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City Hall Business is None of Your Business​

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November 3, 2011 by wcobserver

The City of Fayetteville has begun issuing business licenses. The purpose of a city-issued license is to provide fire and police departments with information to ensure adequate emergency response and to provide data on the size and nature of the business and professional community. The license also ensures that business activity is confined to the appropriate zone. And of course, it is a source of revenue.

Greenland, Prairie Grove and even West Fork have been issuing business licenses for a number of years. What makes West Fork unique is that except for collecting a $15 fee, the ordinance establishing and enforcing the “Occupational License” is simply ignored.

The details of the Occupational Licenses ordinance (Chapter 4.24 of the Municipal code) are spelled out in plain English: a license is required to do business, a separate license for each business, and it’s non-transferable. The city clerk is authorized to collect the tax and issues the license. The applicant must demonstrate to the city clerk that they are in compliance with all applicable ordinances (building, zoning, signs, etc). The license holder posts the license in their business. Appeals can be made to the city council. The penalty for operating a business without a license carries a fine of $25 a day plus court costs. It’s a misdemeanor handled in West Fork City Court.

The Observer has been observing the business license process since we paid the tax and got ours in February of 2010. Here’s the way it actually works.

There is no application form. A license will be issued to anyone who slides $15 across the counter.

Even though it states clearly on the license: “This License does not grant authority to conduct any business in a zone contrary to the official zoning map of the City of West Fork” the licenses are issued regardless of zone or nature of business. So if you bought your home in what you thought was a residential zone, insulated from commercial activity — think again. Failure to enforce zoning laws may sound good to the “git the gubmit off yo back” crowd but when a business goes in next door and your home value is affected, that regulation might look different. Regarding the regulation of business and commercial activity, as it is now, the City of West Fork does not protect your property value.

Some licenses have been issued to businesses that do not have a business address in the city; others list only a P.O. Box as a business address.

So who is responsible for issuing these licenses? Where’s the accountability? Before the treasure and clerk duties were split several years ago, the licenses were issued by clerk/treasure Paula Caudle. After the split, business licenses were issued by the city-appointed treasurer although the ordinance states that it is a duty of city clerk.

Then a problem arose. Susan Cooney was elected city clerk in 2008 and to the ​​dismay of the city hall gang, she took her job seriously (She also wanted to take complete and accurate minutes of the Council Meetings, but that’s another story). She had the audacity to insist that she, as city clerk, begin issuing business licenses as required of her in the ordinance. However, the gang outsmarted her. In March 2009, someone changed the wording on the license, eliminating the words “City Clerk” below the signature line. Now no one would have to sign his or her name on a line specifically intended for the city clerk. And as far as we can determine, the ordanance still requires the signature of the elected city clerk. We say “elected” because after Cooney was defeated by Emily Holloway in 2010, who quit after two months, the city council appointed the treasurer to act as city clerk. That was almost a year ago. So does that mean the city treasurer is now accountable for any issues regarding business licenses?

If that’s the case, so be it. But we certainly hope that whoever’s in charge of issuing the business licenses isn’t the same person who redesigned the licenses themselves. Not only has “city clerk” been eliminated below the signature line, but the revised licences now read West “fork.” No, really.

In all seriousness though, having a signature line without indicating the official issuing the permit means that anyone can issue the license and that’s what is happening. Judging from the various names of city employees on the licenses, it seems whoever is available to write a receipt for $15 is the person issuing the license.

And they don’t ask questions.

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