transaction is made pursuant to an award on a contract let after public notice and competitive bidding, provided that the bid or offer accepted is the lowest received.’
“Which in this case we did,” Peery said. “It went out for competitive bidding. It was out for bid for three weeks and it ran in the paper just like it was supposed to.”
Peery also read a portion of a related statute followed by the city attorney’s interpretation of the laws as they relate to the situation under question:
“It appears that the Missouri statutes and case law allows a business owned by elected officials to perform business with the political subdivision that they serve. The applicable statute requires that the elected official’s company or business will be required to follow the bidding procedures and the elected official’s company will be required to have the lowest bid in order to be selected by the city.
“As an additional requirement, the elected official, in our case the mayor pro tem, cannot vote to be employed and engage in the contract of his own company, which I understand is known as Lewis Builders LLC … thus, so long as the bidding process was proper and the publication properly solicited bids from all potentially interested building contractors, then Lewis Builders LLC may go forward and be approved by the majority of the vote of the board …”
Satisfied that the bidding process was conducted fairly and within the bounds of the law, then-Alderman Bill Resinger subsequently made a motion to accept the lowest bid, which was from Lewis Builders, contingent upon approval of financing for the project.
The project stalled again with the upcoming April election and a chance that the composition of Leadwood’s governing body would change rather significantly.
As it turned out, Lewis, who had been serving as mayor pro tem since the previous mayor resigned shortly after the April 2015 election, lost his bid for mayor to Parks. In addition, the board gained two new aldermen.
Things started to get back on track in June, however, when board members voted (with Lewis abstaining due to his direct involvement in the project) to follow through with getting financing costs from a lending institution in order to determine if the city could actually afford to have a new building constructed.
Despite two aldermen voting against the city borrowing such a significant sum — Parks voted in favor to break the tie — a measure that established the authority for the city to enter into a lease agreement with a finance agency was approved during a public meeting on Oct. 24.
The agreement with FS Leasing, LLC provided the city with $225,000 in financing for construction of the building, which was added to the nearly $40,000 insurance payment for the former city hall building.
The pace of progress picked up immediately with a groundbreaking ceremony taking place on Oct. 28 and construction beginning less than a week later at the beginning of November.
“It was a battle getting it started,” said Charlie Lewis during the first city board meeting held in the new building May 22. “Once it got started, it went good. I think we done good; we all worked together and once we started digging, it was smooth sailing. We managed to keep it under budget. We didn’t have to come back and ask for extra money to do anything. I think that was a positive. It doesn’t happen a lot on construction that we’re able to dig and complete without going back and saying ‘hey, we’ve run into a snag and we need more money.’
“As a city and as a community we have a home again. And we have a place to hold a meeting that everybody can come to and that’s ours. We’re in a good place now.”
“As a city and as a community we have a home again. And we have a place to hold a meeting that everybody can come to and that’s ours. We’re in a good place now.” ~Alderman Charlie Lewis
Amy Patterson is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3616 or email@example.com.