Marked Tree council reaches compromise in rail spur contract

Friday, November 14, 2014

After back-to-back meetings Monday and Tuesday night, the Marked Tree City Council has reached a compromise on the contract with Joey McCorkle for his right to use the Awesome Products rail spur for a future grain shipping business, a matter which was first brought up in July.

The council had previously approved a contract during a special meeting on Oct. 20, but that contract was vetoed by Mayor Mary Ann Arnold on Oct. 24. During this month's regular city council meeting on Monday, Nov. 10, Mayor Arnold read a statement giving her reasons for vetoing the contract the council had approved.

"The vote gave McCorkle complete control of the rail spur," Mayor Arnold said. "The city of Marked Tree owns the spur and cannot in good conscience relinquish complete control to another entity."

Mayor Arnold also said McCorkle should be responsible for maintenance costs if he is sole user of the spur. She said McCorkle should be responsible for the $1,600 per year in real estate taxes which would be due should the city lease the spur to him. Other reasons in Mayor Arnold's statement include the city not receiving a business plan or building plans from McCorkle and not having a letter of agreement from L.D. Hardas of Awesome Products on the usage of his portion of the spur.

"At the request of the council, the city attorney and I consulted another attorney who has expertise in lease writing, and his first question after reading the McCorkle lease was 'How will this benefit the city of Marked Tree?' The lease does not benefit the city. So, in conclusion, I cannot sign this lease and put the city into debt," Mayor Arnold said.

Alderman Shane Glenn made a point of personally recording the meeting. After Mayor Arnold read her statement, Glenn accused her of having a conflict of interest because of her affiliation with the Ritters.

Mayor Arnold said she did not see how that was a conflict of interest. "From the beginning I have told Joey how thrilled I was at the prospect of his business," Mayor Arnold said, adding that there was no conflict of interest because McCorkle will load his grain by rail and Ritter loads theirs by truck.

After much discussion on whether or not to vote on overriding the veto, the council agreed to meet again Tuesday night with McCorkle to come up with a new contract. This contract would be voted on during a special council meeting at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 24.

When the council met on Tuesday, Nov. 11, discussion began on the issue of whether or not McCorkle should be allowed to sublease the rail spur without city consent. Within a half hour of the meeting beginning, Glenn walked out of the meeting, angry over some confusion about which version of the contract was being worked on. He did not return.

The first compromise reached gave McCorkle the right to sublease the rail spur without city consent for the first five years of the ten year lease with the understanding that McCorkle does not have exclusive rights to the spur. At the start of the sixth year, whoever McCorkle subleases to will have to be approved by the city. McCorkle said he had no problem letting the city know who, if anyone, he subleased to in the first five years. A motion to approve this compromise passed by a vote of 4-2, with Cleo Johnson, Jr., and Mary Smith voting against.

Soon after this vote, Alderman Danny Johnson arrived to the meeting, after having taken care of an emergency.

The next issues of contention regarded who was responsible for maintenance and compensation to the city for use of the spur. The city wanted McCorkle to be responsible for maintenance and was asking for $25,000 per year. McCorkle wanted to pay $15,000 per year. A compromise was reached where McCorkle pays $17,500 per year with rent due when construction of his facility is completed, makes no payment on rail cars, and does not pay maintenance. The council voted 6-1 in favor of this compromise with Cleo Johnson, Jr., voting against.

Alderman Steve Craig then asked what Mayor Arnold thought of the contract to make sure there would not be another veto. "It sounds good to me," Mayor Arnold said.

The council then voted unanimously to dismiss their right to override her previous veto to clear up the previous meeting's minutes. McCorkle said he would present the revised contract to his lawyer and would provide the council a copy of his agreement with L.D. Hardas. City Attorney Jobi Teague said he would revise the contract this week and e-mail the new version to all involved.

The council will meet again during a special meeting on Monday, Nov. 24, at 6 p.m. to vote on this final version of the contract.

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