City Council year in review

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Plus ša change... The more things change, the more they stay the same.

It was another contentious year for the Eureka Springs City Council, with members wrangling over everything from ward voting and another attempt at a limo ordinance, all the way through a fiercely debated deer hunt and right up to the last meeting, when an ordinance failed to pass that would have limited the police force to a specific set number of officers.

Ward voting

The question of ward voting has come up regularly over the years. It was brought to the table this year in June by Alderman Karen Lindblad, who had been chosen May 14 to replace Dean Kirkpatrick, who had resigned as the council member representing Ward 1, Position 1 on April 20.

Eureka Springs aldermen serve the entire city's residents currently, instead of just serving the ward they are from as it would be in the ward voting system.

After months of debate, the proposed ordinance failed to find a second to the motion to read it into the record for the third time at the Nov. 12 meeting, and it died on the table.

Limo ordinance

Council struggled with and ultimately failed to pass an ordinance regulating and distinguishing between limousine and taxi services in the city. Council has struggled with the issue for years. Supporters of David "Fuzzy" White, who theoretically owns the city's taxi franchise, have long argued that limos have crossed over into the realm of taxi service in Eureka Springs, thereby infringing on the sustainability of the city's taxi franchise.

City Clerk Ann Armstrong said at a City Council special meeting March 8 that the definition of a limousine is very specific -- it should pick up riders by appointment only.

After much debate, council narrowed the problem down to defining what a limo is by how it operates, and whether to prevent limo rental from competing with regular taxi service by requiring a two-hour wait time when reserving a limousine, or else requiring a minimum two-hour rental of the limo.

Turned out it didn't matter. In the end, it was the required two-hour minimum rental at $75 per hour that hung the ordinance by its own rope. Alderman James DeVito argued that requiring the limo be scheduled at least two hours ahead would have sufficed to distinguish limo service from taxi service, but he felt council was overreaching with the minimum rental requirement.

Ordinance 2155, the limo ordinance, was shot down on its third and final reading on Sept. 10.

Deer hunt

The urban deer hunt, approved by voters in 2010, almost didn't happen this year.

Alderman Karen Lindblad said in July she has received complaints and questions from city residents, especially concerning the length of the hunt season.

The bow hunt was originally scheduled for Sept. 15 - Oct. 7. After a break for the fall tourism season, the hunt was to have resumed Nov. 10, and ends Feb. 28.

Lindblad and others were concerned primarily about safety issues and argued the extended length of the hunt was not what people had anticipated when they voted for the hunt.

At its Aug. 6 meeting, council voted to follow through with only the second half of the hunt, Nov. 10 -- Feb. 8, to meet criticism of its length and, as Berry put 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."

At its Aug. 27 meeting, Ballance and Lindblad put forward a motion and seconded it to proceed with the voter-approved hunt; they then voted against their own motion, and, lacking votes to pass without their votes, the motion died.

It came to light at the next meeting that council had put itself in the position of having overturned a legal election with their earlier action and created uproar from outraged citizenry, who showed up in large numbers to express themselves on the subject.

City Attorney Tim Weaver spoke to the problem. "When the council debated the deer hunt issue at its Aug. 13 meeting," Weaver said, "the council voted to approve the second set of dates for the hunt, which are Nov. 10 to Feb. 28, and voted to do away with the first set of dates, which were to have been Sept. 15-Oct. 7."

According to Weaver, although council could still place varying conditions on the hunt, they were bound legally to proceed with the hunt as they voted earlier, therefore nullifying the actions they later took in letting it die on the table.

The hunt began as scheduled on Nov. 10. At press time, city hall reports nine deer of a possible 50 for which tags are provided have been killed.

Yellow bags

At its Aug. 13 meeting, Ballance claimed 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 violates 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.

Too many police officers?

In its Sept. 10 meeting, council came to blows metaphorically at least over a demand made at its previous meeting to have Police Chief Earl Hyatt come before them to justify his staffing budget.

Ballance in particular had been critical of the fact that the city's police and fire departments have budgets she felt are in excess of what is needed for a city with a population of just over 2,000.

Mayor Morris Pate in a rare veto declined the council's request. Reading from the city policy handbook, Pate pointed out that he as mayor had the administrative authority to not only appoint and remove department heads, but also to approve all hiring of city employees. The council has no authority in this arena, and especially since the council had no stated reason for its request, he explained, so he said "no."

The subject arose again at the next meeting, when Pownall, Lindblad and Ballance made, amended and re-amended a motion to ask the city attorney to draft an ordinance with blanks for how many officers the city employs.

"You know I'll veto it," the mayor said, bringing cries of outrage from two aldermen at the table.

He didn't have to. In its last meeting of the year, Ballance moved to have the ordinance given a number and put on its first reading despite protests from Berry that the whole situation was superfluous.

"We have an Attorney General's opinion that says the council is not required to set the number of officers in this way," Berry said. "This is a superfluous ordinance. I think if there's a problem with the number of officers, we need to deal with this during our budget meeting. The Attorney General says what we have is fine."

After further arguing back and forth, Berry motioned to have the whole issue taken off the table for the next council to address, but Ballance disagreed, saying the reason the current police force was so large was that the chief of police and former mayor were mother-in-law and son-in-law. 
This remark evoked vigorous calls for "point of order," meaning in this case that the remarks were inappropriate. The mayor concurred, and council voted to pass the issue forward to the new City Council.

Other big news

* When elections came in November, voters chose candidate Joyce Zeller over incumbent Karen Lindblad and candidate Mickey Schneider over Lany Ballance. The other aldermen will be DeVito, Dee Purkeypile, Terry McClung and David Mitchell.

* To end on a positive note, at its Nov. 12 meeting, Eureka Springs became the first city in Arkansas to pass a resolution in favor of marriage equality.

Citing a long list of legal decisions beginning with 1967's Loving v. Virginia, in which Chief Justice Earl Warren said, "[t]he freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," and referencing the Obama administration's 2011 refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, this new resolution dovetails with Eureka's 2007 Domestic Partnership Registry, which "recognizes that family configurations exist in many different forms, including unmarried individuals who consider each other as partners in and for life."

The resolution was the joint effort of Michael Walsh and Lamont Richie.

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