By Richard Dean Prudenti
The NW Arkansas Morning News
TONTITOWN -- The Osage Basin Wastewater District will soon be able to move forward with plans to build a sewage treatment facility serving Tontitown and Highfill.
Washington County Circuit Court Judge Kim Smith expects to decide May 27 how many people can serve on the district board, bringing an end to months of confusion deterring a few board members from meeting to discuss wastewater business.
Highfill representatives won't be discussing the future of the wastewater district because Smith also decided in a hearing Tuesday to grant a temporary injunction preventing the board from meeting.
The injunction halted a meeting scheduled for Thursday night by Highfill officials who anticipated conducting business such as paying attorney bills and electing a chairman, vice chairman and secretary/treasurer.
"(The election of officers) was one of the biggest reasons. I don't know what other decisions we would have made," said Chris Holland, Highfill mayor who serves on the regional wastewater board.
Tontitown delegates are not participating because of uncertainty about the lawful number of board members.
"If the district feels they can act and take action (that) binds the district to a contract, then irreparable harm will occur and this court wouldn't be able to undo that," Smith said.
Smith's ruling mirrors arguments by attorney Jack Butt, who filed the request for injunction on behalf of Mick Wagner, a member of the Osage Basin Wastewater District board.
Butt emphasized concern that district officials might spend public money without authority because the board might not have the proper composition.
The district bylaws state 12 members must serve on the board, contradicting state law requiring nine board members proportional to the populations of participating cities.
Smith signed the court order establishing the district with 12 members in 2000 when Elm Springs and Cave Springs were also members and had three representatives each. Cave Springs is officially still a member, although representatives have not attended a meeting for many months.
"The safest thing is to take a deep breath here and let the court decide how we should move forward," Butt said.
If the composition is not lawful, then the board of directors cannot legally conduct business, noted Steve Gunderson, Tontitown attorney.
Paying bills is not a reason to hold a meeting, Wagner said before the hearing.
"The only bills we've got are lawyers' bills, and I don't know too many lawyers who won't be able to make the next meal," Wagner said.
Jeff Reynerson, attorney for the Osage Basin Wastewater District, acknowledged there would be no harm in waiting a few weeks to conduct business. However, he urged Smith to resolve the issue soon.
The plaintiff failed to convince Tom Kieklak, attorney for Highfill, that the district would suffer if board members continued conducting business.
"We're not talking about misuse of property tax or sales tax. This injunction doesn't even allow them to attempt to figure out the problem," Kieklak said.