April 6, 2013 by wcobserver
Problems and issues relating to “communication” have been an ongoing topic of discussion for several past council meetings. At the March meeting, the topic returned, leading to the following council action.
From the unapproved minutes provided by the city:
- Communication – Alderman Rossetti, [former planning commission chair] for business to be done expediently, we need to get resolved who does what. We need policy and procedures for the Mayor’s office as well as for department heads, so that we don’t have the confusion due to lack of good communication. Standard procedures need to be well defined.
- Sergeant [current and former alderman Bill Sergeant] requests a definition of duties by each person and assign those duties, put it in writing, and stop the duplication of decisions.
Motion made by Nelson [former police chief (20) years and current alderman Mike Nelson] that the Mayor make an organizational chart to present to the Council in April to look at and discuss. And to work with the Department Heads on this. 2nd by Shafer (two term alderman)
Mayor Hime replies the council request for an organizational chart with this letter.
The city’s organizational structure is unusual for a city of the first class in Arkansas and serves as an incubator for public administration chaos. It wasn’t entirely planned that way. It’s taken over three decades to produce an organizational structure that defies logical explanation. The text book definition would probably be “informal.”
It looks something like this: Unelected Michael “Butch” Bartholomew along with former elected city clerk/treasurer Paula Caudle handled the day-to-day operations of the city for many years. The elected leadership relinquished much of their control and decision making to Mr. Bartholomew. The voters elected officials who, by Arkansas statute have specific responsibilities. Those officials, acting without the consent of the electorate, handed those responsibilities to an unelected volunteer. Mr. Bartholomew is actually employed by the Water Commission, a separate legal entity from the city — sort of.
The Water Department operates from funds it generates from buying and selling water. The city operates using tax revenue. The law forbids mixing them. He is paid by and responsible to the water commission, not the mayor or council. The water commission has in the past gone years at a stretch without holding a meeting or taking a close look at the management of the department which is still solvent because of a city bailout. The commission doesn’t have a history of scrupulous oversight.
Mr. Bartholomew also performs other tasks that are not part of water and wastewater supervision. Until the new mayor relieved him of the title “Business Manager,” he controlled virtually every city service except fire, police and to some extent bookkeeping. He supervised streets, building permits, licenses, animal control, lot splits, planning, all personnel matters, contracts and everything in between.
In this capacity, he receives no pay and reports to no single person. So, West Fork has a highly paid, unelected, unsupervised water superintendent and unpaid volunteer business manager (town boss) running the city. They’re the same person.
As has happened, if the water department runs out of money, the water superintendent feels comfortable dipping into the city’s till to cover shortfalls. The water department office manager and appointed city treasurer is the same person, Kristie Drymon.
When Mr. Bartholomew moved a full-time employee out of the water department budget over into the street department budge it is no different from transferring the city’s tax generated funds into the water department enterprise account, according to the city attorney.
Mr. B’s Explanation: This was news to him. He reasoned that because he also held the title Utilities Superintendent, the transfer was an interdepartmental one. After all, water and streets are both utilities. After all, no auditor had mentioned it. After all, no previous city attorney mentioned it. After all, the council shouldn’t be “micro-managing” his department.
The other source of disarray in the city’s lines of communication began in 2008 when long time elected Clerk/Treasurer retired and the leadership decided to split the functions. They passed an ordinance establishing an appointed Treasurer and elected City Clerk. That sounded okay until you think about it
The duties performed by the city clerk such as issuing licenses, scheduling and being the custodian of public records are written into the municipal code. The council at the time didn’t go through the code and make changes. This lead to the clerk duties was being performed by the appointed treasurer who was accountable to the council. But the council is not a person. Who supervises the treasurer? In this case the treasurer is also a water employee which only adds more ambiguity.
If any town tries to operate without clear lines of accountability and has leadership that abdicates responsibility for the city’s essential functions to an unsupervised volunteer, should anyone be surprised to see dysfunction, disarray, and shenanigans?
If the elected leaders don’t know how to fix the problem, the voters do. For several months prior to the 2012 general election voters heard all sides of the argument and passed an initiative that instructed the council to dissolve the water/sewer commission and create ONE CITY GOVERNMENT accountable to the elected mayor and council.
The council voted 7 – 1 to table indefinitely the voters’ instructions.
A draft ordinance provided by the proponents of the initiative differed only slightly from the current arrangement. A water commission would be replaced by a committee and a new city water department would be included in the entire city’s budget process. The most obvious modification is the requirement that the new Utilities Superintendent be a college educated engineer. Accountability for that position would necessarily need to be consistent with employment conditions for all other department heads.
The mayor, by law, can hire and fire department heads.
And there’s the rub.
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