“If I were you, I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole,” Smith said. “My recommendation is to not even ask questions, because you could have the appearance of conflict by asking the wrong question.”
Aldridge was requesting the city modify the school district’s most recent water bill to cut out the cost of a leak at the new high school that drained an estimated more than 700,000 gallons into the ground before being fixed.
“I’m here for the Garrard County School System and our boys and girls,” he said. “We have tight budgets, too.”
Unfortunately for the school system’s budget, the school had already requested a modification in October because of another leak, and the city has a policy of only granting one modification per year per customer.
Aldridge was hopeful the previous modification counted as a modification in 2010, while this modification, which would apply to January’s bill, would count as a modification in 2011.
But Smith said the policy has always been enforced as one modification every 12 months, meaning the school wouldn’t be eligible for another modification until October 2011.
“As attorney for the council, I don’t think you have any basis to make a claim,” Smith said. “There’s nothing we can do about it and the school board’s stuck in the middle.”
If the council were to make an exception for the school board, there would be many angry Lancaster residents demanding to know why their requests for special exceptions were denied, Smith said. Combine those angry people with the fact that most of the city council is made up of school board employees and the city could be in big trouble.
With the water bill issue behind him, Aldridge asked Smith how he could ever bring an issue to the council if the council is rendered powerless by his presence.
“Maybe you could fire two or three teachers and that will fix your problem,” Smith joked, before explaining that other issues might not be as controversial and the council could handle them without having to recuse themselves for fear of causing trouble.
“You don’t mean it to be controversial but these people back here could give us the wrong headline,” he told Aldridge as he gestured toward the reporters in the room.
After Aldridge sat down, the council agreed the rules governing water bill modifications needed to be clarified so customers can understand them more clearly in the future. Smith said he would work on rewording the policy and bring it back to the council.