Council votes to temporarily move city meetings to The Aud

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

All city meetings will be held in The Auditorium until the Eureka Springs City Council can find and renovate a permanent space.

On Monday night, the council heard from Mayor Butch Berry about relocating the meetings. Berry recalled when the issue came to the table on Aug. 14, when the council voted against a recommendation from the ADA Committee to temporarily move the meetings to The Aud. The committee made the recommendation at its July 27 meeting.

At that meeting, the committee discussed a complaint submitted by Joyce Knowles saying the council has willfully refused to move meetings from the courthouse to a location where constituents can face council members. Knowles said that makes it particularly difficult for deaf citizens to participate in city government and violates ADA requirements. On Monday night, Berry said he’d like to bring that recommendation back to the table.

“Recently, it’s come to the mayor’s office that we need to act on it. We’ve been looking at other opinions and the options on where to go and what to do at this point in time,” Berry said. “I’d like to go ahead and suggest that we go ahead and move our meetings over to The Auditorium.”

The reason the issue came back to the mayor’s office, Knowles reported Tuesday, is that she and husband Eric Knowles hired an attorney to file an injunction in federal court. Knowles said an attorney representing the city through the Arkansas Municipal League worked with her attorney to negotiate an agreement.

The negotiation included moving temporarily to The Auditorium, providing a print transcript or edited closed captioning of council meetings on Youtube, completing a city self-assessment of ADA standards, creating a plan to rectify deficiencies found in the self-assessment and giving Knowles a chocolate cake, Knowles said.

The reason for the chocolate cake?

“[It’s] because of their ‘let them eat cake’ attitude toward the disabled for the last 27 years,” Knowles said. “Most of this can be done by executive order. No word yet on the cake.”

The mayor’s office had no comment on the negotiation.

Before the vote on Monday night, alderwoman Mickey Schneider said she was unhappy with making the temporary move. The current city council, Schneider said, is the first in 20 years to work on meeting ADA standards.

“We are actually out there finding a place. To finally have a council who’s doing [this] and to treat them like that … I think it’s very uncalled for and rude and disrespectful,” Schneider said. “I think they should take into consideration that we are attempting.”

The council members can’t give the public a specific schedule of how long it will take to move, Schneider said, but they are working on it.

“I think it would behoove our people to give us a break and let us do the best we can,” Schneider said.

Temporarily moving to The Auditorium, she said, wouldn’t help as much as some members of the community think. Schneider said the council couldn’t live broadcast its meetings at The Auditorium.

“We will be helping one teeny tiny little bit of our citizenry. We’re going to be hurting a huge amount, because nobody really appreciates how many people watch this live presentation,” Schneider said. “If you can watch it at home, it saves them time and trouble. It saves us time and trouble. It saves parking and everything else.”

The point, Schneider said, is that the council is working to find a permanent meeting space for everyone.

“We have a goal. We are aiming for it,” Schneider said. “I just don’t think it’s very fair, very nice or very right to not give us a chance to get there without twisting our arm and kicking us. That’s just my personal opinion.”

Alderman David Mitchell agreed. There were many years, Mitchell said, where the council did nothing to make city meetings ADA-accessible.

“We’ve come into this issue. We start looking at it,” Mitchell said. “This urgency by two citizens in the community that is creating this emergency issue … I find it disturbing, but we’re going to go ahead and deal with it. I still find it disturbing. That’s all I’m going to say.”

The council voted to temporarily move city meetings to The Auditorium, with Kristi Kendrick, Peg Adamson, Bob Thomas and Terry McClung voting in favor of it and Mitchell and Schneider voting against it.

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