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CHINA GROVE -- City officials continue their quest to navigate the turbulence that has become China Grove’s government as of late. But the city was dealt another blow June 6 when longtime Alderman Larry Keller tendered his resignation.
Keller, who served on the council for a decade, recently won re-election. He resigned, instead of being sworn in with fellow aldermen Mike Trainor and Doug Pruski and Mayor Eugene Ripps. During his address to the council and a packed audience -- in a portion of the meeting typically reserved for “public speakers” -- Keller said it was time for him to go back to being a private citizen.
“Recent events and results of the recent election have caused me to think long and hard about the direction in which the city is heading,” he said.
Former Mayor Dennis Dunk also rose to speak, alleging that the new council was holding an illegal meeting because a formal canvass of the vote from the May 11 election had not occurred. He said that a May 22 special meeting in which that item was to be addressed was canceled, due to lack of a quorum.
Dunk also submitted an open records request to interim City Secretary Yolanda Benitez, asking for signed copies of statements of elected officials and oaths of office for Mayor Eugene Ripps and aldermen Cathy Ripps and Michael Trainor. He also asked for copies of the campaign finance reports for the three, and the 2012 report from Alderman John McCrae.
Once seated, the new council appointed Pruski as its mayor pro tem. It also authorized signatories for the city’s accounts. Despite these names not being formally read into the record, Benitez said after the meeting that McCrae, Eugene Ripps, and she were listed as those authorized “to sign checks, vouchers, or warrants for withdrawal of monies from city depositories.”
With this action, the council was able to pay bills left outstanding following last month’s departures of longtime former City Administrator Susan Conaway, municipal court Judge Lawrence G. Morales, and Clarissa Sczech, deputy court clerk and assistant to the city administrator. Therefore, city employees, including the two paid officers comprising the China Grove Police Department, received their paychecks.
The council also made the following appointments, despite being unclear of the costs associated with these services:
•Davidson, Trollo, Ream, and Garza as city attorney.
•Daniel Rutherford as municipal judge.
Benitez also was formally appointed as city secretary, for which she will be paid $25 per hour to work 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.
In other business, the council granted permits for two new businesses, both of which will be housed in a building located at 7036 U.S. 87. The first is a clothing store, “Baby B & Mommy,” which is owned by Kaitlin Howten. The second business, owned by Jennifer Bartlett, is a cake shop called “Sassy Sweets.”
In attendance: Mayor Eugene Ripps and aldermen Cathy Ripps, Doug Pruski, John McCrae, and Mike Trainor; City Secretary Yolanda Benitez; Chief Larry Davis and Damian Balderas of the China Grove Police Department, Chief Mike Winfield of the China Grove Volunteer Fire Department, and Municipal Judge Daniel Rutherford.