The Richmond Register

October 23, 2013

Sunset Avenue problem sparks heated exchanges

Commissioner, mayor disagree on solution

By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Heated discussion was sparked among commissioners and employees when it was announced at Tuesday night’s city commission meeting that a Sunset Avenue resident was facing a lien on her property after she hired a company to clean up flood damage in her basement.

Jennifer Maupin said Phillip Williams, who represents the city’s insurance interests, and Planning Director Jason Hart had advised her to have the basement cleaned and the bill would be paid by the city’s insurance. However, when Maupin submitted the bill, the insurance provider denied the claim.

She then submitted the bill to Lagco, a contractor which installed the pervious concrete sidewalks for the Sunset Avenue storm-drain project. However, Lagco’s insurance company also denied the claim.

Commissioner Laura King asked Maupin to speak on the issue.

“The long and short of it is she was someone who fixed the problem years and years ago,” King said. “The city started the project two years ago, but at this time she is getting ready to have a lien placed on her property for the negligence of the city.”

Maupin gave a detailed account of the project and her experience with it, accusing Mayor Jim Barnes of hanging up on her.

“When the mayor finally returned my phone calls, I began discussing my concerns as I’m discussing them with you now,” she said to the commission. “I was directly cut off by the mayor, at which point he told me he was in a meeting, after he returned my phone call, and he hung up the phone in my ear.”

Tuesday night, Barnes apologized, but said Maupin was screaming over the phone, and he couldn’t understand what she was saying.

Maupin also said she had sent two emails to the mayor and City Manager Jimmy Howard, and received no reply.

Howard said he and some city employees had already been working on fixing her driveway, and they had plans drawn by an engineer to install new drains and replace the pervious concrete at the end of the driveway with a standard concrete. Maupin said she was unaware of the plan and none of the city employees contacted her about it.

Maupin asked the commission to replace her driveway and sidewalk so that they were returned to their original state. Additionally, she wanted the bill for cleaning her basement paid to avoid a lien being placed on her house.

Barnes then attempted to stop the conversation, saying no facts support Maupin’s contention that the city should pay the bill.

“I think we’re putting the city at risk if we allow everybody to respond of their own will and then bring us a bill,” Barnes said. “I know she’s got a problem. I disagree with her on the fact that we caused the problem.”

He said he relies on department heads for information, and what they are saying is different from what Maupin claims.

At that point, Maupin left the council chambers in tears before returning a few minutes later.

City Attorney Garrett Fowles said that, because of the number of different contractors involved in the project, getting the issue resolved will be a difficult process. He advised Maupin to “lawyer up.”

“Miss Maupin, from what I can tell, is not going to be able to resolve this problem on her own, and a lawyer can sort these things out and will sort these things out,” Fowles said. “It will probably happen much more quickly than it has so far once a lawyer gets involved.”

But Maupin said she cannot afford a lawyer, and she feels bullied by the city.

Wednesday morning, Howard met Maupin outside her house with three public works employees who he said could fix her driveway if she approved the engineer’s drawing. Barnes, King and Commissioner Jim Newby also were present, as well as Williams and planning and zoning inspector Kevin Causey.

Howard said the plan was to remove the pervious concrete at the end of Maupin’s and her neighbor’s driveways and raise them by a few inches, pouring standard concrete instead. Two large trench drains would also be added at the end of the driveways to catch runoff from the street, he said.

When Maupin said she wanted her sidewalk replaced as well, Barnes said the city couldn’t do that because if it did, other property owners on the street would want similar replacements. Maupin argued with the mayor, saying the pervious concrete wasn’t working. When she began to raise her voice, Barnes walked up to her and stood inches from her face.

“Do not raise your voice at me,” Barnes said twice before walking away.

When Maupin again said she wanted her sidewalk replaced, Barnes left the meeting. As he drove off, King pointed to his car and announced she was going to run for mayor and “beat that man.”

King raised concerns that the existing sidewalk may be too high and may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. Howard said that could be looked at in the future, but the purpose of the meeting was to make plans for fixing the driveway. When Howard turned from King to speak with the public works employees, she accused him of “running away from the problem.”

“I’m not running away from a g**d***** thing,” Howard said.

He later apologized for the comment, and personally apologized to Maupin for the problems she was having. He said the city attorney authorized them to fix the driveway, but the sidewalk had not been discussed.

“We simply can’t do it without the city attorney’s say so,” Howard said.

Howard later offered to discuss with Fowles the possibility of contacting with Servpro, the company threatening to place a lien on Maupin’s house, and request more time while the city figures out liability.

Maupin requested that she be informed of any changes to her situation. She, Howard and Causey scheduled a meeting next week to go over plans for the driveway repairs.

As previously reported in the Register, Maupin has experienced flooding since the completion of the $650,000 project last year, which was designed to put an end to the street’s historic flooding problems.

New storm drains and rain gardens were added to the area, and a water-absorbent sidewalk made of pervious concrete was installed on the south side of the road. But according to Jason Hart, who reported city employees surveyed the street to the commission at a previous meeting, the way the new street is sloped draws rain water directly toward Maupin’s driveway, which sits at a low point in the street.

Several years before the project began, Maupin said she paid a contractor to redo her driveway and sidewalk which ended flooding problems.

However, when the new sidewalk was poured as part of storm-drain project, the work done by Maupin’s contractor was torn up, leaving nothing to stop the water from flowing into her basement, she said.

Seth Littrell can be reached at slittrell@richmondregister.com or 624-6623.