Think about the future!
For the City of Silex, it’s not just a cliché, it’s a real problem.
Part of the controversy of what happened with the financial calamity in the city involves not just where the area has been – but where it’s going.
In addition to each side blaming the other over fiduciary matters, the factions are trading punches over how to fix them.
Mayor Chuck Turbyeville alleged malfeasance by the city’s Board of Aldermen, saying he wondered why they chose to do a sewer project instead of improving Silex’s water system. He said he issued those concerns during a heated conversation with members of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources shortly after he took office.
“I asked this group ‘how did you push a $1 million sewer project in front of a water project?’” he said. “I told them I’m not going to quadruple their bills – and price the people out of their homes.”
In the past, Turbyeville has alleged former Board of Alderman President Justin Spanier and former City Administrator William Barnes were responsible for moving money from the water and sewer accounts into the general fund for other things, which both have denied.
However, Spanier accuses other parties for improprieties with the sewer project in Silex. The city made a deal with Nutri-Ject Systems, an Iowa-based company, to oversee its sewer project.
But the city ended up getting sued by the company for unpaid bills related to the project. Silex was willing to take responsibility for the mishap, but Spanier said the deal was for Nutri-Ject to take care of Cell 1 in the city, which was approved by Board of Alderman.
However, according to Spanier, former mayor Robert Zeh and former alderman Steve Twellman made separate and secret deals with the company to do all three cells of Silex. The board did not approve that transaction, leading to the lawsuit, and Spanier said board minutes at the time support his assertions.
“This is the type of behavior we were fighting,” Spanier said. “We weren’t just going to roll over. We didn’t steal any money.
“(Turbyeville) accuses of this, but it doesn’t break down with the facts.”
Prior to both of Turbyeville’s elections as mayor of Silex (the one where the board refused to seat him in 2017 and the one where he eventually was seated in 2019), city officials said they worked on several public works projects to improve Silex, including sewer and water projects.
Barnes said his initial plan was to improve the city’s water system. The DNR issued an administrative order to Silex saying the city had been issued 22 violations of the state’s Safe Drinking Water Act since 2012 for exceeding the maximum contaminant level for radionuclides, before Barnes joined the city’s staff.
He also said the project was held off due to a 2015 flood, and the sudden death of Mayor David Rice Sr in a car accident later that year.
“I wanted to do the water project first, but the sewer project was going on for eight years before I arrived here, and there was no budget created for anything at the time,” he said.
According to the former leadership, the solution was Proposition W, an initiative on the November ballot in 2018 that would have solved Silex’s water issues – including a water stand in the New Town area.
“Our current system doesn’t have enough pressure to power the fire hydrants,” said Spanier. “(Proposition W) was a tower that would have eliminated the water stand in New Town, which is obsolete, and the areas of Old Town.”
According to Spanier and Barnes, the well would have connected the pipes throughout Silex – and provided clean drinking water throughout the area – including the nursing home and the school in Old Town, and the homes in New Town.
Spanier also said once those projects were completed, the city could have focused on other projects, which could have benefited Silex.
“I was Water and Sewer Commissioner for eight years,” he said. “This was my baby – and (Proposition W) was the reason I was so excited.
“We were in talks with the DNR for sewer and water. Once we took care of those, we could have focused on roads and other issues the city needed.”
Voters approved Proposition W, but the project never got off the ground once Turbyeville took office, saying it was too expensive given the financial situation he walked into.
“Where were we going to get the money?” he said. “Since I took over, DNR has been all over me. We didn’t even have a licensed water operator at the time, but we do now.”
Turbyeville continued to say he has looked into other options that will improve Silex’s water system without raising water rates for its citizens.
“We have talked to Missouri Rural Water – and we know the citizens can’t afford a $5 million bond issue. They’re a hell of an asset to us,” he said. “It’s not that we’re not looking for other options. Unlike the previous administration, we’re not just going to sign a blank check that would hurt the people of Silex.”
Barnes agreed water bills would have quadrupled, but that’s what grants were for, which he applied for – and received for the project. He said the project would have only cost around $1.6 million, which would have kept water bill around the median income.
“The reason (Turbyeville) says Silex doesn’t have the money is because they don’t know how to write grants. That’s why they’re saying the project would have cost $5 million, when it didn’t,” Barnes said. “It was called ‘Proposition W’ for a reason, with the ‘W’ meaning ‘water.’ We wanted to provide the people with clean drinking water.
“It would have fixed the issues with the Old Town well and the New Town well, and cut down the costs, as well as maintenance and upkeep.”
Spanier said Turbyeville and his supporters are working in the present – and they certainly aren’t looking toward the future.
“(Proposition W) was two parts: one for the safety of the city, and one for the growth of the city. I think for the future,” he said. “The problem is they think of ‘tomorrow,’ instead of 30 or 40 years from now.”
Barnes said the people of Silex have already voted for a project that ensures their future – and he wonders why they haven’t stood up and said something about why it hasn’t come to fruition.
“The people of Silex should realize their kids should have clean drinking water,” he said. “We had a project that was already passed for that reason that was shut down by the mayor – and to have that mayor run for alderman when he’s leaving (Silex) to move to Bellflower – is leaving the city high and dry when the city needs a leader the most.”