#3 News Story: Council votes to move meetings to community center

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Eureka Springs City Council

ended 2017 in a different place than it

started.

The council began discussion of a

permanent move after Joyce and Eric

Knowles expressed concern over the

ADA-accessibility of the meeting space

in the courthouse. At the council’s May

3 meeting, Mayor Butch Berry said

the Eureka Springs Community Center

Foundation offered a room at the community

center to the city for $20,000

for the first three years. After the first

three years, he said, the city could pay

$1,500 a month to hold all city meetings

there.

On June 12, Berry said the foundation’s

board offered to give the council

exclusive use of another room at the

site for $1,000 a month. The city would

have to pay to renovate that room, Berry

said, to make it ADA-accessible and

suitable for city meetings.

Another option, Berry said, would be

to use a building across the street from

the Eureka Springs Hospital. He said

the city already owns the building and

it’s ADA accessible but could require

extensive renovations.

On July 27, the ADA Committee discussed

a complaint submitted by Joyce

Knowles in which she said the council

willfully refused to move meetings

from the courthouse to a location where

constituents can face council members.

She suggested the city council meetings

move to a location where all members

face the constituents.

The committee recommended that

the city council move meetings immediately

to The Auditorium, an interim

space, and meet deadlines for moving

to a permanent space. These deadlines

include choosing the permanent site by

Sept. 1 and getting bids from contractors

by Oct. 1. The council denied the

recommendation

at its Aug.

13 meeting, and

Berry updated

the council on

the space available

for city

meetings.

Berry said

the city has two

or three possible

locations being taken into consideration,

saying he’s focusing on places

the city already owns: Dr. Beard’s office

in the historic district and the fire

station downtown. The council would

make its decision on the permanent

move by Jan. 1, 2018, Berry said.

The council changed its tune Sept.

11, voting to temporarily relocate all

city meetings to The Auditorium. The

reason the issue came back to the

mayor’s office, Knowles said, is that

she and her husband 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.

After having several meetings at

The Aud, the council voted Nov. 13

to permanently move city meetings

to the community center. Foundation

chairwoman Diane Murphy presented

a proposal for a five-year arrangement

where the foundation would update

the interior of the community meeting

room and the city would pay for outdoor

renovations.

The city would oversee the construction

of an ADA-compliant ramp

and handrails on the west entrance

of the activity center, Murphy said,

and configure the parking lot west of

the activity center to create required

handicapped parking and signage. The

foundation would perform all interior

renovation including the community

meeting room, the ADA-compliant restroom,

entrance lobby and interior and

exterior doors, Murphy said, with the

city providing furnishings inside the

room.

“There wouldn’t be any more outlay

of cash or rent that first year. We

would all just go ahead and expend

those funds to get everything started,”

Murphy said.

The city could pay $5,000 per year

for rent after the first year, Murphy

said, or public works could provide inkind

services to cover the fee. Mayor

Butch Berry said both options would be

doable. The council’s decision wasn’t

unanimous, with Bob Thomas, Mickey

Schneider and McClung voted in favor

of it, Peg Adamson voting against it

and David Mitchell abstaining.

After the vote, Thomas said he voted

incorrectly and wanted to re-vote but

was told to wait until the next meeting.

He moved to reconsider the decision

at the Nov. 27 meeting but his motion

failed for lack of a majority.

Murphy said Dec. 18 that the foundation

is in the process of having its

attorney draft a lease agreement for the

move.

“We’re going to move forward with

the work on it, because we want that

room available for the community to

get to use regardless of how it might

play out with city council,” Murphy

said.

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