What had been a long if reasonably productive three-and-a-half-hour city council meeting ended with a bang Monday night when Alderman Lany Ballance, seemingly frustrated by a turn in the debate over a proposed marker for Conway Spring, began shouting "Get your boots off my neck!" to Aldermen Butch Berry and James DeVito, as well as Mayor Morris Pate and others.
The abrupt ending followed long debates through the evening on numerous subjects, mostly focusing on the proposed in-town deer hunt and lack of enforcement of city code regarding use of trash bags by business owners.
The deer hunt, which has been approved by voters, was originally scheduled to take place Sept. 15-Oct. 7 and Nov. 10-Feb. 28, but there has been ongoing debate ever since it was approved.
Resident Melissa Greene expressed a common view during public comments, saying, "When I voted for the deer hunt, it was under the impression that it was one time thing, probably a week long and coordinated by Arkansas Game & Fish on city property. I'm not against a deer hunt, but this has kept on morphing. A year ago it was one week, now it's five weeks. I would respectfully ask you go back to drawing board. As for tort immunity? When you put someone with a weapon in a residential area, you are beyond tort immunity."
Others disagreed. "I've been here since 1979.," said resident Steve Beacham. "Most feedback unfortunately is emotional rather than logical. The intent of this ballot was that the hunt take place asap. If you are against the hunt due to emotions, you should abstain from voting. Follow the mandate of the voters. Inaction won't fix this problem. The deer population is doubling every two years. The overall health of the herd is diminishing. These are wild animals, not pets. Their ticks produce disease. There are constant auto collision repairs due to hitting deer, not to mention that the lack of flowering plants they eat results in no bees, butterflies, etc. This hunt will help in the long run. Our rules for this hunt are more stringent than anywhere in Arkansas. Do your jobs and see that this happens."
Also in attendance at the meeting were Ralph Meeker and Cory Gray, Deer Program Coordinator for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, who have helped the city develop its deer hunt plan.
Gray explained that although Game & Fish were and are available for technical support in organizing urban hunts like this one, they could not make the decision for the city about what to do. "The way you have chosen to proceed allows you to control not only the number of participating hunters, but also when they can hunt," Gray said. "If safety is a concern, you can require the hunters to take a proficiency test. It's up to you."
Gray also recommended against cutting the hunt too short, because 15 hunters would not be able to make a worthwhile different in culling the deer overpopulation in only a week, for example.
Alderman Karen Lindblad suggested a scenario in which a dog or human was inadvertently shot by a hunter. "Whose liability is that?" she asked. "The property owner?"
Gray said ultimately the person who is doing the hunting is liable. "The shot person could take the landowner to court, but it is the hunter who is ultimately liable," he said. "The bowhunter's liability insurance will help alleviate some of that, but frankly we have had no issue up to this point."
He went on to reiterate the rules for the hunt include that hunters must shoot deer from tree stands, meaning arrows would go down into the ground if they missed the deer, reducing the possibility a stray arrow could strike an unintended target.
In critiquing the hunt, Ballance said, "If we do this like we're planning, we are not following what the ballot issue said. We have a deer feeding ban in place, but people are saying deer eating their expensive plants, and we don't ticket the people for their expensive plants feeding the deer. Plus the Historic District Commission doesn't allow people to build anti-deer fences. People aren't allowed to protect their property. But they aren't ticketed for violating the feeding ban."
Ballance added the general law against hunting in town, as well as the leash law, which keeps dogs from running loose, have contributed to the deer problem, but suggested council could table the whole issue because of vague wording about precisely where the hunt could take place in town. "That really lets us off the hook right now [in terms of dealing with the problem]," she said.
Berry argued against further delay. "There's no point in going back to the deer committee with this," he said. "Branson has ten times more tourists than we do, and they're having an urban hunt. If you're against it, be against it. If we're going to do it, though, let's do it. The people voted for it. If we have to, let's agree to do the second half [Nov. 10-Feb. 28]. If you want a proficiency exam, let's do it. Let's just do it and get this over with. Otherwise we'll be right back where we were a year ago. If you don't want to do it, don't. The deer committee suggested this based on a vote of the people."
Despite further protests, Berry's idea carried the day, and council voted to authorize the second half of the hunt, with the caveat hunters must become members of the International Bowhunting Organization, membership in which would require the hunters to take care of the safety concerns voiced earlier.
Class discrimination alleged
According to Ballance, the city is practicing class discrimination in requiring residents to pay for and use yellow trash bags, whereas merchants were allowed to use regular black plastic bags, and in doing so violate city code, which requires the bags merchants use to be marked clearly. "This is clearly class discrimination," she said.
DeVito explained merchants pay a higher, commercial fee for trash pick-up, and that the purpose of the yellow bags was to encourage recycling by residents, while merchants were already required to recycle their cardboard. "If you are interested in businesses recycling glass or plastic, fine," DeVito told Ballance. "But if you want to make business more expensive to operate, no. It's expensive enough already."
"I'm not in favor of the yellow plastic bags," Ballance said. "Some of us are dancing around the fact the law is being enforced on one level of the community but not the rest. I move to request the mayor facilitate laws being enforced across the board."
Mayor Pate then read into the record communications with Phil Jackson, head of Carroll County Solid Waste Authority, explaining the city was in compliance with trash bag rules as far as CCSWA was concerned.
In the end, Ballance said she would take the issue back to the yellow bag trash committee, and Pate said he would look at the issue again as well.
Finally, council tackled the subject of the authority of the Parks and Recreation Commission to install a marker at historic Conway Spring, which is located on the hill east of Cornerstone Bank downtown.
"The Eureka Springs Preservation Society applied to Parks earlier in the year to put a marker on that spring," said Parks Director Bruce Levine. "I mentioned the request in a quarterly report, and Ms. Ballance wondered how Parks has that authority."
Levine said the issue had arisen last year regarding improvements in Basin Spring Park, at which time City Attorney Tim Weaver opined that this authority did in fact fall within Parks' statute. "It would be like saying every time the someone puts up a new grave marker at the cemetery, the Cemetery Commission would have to come to council to get permission," Levine said. "I am not the political arm of Parks and Recreation, nor a lawyer, but does the council really want us coming to them every time we want to put in a new park bench?"
The next city council meeting is scheduled for August 27.