Discussion over the status of the Hustonville Fire Department was abruptly ceased at the regular city council meeting Tuesday evening when City Attorney Carol Hill advised the mayor that it was “time for comments and not question and answer.” Mayor Cecil Maddox had just admitted under questioning of the audience that he had used city road department assets to haul gravel to his personal property.
After the meeting, Hill said that questions from the audience weren’t proscribed by law during city council meetings, but said, “That’s the way the meeting is conducted here.”
Most at the standing room only meeting were there to see how the council would deal with the question of the city’s fire department. In early November, Maddox fired Chief Stanley Shepperson in a very public row over the chief allowing the firehouse to be used as changing room for actors at the Hustonville Haunted House and other issues. Many of Hustonville firefighters quit the department in support of Shepperson and station membership was one of the first questions asked at the city council meeting.
Acting Chief and councilman Jimmie Lane did not know how many firefighters the city was carrying on the rolls and Maddox took out a sheet of paper and counted a list of names. The mayor said that the city listed 18 active firefighters on its rolls, ten of whom were certified. After the meeting, Shepperson and other former firefighters questioned that count saying that most of the station members Maddox had counted either lived out of the city or worked at other fire stations. Former firefighter Paul Gray, who owns the Hustonville Haunted House, asked rhetorically why, if there were so many firefighters on the rolls, none of them responded to an alarm and evacuation at Hustonville Elementary School on Nov. 9. County Fire Station Three responded to the call, and at the time Lincoln Fire Chief Danny Glass was reported as saying, “We don’t mind helping out in a pinch, but it’s just a matter of time before someone from the county asks me why his tax money is going to Hustonville and I won’t have a good answer.”
Other members of the audience questioned Maddox about the status of fire hydrants around the city that they contend either don’t work or don’t deliver the required pressure to fight a fire. Maddox denied knowledge of nonfunctioning fire hydrants but Shepperson said after the meeting that the last time the hydrants were tested in May of 2010 he’d reported the inadequate flow to Maddox. One audience member contended that a structure that burned on Lyons Court could have been saved if the hydrant worked.
Gray had a long list of questions to ask the council, but was cut off after asking only two; Gray passed his written questions to other audience members, but the debate quickly became personal when Maddox was asked if he used city equipment and manpower to haul gravel to his personal property. Maddox said he had, but it hadn’t cost the taxpayers anything contending that no city fuel was used to haul the rock. At this point, Hill interceded and the council moved on to other business, moving to go into executive session to discuss personal.
Audience members waited outside of City Hall for 45 minutes and, when open session began again, voted to host a Christmas event next Saturday where one of the city council members would play the roll of Santa and children would be allowed to ride around town on a fire truck. Former fire fighters were bemused by this decision since Maddox had cited liability issues in his firing of Shepperson for allowing haunted house actors to change into costumes in city hall.
After the meeting Gray said that he would confer with his attorney, who attended the meeting with him, to decide how to go forward. Hustonville business owner Michael Pike said that he learned only one thing during the meeting, “We have a one-sided town hall. What’s the use in asking questions if they don’t have to answer them?”