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City clerk's hours latest topic of Mabton Council squabble

MABTON - The Mabton City Council, via a narrow vote, has increased the city clerk's workload by 30 hours.

The increase is a one-time shot and Mabton City Clerk Ret Stewart will work these extra hours in the last days of August and into September. Stewart already works 30 hours a week.

The increase in hours didn't sit well with council members Vera Zavala and Oping Hutson, who both seemed to feel Stewart had enough time already to clean up the mess known as Mabton's financial situation.

Zavala, who bristled at the fact the city is paying Stewart $40 an hour, said, "All I see is dollar signs. I thought we hired you to do the budget. Now it seems you're doing other things that are keeping you from doing that."

Stewart had to remind Zavala that the city did in fact hire her to perform the duties of city clerk, not just to work on the 2010 budget. Stewart also pointed out the fact that under state law the city has to employ a city clerk.

Zavala claimed to have seen Stewart doing chores such as running a vacuum, dusting and taking out the garbage.

"I've seen other things but don't want to get into specifics," she said.

Stewart said she only used a vacuum once and that was because the office was filthy. She asked Zavala rhetorically if she was supposed to work in filth.

The extra 30 hours Stewart will work will mostly be on the weekends, when she can concentrate fully on getting the numbers straight in Mabton's books. The city council hasn't had correct numbers in years.

Stewart said part of what is taking her so long is putting out fires that keep popping up. She gave examples, such as the fact the city has not paid its court remittances in four years and owes thousands of dollars to the courts.

Stewart said, too, the city recently received a final notice of levy from the IRS. It seems the city has not submitted its quarterly reports or paid any taxes for the last six quarters. The city owes nearly $20,000 to the federal government. Stewart told the council she was able to negotiate with the IRS and got an extension. The IRS was threatening to seize city property.

Hutson said her problem is that the city council still hasn't received accurate numbers, which she noted is what the city council has had a problem with for a long time.

"We don't know where we're at," she said.

City Attorney Phil Lamb said that Mabton's financial situation is fundamentally more flawed than previously thought. In the past, the situation has been irritated by mistakes, lack of attention or something, he said.

Lamb noted that the city doesn't even have a proper filing system and in the past didn't have a check register.

To say Stewart's job is tough is an understatement, he said.

Lamb told the council members they should stay the course and get this situation straightened out or risk going the route the city of Mesa did recently when that city unincorporated.

Councilman Mario Martinez agreed with Lamb, saying he wanted to get this work done and the numbers straightened out.

Mayor Pro-tem Angel Reyna noted that Stewart's job is one of maintaining the day to day business operations while also having to play catch up with the financial mess.

The city has no idea where they are at financially. Stewart is trying to sort out the numbers from 2008 so she can get accurate numbers for 2009. Once this is done Stewart is hoping to start working on the 2010 budget, something she said might be possible by Sept. 15.

When the council voted on whether to make the one time 30-hour amendment to Stewart's contract, Reyna, Martinez and Sophia Sotelo voted yes. Both Zavala and Huston voted no.

The Daily Sun News asked Hutson why she voted no to the amendment and she stated that the most important thing was to get accurate numbers, something she noted hasn't been done yet.

When the Daily Sun News pointed out to Hutson that the necessity of getting the correct numbers would lend credence to the one-time increase in hours, Hutson had this to say.

"I guess so...but I don't agree."

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