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Council to hold special meeting this morning

Mayor’s call for additional meeting unanswered by Tia Lyons | September 23, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

The El Dorado City Council may have one or two specially called meetings today.

Council members have agreed to hold at least one special meeting at 10 a.m. today to address several issues that appeared on the agenda for a regular council meeting that was canceled earlier this month due to the lack of a quorum.

The meeting will be held in the Council Chamber of City Hall.

The call to schedule a special meeting came this week after the Arkansas Municipal League weighed in on votes council members had taken by email to approve two resolutions that were on the Sept. 8 agenda and required a vote prior to the end of the month.

The council still has not rescheduled its regular monthly meeting.

On Sept. 13, City Attorney Henry Kinslow reminded council members that they needed to act on the pair of resolutions -- one for the annual property tax levy to be filed in the Union County Clerk's office and the other, a conservation easement for South Arkansas Regional Airport at Goodwin Field -- by Sept. 30.

In response to Kinslow's email, Council Member Vance Williamson, who did not attend the Sept. 8 council meeting, made a motion to approve the resolutions.

Five other council members -- Mike Rice, Avo Vartenian, Judy Ward, Dianne Hammond and Paul Choate -- replied in the affirmative to Williamson's email.

Council members Willie McGhee and Andre Rucks did not reply to Williamson's email.

The validity of the vote to approve the resolutions was uncertain since it was not conducted in an open, public meeting.

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AML recommended that some city business could be conducted by electronic means -- phone, video, email, etc. --, rather than in an open meeting to help protect public health and safety.

Actions taken in such a manner had to be reported and available to the public for review.

The AML discouraged such practices prior to the pandemic and has done so since COVID cases began to recede in the state.

Following the vote on the resolutions, Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer reached out to the AML about the matter.

In an email, John Wilkerson, general counsel for the AML, wrote that the council could not "properly vote" on the resolutions without a public meeting, adding that to do so is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

Wilkerson suggested that the matter could be rectified with a vote in an open meeting.

Smith-Creer shared the legal opinion with council members and on Tuesday, she notified them that while the tax levy resolution had already been signed and submitted to the Union County Clerk's office, Smith-Creer said she had stopped by the courthouse to withdraw the resolution and explain to the county clerk that the council had not legally approved it.

Further, Smith-Creer reminded council members that they agreed last year to reduce their regular meetings from two per month to one per month.

"Let me be perfectly clear when I say that I understand that you all set the meeting time and date. I hope you all understand that, by ordinance, you set that time at (5 p.m.) on the second Thursday of the month. You are in violation of your ordinance by not meeting on that date at that time," Smith-Creer wrote in an email.

Urging his fellow council members to reset the September meeting, Rucks also said the council has a duty to govern the affairs of the city and have agreed to meet in regular session once a month to do so.

Special meeting

On Wednesday, Hammond called for a special meeting to discuss the two resolutions, longevity pay and end-of-year bonuses for city employees, as well as potential bonuses from a second round of funding the city received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021 -- all items that were on the Sept. 8 agenda.

Last year, city officials agreed to spend a portion of more than $1.82 million in ARPA funding that was awarded to the city on employee bonuses.

Smith-Creer previously said the city is expected to receive the same amount this year.

Hammond asked that the council also consider another item that was on the agenda for Sept. 8 -- a funding recommendation from the El Dorado Works Board.

The EWB administers the one-cent, city sales tax for economic development, municipal infrastructure and quality-of-life projects.

On Sept. 8, the EWB was on the council's agenda to present a funding request of $11,200 to spruce up existing wayfinding signs ahead of the Arkansas Governor's Conference on Tourism, which will be held in El Dorado in late February.

The EWB approved the funding request Aug. 30 after it was presented by a local committee, of which Hammond is a member, who is working with the state to coordinate the conference.

Hammond explained that 31 of 200 existing wayfinding signs will be repainted and new letters will be added to direct visitors around the city during the conference.

The Department of Public Works will take care of installation.

Rice, Vartenian, Ward and Choate said they could attend today's special meeting.

Second special meeting?

In requesting the special meeting, Hammond cited a state law that says three city council members or the mayor can schedule a specially-called meeting.

To that end, Smith-Creer called a second special meeting to immediately follow the first today to address other "important" items that were on the Sept. 8 agenda.

A plan for diversity training for city employees and clarifications on the process by which city bills are paid and a co-mingling of certain city funds were among the items to which the mayor referred.

She also said a request for a street closure needs the council's attention as well.

Council members had not responded to Smith-Creer's request by late Thursday afternoon.

Print Headline: Council to hold special meeting this morning

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