Archive for Thursday, March 22, 2007

BCRC fire lights city council complaint

March 22, 2007

Last week's fire at the Baldwin City Recreation Commission office lit a fuse with resident David Simmons.

At about 10:30 a.m. March 14, a fire started in a storage area at the office at 820 High Street. BCRC Director Monte Ezell put most of it out with a pair of fire extinguishers, but Baldwin City Fire Department responded and got the fire under control quickly.

There was at least $8,000 damage, mostly smoke damage, and the state fire marshal listed the cause of the blaze as careless smoking. Fire Chief Allen Craig said an ashtray with a tobacco pipe fell into a trash can, which started the fire and quickly spread to stored paper goods.

Simmons was not pleased by the event ... or the cost.

"I understand that Kansas has a statute that smoking is not allowed in a public building," Simmons said. "As a taxpayer, I don't think I should have to pay for something that was illegal. Will there be citations issued?"

Mayor Gary Walbridge said the building is privately owned, not by the city or the school district that jointly fund the recreation commission. Simmons wasn't satisfied with that answer.

"I would say this counts as a public place," he said. "State law applies here, too. I don't want my tax dollars to go to pay for something that happened because of careless smoking."

Walbridge and Council Member Doyle Jardon both assured Simmons that the situation will be looked into.

"I don't think that's on the agenda," said Walbridge. "I have had council members call me and are concerned."

Jardon went a step further.

"I would have to agree with you that Kansas State law has been violated," said Jardon. "I understand your issues and we'll have to take a long, hard look at it."

After the public comment portion of the agenda was over, Ezell addressed the issue during his usual presentation to the council. He said that registration for summer programs has slowed as a result of the fire, but deadlines have been extended. Computers had to be sent off to be cleaned before they could be used and other work had to be done. The office was closed until Wednesday.

He also said that insurance was taking care of any damage.

"Let me assure you that tax dollars will not be used," said Ezell, who added that he's more than willing to talk to anyone about the situation, but will not respond to comments made on the Signal's Web site at in the SpeakOut! section.

He also said he takes full blame for the fire.

"I'm responsible," said Ezell.

In the only action item on the agenda, the council voted 4-1 to disallow the purchase of an additional police car. Council Member Tony Brown was the lone dissenting vote. Instead, the bids will be sent out to include a trade-in of a current car to keep the department on its replacement schedule. The purchase would have increased the department's fleet of cars to include another unmarked car.

The council met in executive session with the reason listed as attorney-client privilege. Initially, the session was scheduled for 45 minutes, but was extended twice for 10 more minutes each. No action was taken following the closed-door session.

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