Disagreements between the Alma mayor and city council members have created a hostile work environment, city employees said during a public study session Tuesday night.
City Clerk Wayne Beck, city employee Donna Martin - the wife of Alderman Jerry Martin - and several department heads including Public Works Director Mark Yardley asked for an end to the bickering between the city council and Mayor Keith Greene.
Beck was the first to speak and pleaded with the mayor and council members to resolve their differences and work together to improve the city.
“All the negativity and the fighting is overshadowing the progress,” Beck said. “The negativity is having a detrimental effect on the morale, the health and the productivity of the employees in all departments.”
Beck spoke more specifically for those working in the mayor’s office, and park’s employees who he said told him they felt attacked when reading comments from council members reported by the Press Argus-Courier.
“I’ve kept my my mouth shut for a long time, but it came a time I felt I had to speak up for the employees - and I’m one of them; I had to speak up for the residents - and I’m one of them,” Beck said.
Donna Martin told the mayor and council members that dispute is affecting her marriage and her job.
“I want it to stop; I want the attacks on my husband to stop,” Donna Martin said.
The dispute between the mayor and the city council has been going on for up to a year, but has intensified in recent months with statements read by Greene in the two most recent council meetings in which he attacked multiple council members, at least one department head, the current and former city attorney, and the Press Argus-Courier.
Each statement lasted at least 15 minutes and up to 25 minutes, and were read during the mayor’s notes section of the meeting.
After hearing from Donna Martin and Beck, the mayor asked if any of the department heads attending the meeting had anything to add.
Yardley spoke up, admitting that he had considered quitting his job with the city over the dispute.
“Mayor, I don’t want to point the finger just at you, but these letters you’ve been writing are so, so bad,” Yardley said. “If this does continue, I don’t know what I’ll consider doing.”
Those who spoke all said that the argument was creating a blight on the city.
Alderman Gary Perry, who has sat on the council a total of about 30 years, said he has never “witnessed anything like what we’ve been through in the last six months.”
“I think sometimes we forget what our responsibility is to the citizens of Alma, and that is to be the best representative of the city as we can,” Perry said.
Perry noted that all those on the council and the mayor carry equal responsibility in governing the city, and it is in their best interest to respect each other - even if they do not like each other.
“This council as a whole would operate a lot better,” Perry said. “That’s how we need to function to move this great city of Alma, Ark., that we love, forward. We can’t move forward with this dissension going on, because it affects the entire city.”
Earlier in the study session, Jerry Martin suggested a change to council meeting procedural rules, so that any comments read during the meeting must be submitted prior to the meeting.
“We need to do something that will keep this focused on city business so that we can move forward and take care of the things that all of us have been elected to take care of, and done in a manner that hopefully will make the people around here proud,” Martin said.
Alderman John Ware agreed with the recommendation. Both Ware and Jerry Martin have had the most contentious disputes with the mayor, and have been targets in the two mayor’s statements read during council meetings.
“This is a city council meeting, this is not Mayor Greene’s meeting,” Ware said. “I think a lot of the things that have happened at the last two council meetings at least are not representative of the majority of people sitting at this table.”
City Attorney Rinda Baker recommended adding to the procedural resolution a requirement that city heads work professionally and courteously.
Alderman Jerry Martin also asked for the city to look into updating how planning commission members are appointed and how their agenda is set, with consideration to the hiring of a city planner earlier this year.
A special study session with Jim Von Tunglin, an Arkansas Municipal League planning and zoning consultant, has been set up for Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 6 p.m. to discuss the planning commission.
Also considered during the study session was a name change to a section of what was previously a part of Arkansas Highway 162, now taken over by the city, that travels east from the street fork at Harps Food Store to West Cherry Street.
Suggestions included North Cherry Street and Eastfork Street, or changing the entire section from Harps to the current Fayetteville Avenue to Fayetteville Avenue.
Businesses that would potentially be affected by the change are Coleman Pharmacy of Alma, J&J Restaurant, Calvary Chapel, Alma Community Outreach Center, Judy’s Resale Shop, T&L Barber and Style Shop and Western Arkansas Child Development/Kiddie Kollege, as well as a few residences.