Council sends code revisions back to planning

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Eureka Springs City Council is waiting a little longer to approve proposed code revisions from the planning commission.

On Monday night, the council sent several proposed revisions back to the commission for further review. The council voted June 25 to approve two proposed ordinances on a first reading, one amending the adoption of plans and the other amending permitted uses in C1, C2 and C3 zones. The council deferred three other proposed ordinances to Monday night’s meeting.

Before the council could consider any of the proposed changes, B&B owners expressed concerns during public comments. B&B owner John Speed said he believes some council members have a conflict of interest because they own lodging themselves.

“I feel as if a member of the city council that possibly owns a bed and breakfast or manages properties or owns overnight cottages acting upon voting upon these issues … I deem as a conflict of interest,” Speed said. “That’s almost ethics 101.”

Bob Jasinski said he disagrees with the proposed change that a B&B’s owner or manager must register the establishment as their primary domicile. The process to register for that, Jasinski said, would be “draconian.”

Alderwoman Mickey Schneider requested that city attorney Tim Weaver explain what it means to have a conflict of interest, saying she wanted to take care of that before considering any of the proposed ordinances. Weaver said a conflict of interest occurs when someone with voting authority over a particular issue has a vested interest in that issue and stands to gain or lose money from passing a certain piece of legislation.

“The Arkansas Municipal League has repeatedly stated that the person who can call that a conflict of interest is the person who has that conflict of interest,” Weaver said. “The commission or board or body they sit on does not necessarily have that ability to call the conflict for that person if the person does not call a conflict on themselves.”

Alderman David Mitchell, who owns a B&B in town, said it’s clear Speed’s comment was directed at him. Mitchell said he spends approximately $5,000 to $8,000 a year on advertising, pays his taxes and supports local handymen. If he were to put his property up for sale, Mitchell said, these proposed changes would affect him.

“That’s not gain, ladies and gentlemen. That’s not gain,” Mitchell said. “I have no conflict of interest, period.”

Alderman Bob Thomas, who recently opened overnight lodging, said he does have a conflict of interest but wouldn’t recuse himself from every proposed change to the code.

“If we had an ordinance that said you have to have toilets in bed and breakfasts, I would vote for that and not feel a conflict of interest,” Thomas said. “I am actually going to be voting against a couple of things tonight, but in the future I’ll be recusing myself.”

The council approved the proposed ordinance amending adoption of plans on a second reading, but the remaining ordinances didn’t fare so well. Alderwoman Kristi Kendrick said she was concerned that a few of the proposed ordinances included more than one subject at a time, saying Arkansas law requires each ordinance to address one single subject. Kendrick said she disagrees with the proposed requirement for B&B owners to register the property as their primary domicile.

“I really think that’s very nebulous and it can mean different things,” Kendrick said.

Planning chairwoman Ann Tandy-Sallee said she’d be happy to take the proposed revisions back for review. The council voted to send those proposed ordinances to the commission for further review.

In other business, the council rescinded a Jan. 8 vote to suspend all engagement with the Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation until the foundation produced its articles of incorporation, lease with the school district and financial records. Mitchell said he made the motion to do due diligence for Eureka Springs taxpayers.

“There was a discussion about different entities and money, so I think a lot of the issue about this motion came to that,” Mitchell said.

Schneider moved to rescind the vote, and the council unanimously agreed to do so.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, July 23, at The Auditorium.

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