Alma City Council members overrode a mayoral veto of two measures that placed parks department duties under the city planner and increased his salary during their meeting Thursday night.
Council members unanimously agreed to override Mayor Keith Greene’s veto of Ordinance 2017-18 that places oversight of the parks department under city planner Buddy Gray and a resolution that increases his salary contingent upon the parks duties.
Greene vetoed the measures on June 16, the morning after they were passed unanimously by the city council.
Before council members took up the veto issue Thursday night, Greene, reading from statements he had prepared, went on a 25-minute verbal attack of the city council, the city attorney and a June 21 article about his veto published in the Press Argus-Courier newspaper.
In his assault, Greene on multiple occasions called city council members “foolish,” the city attorney “incompetent,” and reporting by the Press Argus-Courier “mediocre,” “one-sided” and “biased.”
Greene also called Alderman John Ware a “qualified misappropriator of city funds.”
Greene framed the assault as a response to the news article, which laid out comments from City Attorney Rinda Baker, Ware and Alderman Jerry Martin regarding the mayor’s veto.
It should be noted that a call made to the mayor’s office from the Press Argus-Courier before the article was published requesting a response to the attorney’s and council members’ comments was never returned.
Council members sat quietly during Greene’s statements, only responding later in the meeting.
One of the primary topics covered in the mayor’s statements was the use of an emergency clause to put the parks ordinance into immediate effect, which, in a letter accompanying the vetoed measures, is the reason he gave for his actions.
Greene offered an opinion from attorney David Shoen with the Arkansas Municipal League based on a 1995 Arkansas Supreme Court case of Burroughs v. Ingram.
Shoen’s opinion, Greene said, is that the emergency clause of the parks ordinance is not specific enough to comply with Article 5, Amendment 7 of the state constitution.
Under Amendment 7, if it is necessary for the preservation of public peace, health and safety, a measure can become effective without delay, but the clause must state the facts that constitute such emergency.
Greene also called into question every emergency clause on any ordinance written by Baker, going back as far as to mention her first meeting as city attorney during which council members unanimously approved up to $1,500 a month in reimbursements for costs related to her job.
Baker addressed Greene’s statement on the emergency clause during discussion of the measure to override the mayor’s veto.
“I disagree with Mr. Shoen’s opinion; I disagree with him fervently,” Baker said.
Baker brought forward three more recent cases heard by the Supreme Court that conflict with Shoen’s opinion, and said that Shoen’s research was incomplete and did not take into consideration these cases.
“And, according to the Arkansas Supreme Court, the test of sufficiency is whether reasonable minds differ as to whether an emergency exists; if they do, an emergency exists,” Baker said. “I’d say that reasonable minds differ here and therefore an emergency exists.”
In his statement, Greene said he had reached out to reporters at the Southwest Times Record newspaper to look into the misuse of emergency clauses.
Greene also asked council members to reconsider giving Gray the additional parks duties, and said Gray had already complained to him about duties turned over to him by the public works department.
“I want to make a note - I did not say Mr. Gray couldn’t do the job. I just want you to think about if it’s a good idea,” Greene said.
Gray said there was only one duty he brought to the mayor, which had to do with handling the municipal sanitary sewer registration system, also called an MS4. Gray is still handling this duty, he said.
“Upon studying the MS4 book, it didn’t appear that duty was something for the planning department,” Gray said.
Other portions of Greene’s statements focused on comments in the June 21 article related to the parks department.
In that article, a list of concerns discussed by council members during their study sessions were outlined and taken from an email sent by Ware.
Those concerns included allowing parks employees to drive vehicles home when they are not “on call,” careless allocation of park bond funds by the mayor, phone calls to council members about parks employees “not working,” poor supervision of parks employees, not appropriating sufficient start-up funds for the aquatic park and inadequate monthly reporting.
Mike Walker and Gordan Goodwin, two parks employees who felt the comments on parks were directed at them, attended the city council meeting with family and friends there to support them.
Walker spoke during the citizens forum section of the meeting.
“The news article that came out a few weeks ago pretty much just made me mad,” Walker began.
Walker listed numerous duties performed by he and Goodwin that include mowing all city properties each week, removing fallen tree limbs and filling in graves at the city cemetery, cleaning bathrooms and dumping trash.
Addressing Alderman Eddie Wakefield, who also is the city fire chief, Walker told of an incident in which he and Goodwin removed a fallen tree from across the new dock at the water that was built for use by the fire department.
“Me and Gordan cleaned it up and never said anything,” Walker said. “We do a lot of stuff that people don’t ever know we do.”
Walker also questioned council members’ claims about complaints from residents. He and his family demanded an apology from council members to be submitted in the newspaper.
Ware and Martin both apologized to Walker during the meeting, and said the comments were not meant as a commentary on the quality of their work, but as a criticism of the mayor’s management of the parks department.
“The reason this is happening is because every time we ask questions about the park and park employees, we don’t get any answer,” Ware said. “It’s not about you or Gordan.”
Martin reiterated Ware’s comments.
“When we talk about direction and leadership, it’s not just Mike and Gordan that are part of the parks department - there are other things that are a part of this,” Martin said.
In an interview after the meeting, Gray said Walker and Goodwin were hard workers and were not the root of the problem.
“The problem is in basic administrative duties,” Gray said.
Also during the Thursday meeting, council members approved a resolution to name the Arkansas 162 bridge after Alma civic leader Bill Blasingame who died from cancer in 1997.
Construction of the bridge and adjoining street were recently completed by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. The street was named for the late Marsha Woolly, an educator and civic leader in Alma.
Bill Blasingame was a certified public accountant and legislative auditor for the state for 37 years, said his wife Rosemary Blasingame.
He often volunteered his talents and was active in community organizations such as the Rotary International and the Boys and Girls Club of the Alma Area, Rosemary Blasingame said.
Bill Blasingame also was a Vietnam War veteran retired from the Army, Rosemary Blasingame said.
Council members also approved a resolution agreeing to appropriately use a state grant meant for street maintenance. Greene said the money will be used to overlay asphalt on Collum Lane and Maple Shade Road.
As part of the agreement, city monies will be used to pay for the cost to acquire right-of-ways and move utilities.
A resolution urging state legislators to call a special session and approve a proposal to collect sales tax for purchases made online was also approved by the council.