JENNINGS, Mo. – A councilman in Jennings said the state of the city is not good after several resignations and a stop work order issued on a multi-million-dollar project funded by taxpayers.
Irvetta Williams helped organize the construction of the new city hall in Jennings, up until two weeks ago. She said she had no choice but to back out as the project’s construction manager.
“To issue a notice of termination because of difficulties in moving the project forward and working alongside the current administration, it really broke my heart,” Williams said. “It meant everything to me. This project for me, as a Black female in America, doing what I do in construction management.”
Williams grew up in Jennings.
“This was the site of the River Roads Mall,” Williams said.
Earlier this week, FOX Files obtained a letter sent by Williams to Mayor Gary Johnson dated Aug. 4 that terminated her agreement with the city.
“The project has been suspended for more than 90 days,” she wrote.
Williams said they would have broken ground this summer, likely in June, but the city issued a stop work order.
“At the request of Mayor Johnson and on behalf of the City of Jennings, please provide me with signed copies of any and all contracts—construction or otherwise—relating to the city center project,” the city’s email stated.
The letter went on to officially terminate the partnership.
“Please consider this email and official stop work order with the respect to the entire project,” the letter read.
Ward 2 Councilman Terry Wilson said the mayor never asked for the city council’s approval to halt the work, despite the council voting to approve the more than $10 million project a couple years ago.
Wilson said he’s just as confused, and no one knows why the order was issued.
“We don’t know what direction this is going in,” Wilson said. “He issued the stop work order against the wishes of our attorney and consultant, our construction manager.”
In September 2022, before Johnson won a tight mayoral race, he was a city councilman and publicly opposed the construction project.
“I would tell the mayor to stop the project. Halt the project. Halt the process and let’s listen to the residents, and let’s spend the money wisely. We have a city hall right now that we can be building on and we can expand,” Johnson said in 2022.
Even though Johnson disagreed with the project, the city council voted to approve construction of the new city center, which would include a new city hall and community center.
“The mayor came in with a level of mistrust of the construction management team,” Williams said.
Williams is not the only person to separate herself from the city.
The FOX Files was the first to report on Tuesday that City Attorney Sam Alton, the city clerk, the accounting coordinator, and the building’s department manager all quit.
Alton’s resignation comes weeks after he did an interview with the Fox Files about the city towing vehicles from driveways.
“Legally, would I recommend getting an administrative warrant? Sure. Can it always happen? Should it always happen? Not necessarily. It’s just a little bit complicated,” Alton said in July.
Alton resigned on Tuesday.
“By the mayor’s own admission, his move to terminate my employment is retaliatory for my suggestion that the city obtain administrative warrants prior to towing cars from personal property,” Alton’s resignation letter read. “The mayor makes many unsupported, conspiracy-like allegations. I would suggest that you, as council members, ask for proof of his unsupported allegations in the future.”
Wilson said the resignations are a complete blow to the city.
“We lost a lot of key positions, unfortunately. A lot of people resigned that was kind of the engine and transmission of the city,” Wilson said. “We’re not in a good spot right now, I’ll tell you that.”
The city announced an emergency special council meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. on Friday to discuss the mass resignations and also offer people their jobs back.
There may not be any dirt turning on the new city center complex, and some residents, like Silcia Young, hope it stays that way.
“They need to focus on getting the community together,” Young said. “We have streets that are raggedy. We have buildings that need to be torn down. It’s ridiculous. It makes no sense.”
For others like Williams, she wants to grab a shovel even though she already quit.
“Jennings is home. This is where I grew up. Fifty years, my family grew up. My mother still lives in Jennings. This project, out of my entire career, meant the most to me,” she said.
The city owes Williams $7,500 because the stop work order was issued and has been in effect for 90 days.
Johnson said he would release a statement that “negates the allegations” during a news conference that he’s scheduled for 1 p.m. on Friday.