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Council Meeting Highlights: One Woman’s Observations

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June 16, 2013 by wcobserver

Special to the Observer

From Michele Allen Winkler

In a 6 to 1 vote the West Fork City Council voted to restrict Mayor Frances Hime’s performance of her lawful duties and responsibilities.  Despite the fact that City Attorney Justin Eichmann instructed the Council that they cannot restrict a mayor’s actions in this manner and that the motion is not enforceable, Councilman Charles Rossetti pushed it forward.  As I recall, the Council in August 2010 asked another elected official to resign because they didn’t like how she chose to carry out her duties. At that time City Clerk Susan Cooney, graciously declined and continued to serve admirably.  Oh… and the citizens voted to dissolve the Water and Sewer Commission and make it a department of the city, but the Council voted contrary to the wishes of the electorate …again.

Tuesday night’s series of unfortunate events happened in the middle of the Mayor’s proposal to reactivate the Police Commission in the manner outlined by a City Ordinance. To that end she had talked to some folks to see if they would be interested in serving on the commission should a position be available.  Well, other folks felt that they should have been in on the conversation.  Mr. Jerry Jensen, who says he is on the commission, first heard of it at Jake’s and was none too happy.

 

Mr. Rossetti interrupted the mayor to cite her for lack of communication in this matter, despite the fact she had notified the Council members a week before by way of the agenda.  Did anyone contact her to explore this?  Did anyone request the Commission minutes?    Instead of discussing it like grownups and getting the facts, the mayor was publicly berated and another attempt to subvert democracy was made.

Despite the fact that according to Arkansas State Law the Mayor acts as the executive officer of the city, the following motion was made by Mr. Rossetti:

“I move that Mayor Hime is to discuss all business with appropriate West Fork employees and all elected officials before contacting any business, agency, or government entity about West Fork business and that Mayor Hime must have the approval of the Council before making contact with any business, agency, or government entity.”

To be clear the vote was as follows:

Shane Donahue deferred at first, then voted Yes

Anita Lowry                   No

Charles Rossetti            Yes

Ed Stout                       Yes

Julie Shafer                   Yes

Bill Sergeant                 Yes

Mike Nelson                  Yes

Sara Setzer                  Absent

 

Anita Lowry alone opposed the motion.   She acknowledged that there are multiple conflicts, saying that the employees are caught in the middle, adding “I think we need to do what is right …All we do is waste time….Times have changed.”

Speaking of wasting time, the issue of whether a husband (Bob Staats) and wife (Robin Wilson Staats) can serve on the same commission came up….again.   This was first discussed when Ms. Staats was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Planning Commission in 2011. Then when the reappointment of Robin Wilson Staats came up at the  May 14, 2013 City Council Meeting, it was decided to wait for the Planning Commission’s recommendation.  On May 16, 2013 that commission recommended 3 to 1 that Robin Wilson Staats be reappointed.  Now, June 2013 here it comes again. ..excruciating… especially considering there is no law against it as confirmed by a city  attorney, twice.

A vacancy on the Planning Commission will wait to be filled until July when the issue can be discussed for at least the fourth time. Both Councilmen Mike Nelson and Bill Sergeant insist they like Ms.Wilson Staats, but they want  the unpaid commissioners to have the same structure as the  paid municipal employees.   It seems to me that a husband and wife (or other cohabitants: domestic partners, significant others, siblings, simply roommates, parent/child) are probably less likely to conspire than the coffee klatch at Jakes.  In any case, let’s settle it once and for all and get on with the business of governing.

But back to the Police Commission… I asked City Clerk Marsha Hungate for the minutes from that commission for the last 5 years; only one set of minutes was available; it was dated May 2010.  The Police Commissioners listed at that meeting were Jerry Jensen, Tony Alvarado and Tim Helder.  The term of each commissioner is 5 years, and the commission is to submit budget estimates on a yearly basis and report to the City Council at the June and November City Council meeting on the activities of the Commission. I reviewed the City Council minutes from November 2007 through May 2013 and see no Commission reports or confirmation of new Commissioners.  I believe this qualifies as a lack of communication…legislated communication.

So my questions are: #1) Was the accusation regarding communication lobbed at the Mayor simply as a diversion tactic to obscure the more egregious fact that the Police Commission is evidently nonfunctional?  #2) Do sworn public officials, yet again, need reminding that a meeting has to be announced and records have to be kept, otherwise it’s not a meeting?  Otherwise it’s just the Good Ole’ Boys chattin’ it up.

Next…good things did happen at the Council meeting.  THE WEB SITE IS UP www.westforkar.com !  Check it out.  There are some features like the connection to the westforkar.gov site and a few additions to fully meet ADA standards that are forth coming, but congratulations and thanks to the committee, especially to Mayor Hime and former Councilperson Joan Wright who have been stalwart members since its inception during this administration, and to Gail Hardy, Web designer and owner of Xpressions who has stuck with the city through many daunting meetings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Second good bit of news: WiFi will soon be available in the Community Center. This will be a great advantage to everyone from seniors to kids to groups who want to access cyberspace during functions there, another great technological step for West Fork. And even better, we got it at a great price with no monthly fees.  Kudos goes to Art Hughes for navigating this for the city.

Another techie-treat: smart phones are coming to the City Administration building.  They will be able to record the city council meetings and transfer them immediately to other digital media.  Mr. Sergeant worried that some officials or employees might ease drop on colleagues’ conversations.  The Mayor assured him that not only is that not possible, but also the city employees are too professional to do such a thing.  Frank Adams who is a Water and Sewer Commissioner and also works with Windstream, helped finesse the project and has generously volunteered to do some of the work himself…more thank yous to one of our citizens.

In other news the City Council has again discussed the possibility of buying the Christian Church (also referred to in the minutes as the Community Church). Mr. Kenny Miller who is in the group selling it said they would like it preserved in some manner, but are now willing to sell it without restrictions, including razing it. Mr. Bartholomew’s inspection revealed some problems, particularly upgrades that would need to be done.  Mr. Miller said the heat and air system is relatively new and that the building needs to be seen to be appreciated, so the Council will make a visit there June 29, 2013 at 9 a.m. Because this is a Council meeting anyone from the public may also go.  Before any decision is made a title search will be done.  The deed reads that if this property is not used for church purposes the land shall fall back to the original owner, J.W.Bell and Lucinda Bell, or their heirs.  So far no one can identify this couple or their heirs.

Mayor Hime proposed additional hours for the cleaning staff at the Community Center and creating a position to assist with some of the Renewable Resource Center chores that Mr. Paul Libor formerly took care of.  In response to Councilperson Julie Shafer’s question Mayor Hime suggested that a total of 20 hours per month would probably take care of it.  Next month a cost estimate will be brought to the council for their consideration.

Michael “Butch” Bartholomew, Water and Sewer supervisor and Robert White from McClelland Engineering reported on how the funds for the new sewer system are going.  One and a quarter million dollars are secured through a “loan forgiveness” and another half million is expected.

Meeting was adjourned sometime around 9:40p.m.  The budget-education session planned for after this did not convene . . .whew!

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2 comments »

  1. Jim Power says:

    Hmmmm….So the city council voted to restrict the Mayors power even though the City Attorney basically told them they couldn’t legally do this ? Is this then breaking a law ? Seems like when the council is sworn in , do they not take an oath to uphold at least the laws and requirements of the office they are elected to ? Be sure and include on the new website that in West Fork , even though you might break a law , come on down and move in. Maybe more fine citizens , such as the city council , will move here.

  2. Susan Cooney says:

    it really seems like this town has a thing against elected officials doing work for us.

    Thanks to Mayor Hime and Ms. Joan Wright for getting the website. Thank you very much for our water commissioner giving or town hall and community center a leg up onto the communication super highway.

    While our broke town is buying property, I wish they could buy that old Logmedics building by the river. We could use it for water and other natural resource issues.
    Pretty sad about the police commission hardly producing any minutes to any of their get togethers.

    Sounds like no business as usual from our City Council. I’m pretty disappointed in Shane Donahue and glad Anita Lowry still has an independent mind. Just because council members don’t like a mayor doesn’t mean they can throw out democracy.

    Thanks Michelle for sharing.
    I’m enjoying this Summer and looking forward to voting next year!

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