Has the Hannibal City Council lost “control” of the Board of Public Works? That question prompted Mayor Roy Hark to seek a response during Tuesday night's City Council meeting at City Hall.

Has the Hannibal City Council lost “control” of the Board of Public Works? That question prompted Mayor Roy Hark to seek a response during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting at City Hall.

The question was asked by Hannibal resident David Klassen, treasurer of the Mark Twain Federated Democratic Club. A member of the organization, O.C. Latta, had requested time before the Council to offer comment in behalf of the organization regarding the Grain Belt Express transmission project, the controversial plan that Clean Line Energy (CLE) is proposing that would see a high voltage DC transmission line built to carry wind-generated energy from western Kansas into Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. With Latta out of town Tuesday on a family matter, Klassen “pinch hit” before the Council.

Klassen attributed the following question to Latta: How has the Board of Public Works evolved to become so out of the control of the City Council?

To answer the question, Hark turned to Bob Stevenson, general manager of the BPW, who was seated in the audience next to the BPW Board’s newest member, Todd Kendall.

“I think Board is perfectly in line with the charter,” he said, detailing the information the BPW regularly brings to the Council, much of which is not even mandated by the City Charter to provide. “I’m a little bit puzzled what else we could do to (be in Charter compliance).”

City Manager Jeff LaGarce said there are common misconceptions regarding the authority the Council has over the BPW Board.

“A lot of people don’t understand the city and Board are under the same organization’s umbrella, but legally they are separate in their autonomy and authority. It’s been that way for years,” he said. “Once (BPW Board members are) appointed they operate autonomously. We don’t approve or review their (BPW) budget.”

The other assertion during Klassen’s approximately 9-minute commentary that prompted a response was that the BPW lacks Charter authority to hire outside legal counsel.

James Lemon, who serves as attorney for both the city and BPW, noted that nothing in the Charter prohibits the BPW or city from hiring “an attorney for some special representation.”

“That has never been the custom in this city,” said the attorney. “Anytime there has been the need for specialized legal counsel it has always been done.”

Many of Klassen’s talking points regarding the wind-energy project were familiar. He noted that the tall poles would be an unsightly addition to the landscape of Ralls County. Klassen suggested that along the power line’s corridor there would be restrictions on farming directly under or near the lines. Klassen pointed out that CLE does not actually own any of the energy that is being offered for sale. Citing the BPW’s possible interest in buying a share in the power substation that would be built in Ralls County, Klassen said the Missouri Constitution prohibits any unit of government, such as the BPW, from purchasing a portion of a private company, such as CLE.

When Klassen began to turn to a new topic – chloramines – he was interrupted by Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Knickerbocker, who noted that comments regarding the disinfection of the city’s water supply was not on the Council’s agenda for consideration. A motion that Klassen return to the scheduled topic was approved by his fellow councilmen.

Before wrapping up, Klassen posed one other question: Why are there some elected members of the Council supporting the actions of the (BPW) Board, which are in fact angering many of their own constituents? There was no reply.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com