The biggest portion of the gathering was devoted to a Q & A session with the candidates for the Eureka Springs City Council.
Incumbent aldermen present were Lany Ballance from Ward 3, Position 2; Karen Lindblad from Ward 1, Position 1; and James DeVito from Ward 2, Position 1.
Facing them were the contenders: For the seat held by Karen Lindblad, Jack Gentry and Mickey Schneider; running against Lany Ballance, former alderman Joyce Zeller; Dee Purkeypile, running for Ward 2, Position 2; and contending for James DeVito's seat, Vice-President of the Historic District Commission and the Eureka Springs Preservation Society Greg Moon.
Running unopposed for Ward 1, Position 2 is David Mitchell, who was attendance as well.
Absent were Ward 3, Position 1 Alderman Parker Raphael and Ward 3, Position 1 candidate Terry McClung, both of whom cited previous engagements.
The forum was moderated by Larry Hestand of KESA radio. It was arranged with each candidate being given three minutes to introduce him or herself, followed by three rounds of pre-arranged questions drawn randomly and directed at the candidates.
Although the questions were drawn up ahead of time and selected randomly, some seemed especially appropriate for the candidates who were asked them.
For example, Ballance was asked whether, when voting on council and excepting situations where her vote would create a direct conflict of interest, she would vote "present" or "abstain" rather than "yes" or "no." Ballance has chosen to vote "present" or to abstain from voting on several occasions.
Ballance replied there was no way she could answer the question in general without knowing the details of a specific situation.
Asked whether a commission or a committee would be a better arrangement for running The Auditorium, Lindblad said, "I don't know I'd support either one of those. I do believe that the CAPC needs to be more responsible in helping run the the Aud. The duties of the CAPC include maintaining or even building a convention center. The Auditorium is the jewel in the crown of this town and should be treated as such."
One question was the result of a recent skirmish on City Council on the autonomy of the city's various commissions. Mickey Schneider, who served on council previously, argued in favor of more autonomy rather than less.
"The various commissions, whether it's Planning or Parks or whoever, need to be given autonomy because they all specialize in their own areas," she said. "We have department heads for a reason. They know their business. City Council has enough to do without trying to micromanage everybody else's work. Let them do their own hiring and firing. City Council needs to keep their hands off."
Joyce Zeller, who has served on council previously, took a dim view of the current council's record. When asked to name the single best accomplishment of the current council, she replied, "I can't think of a thing. Absolutely nothing. They've screwed up so many times, put their feet in their mouths over and over. Except for managing to alienate the entire town, which they've done very well."
Zeller's remarks were met with an enthusiastic burst of applause.
Asked about initiating further work on the city's master plan, Ballance stressed the need for everyone to compromise. "There was a comment in the newspaper from a member of the Planning commission stressing how an entire community needs to be able to come together to accomplish a master plan. This person said they did not feel this was possible in Eureka Springs. I'm not sure if it was because that person didn't want to compromise or if [it was] her associates, but compromise takes two people. If someone wants you to come to them, that's not compromise. Compromise is a place in the middle where all come together, work together. We all need to be willing. We all think our ideas are best, but what works for all best is when we all compromise."
DeVito addressed the master plan as well. "I was involved in the initial forming of the city's vision plan, so I do have some background," he said. "Presently the Planning commission is going through the vision plan trying to condense it. I applaud their efforts. It is appropriate those things start out in Planning. I certainly appreciate their authority. The master plan is a living document -- it can change as evolving events dictate -- so it's not something set in stone. It's a guideline for the future."
Televising meetings promotes showboating?
Candidate Purkeypile fielded a question about the live telecasts of council meetings causing members to showboat for the camera. "A little common sense goes a long way," he said. "My wife and I watch the televised meetings because we want to be informed, but also entertained! It's quite entertaining sometimes. From watching, you do learn quite a bit about the city and how it functions, and I think every citizen can benefit from that. Seriously, though, I don't think we aren't going to stop showboating. This is Eureka Springs. But we can also have some adult supervision at the table."
More applause followed this remark.
Candidate Mitchell also spoke in favor of the meetings being televised in whole or part. "The participation of the citizenry is vital to success of our community," he said. "This town has come together well and survived much adversity and has a golden future ahead of it as long as the people here come together for the benefit of Eureka. I am all in favor of public input during televised meetings."
More money is good
Several candidates fielded questions regarding how to raise city revenues.
"I am lucky enough to be general manager of five shops in town," said Schneider. "I talk and listen to customers, and I try to figure out what keeps them coming back I recognize my regular customers year after year. Honestly, I think one main thing we could to do to increase revenue, something that has fallen by the wayside, is a source of locally handcrafted items. It would be a huge to the tourist economy."
Zeller addressed the choice of cutting spending versus increasing revenues. "Increase in revenue, of course," she said. "We've been short of money in this town a long time. To fix that problem you either raise taxes or increase your product. Cutting expenses works too, but I have been involved in the city budget process over the years, and our budget is slim. We haven't had a cost of living raise for four years. So cutting spending is not really an option. We are really desperate for growth. We must create a climate for investment here, and for that we need a city government that's business friendly, not the anti-business one we have now."
One of the more practical suggestions came from Ballance, who encouraged investigation into online services. "For example, I do medical transcription online," she said. "Work like that is very much done on a satellite basis these days. Your location is unimportant. There are many other low impact businesses that could produce good benefits and revenue for the city."
Jack Gentry also took a practical tack when asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 the importance of dealing with the city's sewer and water infrastructure.
"It's definitely a 10," he said without hesitation. "We have many problems, numerous ones, but when toilets back up in one person's house because someone's taking a shower down the street, you have a problem. We can't have the growth we want here if we don't have the infrastructure to support it. So that's a 10."
On a related note, DeVito was asked about the viability of cleaning up the city's springs, a long-cherished project that has met little success over the years. "It's an important topic because it's indicative of the general environment here and the problem of subsurface pollution," he said. "We made an effort to bring potable water to Basin Spring at one point but we couldn't due to proximity with a sewer line. Magnetic Spring is probably the best place to bring in potable water. But it's all a monumental project. As much as I'd like to clean up all the springs, I don't think there's enough money in a city a hundred times the size of Eureka Springs to clean them up. We have a lot of other things on our plate that are going to take a lot of money to fix."
The forum ended with a word from Chamber CEO and President Mike Bishop, urging unregistered voters to go register by the deadline, which is Friday, Oct. 5.