CAPC debates how to make staff decisions
By Samantha Jones
The Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission planned to have five special meetings regarding employee and contract positions on Monday night.
Instead, the commission adjourned after the first special meeting after debate over who should make decisions about the positions.
Chairwoman Carol Wright kicked off the first special meeting by describing how the state plans to reopen businesses, saying Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Mayor Butch Berry are asking people not to gather in large groups until Sept. 1.
“Not all the stuff you’re saying but some of the stuff … is untrue,” said commissioner Susan Harman, “and I don’t think it is our place to say unless we’ve had it written exactly from the governor.”
Harman said the recommendations for reopening businesses are frequently changing.
“I think it is very dangerous for us to be quoting these things at this time,” Harman said.
Commissioner Terry McClung agreed, saying the schedule to reopen businesses is fluid.
“I said a moment ago these dates could possibly change,” Wright said.
Wright then addressed the topic of the special meeting, which was the technical director position. Wright said the commission needs to decide whether to furlough employees or move them to part-time status.
“Some people have terms where we have 90 days in advance to terminate their contracts,” Wright said, “so that’s what we are going to talk about with each position independently tonight.”
Harman said it’s not the commission’s responsibility to hire or fire CAPC staff. The commission can appoint the director, Harman said, and the director has the authority to make those decisions. It would be up to interim director Gina Rambo, Harman said, to decide which employees should be furloughed or moved to part time.
“It is our job to look at the budget and say, ‘This is how much we can afford for salaries,’ ” Harman said. “We do have a responsibility to hire or fire the interim director or the finance director.”
Harman added, “We can absolutely have a discussion as to what we think should happen with both of those, but in my opinion, the only thing we can do is look at the budget and say, ‘This is how much we’ll have left,’ and for those particular positions, we’ll allow the interim director to decide who will stay and who will go.”
Wright said it is her opinion that the commission can “at least make a recommendation to the interim director about contractor positions.” Two of the contracted workers are impacted by whether or not the city has tourists coming to town, Wright said.
“I would like to at least have a discussion tonight,” Wright said, “and we’ll get a ruling on that from the city attorney going forward.”
McClung said the commission will need employees when tourists start coming back to town, especially the technical director who takes care of the Auditorium.
“We’ve had problems in that building before when there’s not been anyone there and no one’s checking on a regular basis,” McClung said.
Commissioner Jeff Carter said it’s the commission’s job to oversee taxpayer dollars. Anything outside of that would be dictated in a set of bylaws, Carter said, which the commission does not have.
“This commission should have bylaws on how we operate and function,” Carter said. “Bylaws gives us the ability to either agree with [Harman] or agree with anyone else, but we actually need a set of bylaws in place to organize this in such a manner so that we know how we should interject with staff.”
Commissioner James DeVito said he agrees with Harman about the authority of the director, and Harman said she’s concerned that the commission will need to cut its budget in coming months. She said that means staff will probably be cut, too.
“It is a decision of the interim director to decide which position is the most important. I’d like that position to still have some semblance of authority within the CAPC,” Harman said, “as opposed to the commission just outright saying, ‘We don’t want this person.’ Inevitably, the budget is going to determine how much we can pay out in salaries.”
Harman said she heard that a couple phone calls were made to contractors by commissioners asking if they’d be open to being furloughed.
“Unfortunately, the commission had, as a whole, not talked about that,” Harman said, “so it put a lot of stress and strain on some of these contractors. In my opinion, that is not the decision of one or two commissioners to do outside of the whole commission.”
Commissioner Bobbie Foster suggested amending some of the contracts.
“We all know what situation we’re in. We know where we are and some of these contractors — they’re smart people,” Foster said. “They’re business people, so could we not talk to them and look at amending some of the contracts?”
Carter said the technical director’s contract was signed by former executive director Lacey Ekberg in November 2019, extending it for another year. Then Rambo extended the contract for another three years in March, Carter said.
“Honestly, [the contract] is poorly written,” Carter said. “I’d recommend we turn this particular contract over to the attorney to have him interpret it. I don’t understand some of this language. I think it needs to be interpreted. I don’t understand why this wasn’t brought to the commission to review.”
“It’s [Rambo’s] employee,” said commissioner Greg Moon.
“That’s an opinion,” Carter said, “because we don’t have bylaws to say how this works.”
Foster said she believes the contract can be amended and McClung suggested discussing the issue with Rambo. Harman said it still comes down to the budget.
“How much would we need to cut from the budget?” Harman asked. “We have to have that next discussion with [Rambo] about those individuals that are under her authority … and she needs to have that conversation with those employees. I think us making a decision here is destroying the fabric of staff hierarchy.”
Wright suggested discussing the budget and Harman said there’s no way to know how COVID-19 will affect the commission’s finances until it has ended. The commission should expect to lose at least $500,000, Harman said.
“I think that’s conservative,” Harman said.
McClung suggested having a monthly workshop dedicated to the budget.
“It may turn to crap in the fall and we may go broke. We’ve got to do the best we can but still try and operate the city,” McClung said. “I’m not losing hope. We’ve got to roll the dice the best we can. We’re not out of it. We just have to figure out what our strategy is.”
Harman said everybody is worried about losing their job, saying the commission needs to make decisions as a group.
“We need to do this in a professional way,” Harman said, “not having individual commissioners call people and get them all scared about losing their job or making a decision. Moving forward, it needs to be done as a group.”
Harman added, “That is how we are set up. We’re set up as a commission. Let’s follow the guidelines. Let’s do this as a team. We know we are going to have a reduction in taxes. We just need to figure out how we can go month to month with a plan, and right now we don’t have a plan.”
McClung moved to set up a workshop to discuss the budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 6, and the commission unanimously agreed to do so. The commission then agreed to defer the four remaining special meetings until after the budget meeting.
The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 27.