The HBPW's petition that was up for consideration Tuesday asked the court to declare the entire ordinance unenforceable because it allegedly contradicts the Hannibal City Charter and state laws, which supersede local laws and regulations.

“Is that it?”

That question was being frequently asked by puzzled spectators inside the Marion County Courthouse courtroom after Tenth Circuit Court Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd declared court in recess without offering a ruling following an hour-plus hearing during which the Hannibal Board of Public Works (HBPW) sought judicial relief from potential penalties contained in the chloramine ordinance.

The HBPW’s petition that was up for consideration Tuesday asked the court to declare the entire ordinance unenforceable because it allegedly contradicts the Hannibal City Charter and state laws, which supersede local laws and regulations.

Short of that attorney Robert Brundage requested that the judge eliminate the sections of the ordinance that specify a 90-day timeframe for compliance.

In anticipation that a ruling would not be rendered Tuesday the HBPW’s petition requested a preliminary and permanent injunction and a temporary restraining order to prevent the enforcement of the ordinance until a decision could be reached on the requests for a declaratory judgment that would provide the utility guidance from the court on how to implement the ordinance.

Louis Leonatti, legal counsel for the city, argued that as an administrative agency of the city the HBPW had no right to bring legal action against the city. Brundage, citing the HBPW’s duties, argued that its actions were within its legal rights.

Leonatti advised the court that he had been asked by the City Council during its Aug. 1 closed session to make revisions to the chloramine ordinance. While not ignoring the will of the people that the use of ammonia be discontinued, it would give the HBPW a more reasonable timeframe to accomplish the goal.

While Brundage expressed appreciation for the city’s willingness to change the ordinance, he noted it could not be enacted until early September, leaving the HBPW Board and water plant operators subject to penalties outlined in the existing ordinance which takes effect Aug. 15. Leonatti pointed out that the city manager has no interest in penalizing any water department personnel. Brundage countered that the city manager could be compelled to take action by members of the public, as is outlined in the current ordinance.

Brundage asked for a temporary restraining order that would expire one day after the new ordinance was adopted. Leonatti could not accept those terms.

Also allowed to speak during the proceedings was Kellie Cookson of the Hannibal 2 Oppose Chloramines group, which worked to land a Proposition 1 on the April 4 ballot. Cookson outlined the contents of a revised ordinance she could accept, as long as it did not dismiss the “will of the people” expressed when Proposition 1 was approved.

The path that led to Tuesday’s hearing in the Marion County Courthouse started months ago when the ballot language was written. Included in Proposition 1, provided it was approved by voters in April, was a 90-day deadline for the HBPW to convert the city’s water treatment system to one that no longer utilized ammonia.

Citing the roughly four years it took to implement the system that featured chloramines — a mixture of chlorine and a small amount of ammonia — the HBPW stressed that a more realistic time line for a conversion would be “four to five years,” rather than a window of three months that reportedly “closes” next week.

In late February, James Lemon, attorney for both the city and HBPW, said he believed “that legal action will be required” if the proposition was approved.

In March, Bob Stevenson, general manager of the HBPW, said a legal option was a possibility. It would entail the HBPW seeking an “injunction against the referendum in whole or in part since the approved ordinance would put the city in violation of state regulations which in itself is illegal,” said Stevenson.

While Stevenson suggested the courtroom option might be implemented “immediately after the election,” the HBPW didn’t take action until mid July when it announced it had filed a petition in Marion County Circuit Court seeking a temporary restraining order to “enjoin enforcement of Hannibal Ordinance 4,751 (the chloramine ordinance).

The city, which hired a special counsel on Aug.1, prepared to oppose the HBPW in court.

“... the 90-day provision cannot be met (by the HBPW) without simultaneous violation of federal and state environmental law, and must therefore be extended to some reasonable, yet diligent period,” wrote City Manager Jeff LaGarce in a memo to the Council. “But we are opposed to the challenge being brought (by the HBPW) against the April 4 referendum itself, and must oppose this in court.”

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