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Florence pulls plug on water debate

Staff writer

At least 20 spectators showed up for Monday’s Florence City Council meeting, but the meeting ended abruptly when they started asking questions about the city water supply.

The city’s contract to buy water from Crystal Springs, owned by the DeForest family, will end next year. Council members voted June 4 to reject a 10-year, $6,000-per-year contract offered by the family.

Mayor Bob Gayle skipped over scheduled public comment time, moving immediately to council member reports at Monday’s meeting.

When Gayle called on council member Trayce Warner, Warner asked about published comments attributed to him about how one city council member did not understand the city’s water situation. Warner thought the comments were a reference to her.

Gayle said he had not read the story, and she gave him a copy of the article.

“If you were in something this heated, wouldn’t you go ahead and read it?” spectator Twilah Williams said. “Trayce pulled it out and read it to him.”

That’s when the meeting became contentious and members of the public started asking questions, according to several who attended.

“It got heated,” Williams said. “One of the members moved they adjourn, and they seconded, and they were out of there.”

Karen Williams said that when another spectator asked a question, Gayle said everyone would understand when all was said and done.

“He’s not being transparent,” Karen Williams said. “There’s no transparency here. I think the biggest thing that people are upset about is, they don’t know what’s going on.”

One audience member asked when a meeting to explain what’s going on with the water supply would take place and Gayle said negotiations were ongoing.

“That’s crap,” Warner said. “There’s no negotiation going on.”

Karen Williams said she considered Gayle’s attitude “condescending.”

“He tries to talk down to us, and I feel that’s an insult to everyone around,” she said. “When your elected officials are not doing the will of the people, that’s a problem.”

Warner also was critical.

“The community was asking all these questions, and they adjourned early,” she said. “The mayor has refused to entertain any questions or provide any answers.”

Twilah Williams went further.

“I’m totally against what they’re doing,” she said. “It’s not making any sense and it’s so contrary to the DeForest family. They’re good people.”

In December the city received permission from the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources to appropriate up to 20 million gallons of groundwater per year from land owned by the city.

Warner said the move was made when the city had not heard anything from the DeForest family about the status of a new contract.

“We approved a test well on property that we own,” Warner said. “We got down to sand, and there was water in the sand. There was no way to measure what the output would be or what the quality of water would be.”

Council members did vote Monday to raise water, sewer, and trash rates $5 each.

When a reporter for this newspaper called Gayle for comment Tuesday, he hung up the phone.

When council member Reilly Reid was contacted, he said, “You’re going to have to ask somebody else besides me” before also hanging up.

Last modified June 20, 2018

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