Now debt free, former speed trap looks to turn things around

Deanna Wheeler

Bring out the bells, whistles and the large check. The last check will be signed Monday and the city will be debt-free.

“We’ve been skimming the bottom of the barrel to stay afloat and we did it,” city clerk Louise Willis said.

It took the city almost a year to save the money to cover the last check -- $2,004.42 -- of its $120,000 debt to the state of Missouri from when it filed for bankruptcy in the 1990s.

Willis said $340 was saved each month in a separate account to pay back the debt.

With the slate wiped clean in January 2008, she and the board can only speculate as to what they can spend the money on now.

“Maybe we can start turning this place around using funds,” she said.

Willis and others have been organizing small craft fairs and bake sales over the months to bring positive attention back to the town of about 250 people.

But it has been hard. Some just can’t forget the city’s troubled past. In the 1970s, the city 13 miles west of Camdenton was bustling.

That would soon change.

The town made national headlines for its speed trap on Highway 54, at one time appearing on Charles Kuralt’s “CBS Sunday Morning,” “60 Minutes” and the Internet’s “Top 10 U.S. Speed Traps.”

In August 1995, a law designed to eliminate highway speed traps in the state was dubbed the Macks Creek Speed Trap Law.

A year later, father and son Von and Tommy West won election to the city’s board of aldermen and began making inquiries into the law. 

They led a signature drive asking for an audit of Macks Creek by the state.

At the end of February 1997, the results of the audit were released in a public meeting that brought more than 100 residents to city hall. The findings included charges of city officials changing Highway 54 speeding tickets to city traffic violations, doubling the fines and keeping all the money.

State law required any municipality generating more than 45 percent of its revenue from traffic tickets to hand over to the state and for local school districts.

Fifty-five percent of Macks Creek’s $200,000 annual budget was funded from traffic-ticket revenue. The auditor said city officials had amended traffic charges to circumvent the state law.

The audit also revealed mismanagement of city funds, nepotism, possible forgery, inappropriate payments made to city employees and questionable record keeping.

Following the release of the audit, the mayor, most of the city’s paid staff, and one alderman walked out and left the city to fend for itself.

When that happened, Von and Tommy West were the only elected officials in the city. Three officials were needed to reach a quorum. The government was rendered useless until an election could take place a month later on April 1.

The day before the release of the audit, the last Macks Creek police officer, acting police chief Jerry Wayne Eidson, resigned.

The legal and financial problems plummeted the city into a downward spiral. In the years since the problems began, the city has struggled with apathy and, at one point, voters were given a choice to retain the government or dissolve it.

Despite a vote to save the city, keeping people interested and involved has been an ongoing struggle. Some residents even spread rumors in an effort to change the city’s name to Baghdad as a way to spark interest in the town’s future.

The city was tested again when the city hall and fire station burned down in unrelated fires within months of each other in the summer of 2006. Insurance covered most of the costs, but amplified the huge burden on the struggling town.

Mayor Jack Daniels hired himself as the general contractor to rebuild the city hall to help save money. This drew fire from some who felt it was a conflict of interest, but in the long run, it saved the city money while getting the job done.

Daniels has tried other improvements as well. A used road grader was purchased but its engine needs to be repaired. Finding willing hands to serve on the board remains an issue.

In the past six months alone, several seats have had to be refilled. Attendance at meetings remains poor.

“We’re just trying to do everything we can to get people interested in their town again,” Willis said. “Every little bit helps.”

Willis said how to use the extra money will be discussed at Monday’s meeting. Saving it for grant proposals has been previously discussed.

The Macks Creek Board of Aldermen meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at city hall.

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