Council discusses dissolving parks commission

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission was under fire at the Eureka Springs City Council’s meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Mayor Butch Berry presented an opinion from the Arkansas Municipal League regarding the commission’s involvement with the Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation on a greenhouse project. The document addresses concerns expressed by alderwoman Kristi Kendrick at the council’s March 12 meeting, where Kendrick said the commission was operating outside its scope. Additionally, Kendrick said, the Lake Leatherwood City Park sales tax, renewed by voters last year, had the wrong number on the ballot.

According to the document from the Municipal League, the parks commission has the authority to “enter into contracts with persons, firms, corporations or organizations for the use of recreational park buildings or parts thereof,” and that includes the community center foundation. The typo in the sales tax ballot can easily be forgiven, the document says. Kendrick said Tuesday she’s concerned about the opinion because the Municipal League representatives didn’t have the full language of the sales tax.

“That was provided at the time they spoke with me,” city attorney Tim Weaver said.

“They say they don’t have it,” Kendrick said.

“I sent it on to them. They do have it,” Berry said.

“A lot of their statements in here are contingent on that language,” Kendrick said. “I feel like the opinion therefore doesn’t address certain issues because of these discrepancies between what it said in this written legal opinion and what you are telling me.”

Berry offered to send any follow-up questions Kendrick has to the Municipal League, and Kendrick said she’d work on that. Alderwoman Mickey Schneider said the opinion confirmed that the parks commission can work with the community center foundation.

“They can make contracts and deal with the community center, and the Municipal League is saying, yes, they’re autonomous,” Schneider said.

The commission can enter into contracts, Mitchell said, but that all depends on the council’s support. Mitchell said he’d like to see the council dissolve the commission and move it to a department under the city run by director Justin Huss.

“I support the director of parks. He could easily provide that leadership as a department to the mayor,” Mitchell said.

The council has been concerned about the commission for some time, Mitchell said.

“The council has been for a good while now discussing various issues of concern regarding the chairperson, the collusion between parks and the community center,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell moved to dissolve the commission, and Schneider said she doesn’t support that at all.

“How much more stupid can a city be than to take a viable entity and screw with it?” Schneider said. “They know what they’re doing. They can do it and do it well. Sitting there trying to micromanage and screw with something that’s working is the worst damn thing you can do in this town.”

Alderman Terry McClung said he doesn’t see a problem in the commission’s relationship with the community center.

“Mr. Mitchell uses the word collusion, and I consider it a partnership. Big difference,” McClung said. “As far as dissolving the parks commission, I certainly don’t feel that’s the right direction to go.”

Weaver suggested that the council refer back to the Municipal League’s opinion before making a decision, and Kendrick interrupted him.

“Point of order,” Kendrick said.

“What’s your point?” Berry asked.

“I believe the city attorney is speaking as a city councilman and not in his role as the attorney,” Kendrick said.

Berry and Weaver said it’s the city attorney’s job to give a legal opinion on issues that come up at the table.

“If you want to dissolve a commission, do it right. Don’t do it in a hurry. Don’t do it at a whim,” Weaver said. “Make sure you know what contracts they have. Make sure you know what other issues that may lie there that could get this city sued.”

Mitchell rescinded his motion and moved to “ask the city attorney to draft up what is necessary to be done in the process of potentially looking at removing the parks commission and moving it to a department of the city with a director.” He said parks would work fine as a city department.

“It will not be micromanaging. You’re wrong, Alderman Schneider,” Mitchell said. “There’s a lot of advantage to streamlining and potentially bringing it in.”

“So you’re saying the city won’t be micromanaging?” Schneider responded. “What the hell do you call what you’re trying to do right now in regards to parks and the community center and city council? That, my dear, is micromanaging.”

Alderman Bob Thomas asked how the commission can be considered autonomous if council can dissolve it, and Weaver said it’s a lot like having a boss in any business.

“Ultimately they can fire you, but if they trust you, they allow you to do your job,” Weaver said.

Thomas and alderwoman Melissa Greene said they weren’t ready to dissolve the commission, and McClung called for a vote. Once the council started voting, Mitchell said he wanted to amend his motion to clarify that Weaver would draw up documents and come back for review to the council before any action is taken. Berry said that amendment was unnecessary, and Mitchell withdrew it.

The motion failed by a 4-2 vote, with Kendrick and Mitchell voting for it and Schneider, Thomas, Greene and McClung voting against it.

Also at the meeting, the council agreed to permanently move city meetings into the basement of The Auditorium, established a six-month moratorium on B&Bs CUPs and approved an ordinance allowing the fire department to purchase equipment on second and third readings.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, June 11, at The Auditorium.

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