Busted Axle Road
Chapter 64

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

Kutzley got the message early on that this was going to be a bigger than normal council meeting, so he had Harry Masterfield roll out all the fire engines from the fire barn, and had a crew from the Department of Public Works bring a truckload of chairs over from the school and set them up.

Mike's story in the Record-Herald the week after the first one hadn't done much to settle down the anger in Spearfish Lake, or at least in parts of it -- the parts shown in red shading on the two-color map of the town, run on the front page.

"Do you think we can get a sitter?" Kirsten had asked. "I'd kind of like to see this."

"It's going to be a zoo," Mike told her. "If they manage to get anything accomplished tonight, it'll be a miracle."

"I don't want to miss it," she said. "I'll call out to the club and see if Amy or Marsha would like to sit."

"Do that, and you'll have Josh and Danny over here too, and the refrigerator will never take it," Mike snorted. "But, if you want to go, that's probably the best idea."

"What time?"

"The meeting starts at 7:30, but we'd better have the kids here by 6:30," Mike told her. "We'll want to get there early, to get a good seat. One off to the side, out of the direct line of fire."

They made it to the meeting by a quarter to seven, and they were none too early. There was already a crowd, and there was an angry hubbub going on. "Here, save my seat," Mike said. "I want to get a couple pictures, and get a feel for this thing.

From the people standing around outside, Mike suspected that there wouldn't be enough seats, even this early. He went into city hall, to find it surprisingly uncrowded, considering the circumstances. Ryan Clark, Ray Milliman, Jack Musgrave and Don Kutzley were standing in front of a big map of the city, one that had the proposed special assessment district marked on it. Nobody was saying much of anything. "What's happening,?" Mike asked.

"We got the engineering assessment back today," Kutzley said glumly. "Four point four million, now, but bids have been coming in high, so that could be ten percent too low."

"Five million bucks, by the time everything gets said and done," Clark said. "The goddamn feds are quick enough to tell you to do something, but when it comes to burping up some money to help you pay for what they tell you to do, they never heard of you."

"Got a crowd out there already," Mike observed.

"Yeah," Clark said. "Linda didn't want me to run again, and I should have listened to her. Fourteen years on this council is long enough, anyway. Well, I suppose if we let them get it out of their system tonight, maybe we can do something constructive next time."

"Well, hey, good luck tonight," Mike said.

"Yeah," Milliman said. "We're gonna need it."

The council members had taken their seats a couple minutes before 7:30 when Hjalmer Lindahlsen arrived, the last councilman to get there. He eased in quietly, and took a seat at the end of the table set up at the front of the fire barn. "Well, we might as well get this basketball game started," Clark said to Kutzley, sitting next to him. He banged the gavel, and said into the microphone, "The second July meeting of the Spearfish Lake City Council is now in session. All rise for the Pledge of Allegiance." There was a scuffle of chairs as people stood; the councilmen stood too, and turned around to face the flag at the back of the room.

As soon as the pledge had been completed, people took their seats, but Clark remained standing. "Considering the subject matter..."

"Louder!" some bull voice roared from the back of the room.

"Considering the subject matter," Clark started over, "We'll dispense with the reading of the minutes and other regular...

"Louder, you asshole!"

"That'll be enough right there," Clark said angrily. "This is serious business here tonight, and I will not tolerate any demonstrations or remarks out of turn, and I will ask the police to eject anyone causing a disturbance. Is that clear?"

The room was silent. "Is that clear to you, back there in the back?" Clark said. He waited a moment, then went on, "All right. As I was saying, we'll dispense with the reading of the minutes and the regular order of business until..."

"Louder, jerk!"

Clark shook his head, pointed at Harold and LeRoy, who were standing by the door of the fire department office, and made a sign back over his shoulder with his thumb. The two cops started for the back of the room, and Clark continued, " ... until after we've discussed this sewer separation business. Now, what you've read in the paper is basically correct, but just so we're all talking about the same thing, I want to ask the city manager to go back over this thing from the beginning, and bring us all up to date on what's happened since the last council meeting."

Mike leaned over and whispered to Kirsten. "Trying to bore us to death, first."

It took Kutzley a good fifteen minutes to go over the history of the sewer separation project, the need for it, the attempts to get funding, the ultimatum from the EPA, and the engineering estimates. There was very little that he said that hadn't been in the paper in the last two weeks, Mike noted to his satisfaction. "Now, while I submit to council the fact that we can go ahead with this project, and just charge everyone the full amount on their winter taxes," he said, "But I'm sure that this would cause distress to a good many of the citizens, so I feel that we should at least explore the idea of going ahead and bonding for the project, to spread the cost out over ten years or more."

"Thank you, Don," Clark said. "Now, at this point, I want to throw the floor open for public comment, but I expect it to be orderly. Please raise your hand and be recognized." A forest of hands shot up; Clark could see that this was going to take a while. "Helen, let's start with you," he said.

Helen was one of the old bats that went to all the council meetings and griped under her breath about everything, and Clark knew that she was going to get her two bits worth in, no matter what. "Why didn't the council take action on this before something like this happened?" she asked.

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