Hardy Council Meets and Makes Little Ground On Lengthy Agenda
Three new aldermen joined the Hardy City Council at its first meeting of 2013 on Feb. 5, but very little action was taken as a lengthy agenda was discussed in a meeting, that, at times, felt more like a debate session between the mayor and one new council member.
For the first time in the history of the Quad Cities, a husband and wife are on the six person council. Dale and Leanne Maddox joined the body, replacing former Aldermen Bob Gilliland and Nathan Circle. Also, first time alderwoman Vicky Rice has replaced Margaret Harness.
Mayor Nina Thornton opened the meeting by outlining the definition of an illegal meeting between council members per Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guidelines. She explained that two or more members could not discuss a topic, which the council was considering, outside a regular meeting venue. Dale Maddox, addressed Thornton’s statement, implying it was aimed at he and his wife. Maddox read read an Attorney General opinion on the topic, indicating the rules and certain instances where this type of FOIA violation may occur.
“There is potential for that, I understand, but I see six people here, and we are a council of integrity and that is the way we are going to operate,” Maddox said. The mayor said it was just her job to remind everyone of the rules and further explained that it wasn’t against the law for a married couple to be on the council together. She went on to remind the two not to discuss agenda or city items outside council meetings.
Under old business, City Attorney Jon Abele was asked to address the city’s proposed liquor ordinance, and options the city had in regard to further regulation above what the state already has in place. Abele outlined four options including permit fees, facility lighting, a per drink tax that the city could impose and a supplemental tax on a private club. Other Sharp County cities have already passed liquor ordinances. The discussion about the permit fees was aimed at on and off premise businesses ,and not the four full fledged liquor stores, which will open later. The “once price fits all” model seemed to be favored by the majority of the council, because there are no alcohol sales figures on which to base the permit fee. Council discussed an initial permit fee of $40, until the businesses have established one year’s worth of sales to judge the city’s take of the one half of one percent of sales fee.The city council would then have the option to revise the ordinance if it wants to base the permit fee on actual sales. Alderwoman Vicky Rice agreed, “I think one flat fee would be less confusing,” she said. Thornton explained all the building and business permit fees go to benefit the fire department. “It is beneficial to encouraging new businesses,” Rice said. Abele said it might not be wise to treat private club and on and off premise sales permits the same in regard to pricing. He explained the supplemental beverage tax of up to 5 percent per drink was an option that could also be imposed by the city. Many local businesses have expressed concern about that tax.
Alderman Maddox said permit fees should not be set too high initially. “It seems to me, at least for this year, to charge a single fee for all business. My own thinking is that we have new businesses. I know there is negative impact with alcohol sales in some places, but we do not know how that is going to unfold. I don’t see a reason to be punitive with taxes to new businesses right out of the gate. There is always opportunity to raise the fee in the future.”
After a lengthy discussion, the topic was tabled until council could meet on Feb. 7, in a working meeting, to further discuss the options.
Currently, Hardy has one business with an on-premise license to sell beer and wine. Abele also stated on-premise businesses are required to have an additional city permit, above and beyond their regular business license, to sell beer and wine. Thornton said businesses seeking beer and wine permits are required to go to training in Little Rock before being issued licenses, and they should be aware they will also need a city license. The mayor advocated for the five cent tax for the city, stating, “If I drank and went to a club and it was a nickel (tax) on a dollar (purchase), five cents is not going to make me not drink that beer. I just don’t think that is going to keep anyone from drinking a beer.”
Donations to complete Woodland Hills substation
Chief Rose addressed council about the Woodland Hills Fire Department substation, which will house a base for a crew from Spring River Ambulance. The substation will improve ambulance response time in Hardy, and cut the company’s fuel cost, compared to its current Ozark Acres base. Rose gave an update on the renovations to the building near city hall, which currently houses a pumper truck and some water rescue equipment. Rose spoke of the need for community financial support to help with the costs to complete the remodeling of the station. For more information on the project, see a related story in this week’s edition.
Possible Purchase of Lot by Fire Department Substation
Council then discussed the proposed purchase of a small lot and doublewide home next door to the Woodland Hills substation. The land, which lies in a flood plain, is coming up for auction by a private company on Feb. 16. Chief Rose explained there is currently only a few feet of clearance on each side of the building. If the fire department ever plans to expand, this would be the only opportunity to purchase the property. Maddox questioned whether the city can purchase private property at auction, and suggested a private individual should purchase it and perhaps sell it to the city. Thomas Estes, a reporter with the Spring River Chronicle, spoke from the audience asking the mayor why the city didn’t take the property by imminent domain. The mayor said that would not be fair to the property owner. No decision was made as to how the city should handle the issue of obtaining the lot.
A discussion about canceling city council meetings and setting times for meetings sparked another lengthy discussion, that at times resembled an argument between the mayor and members of the council, particularly Dale Maddox. Alderman Maddox presented a detailed motion regarding meeting times, dates and other meeting rules. The draft was immediately met with debate from the mayor.
In the proposal, Maddox suggested the proper method for canceling a meeting would be for the mayor to obtain agreement from one alderman from each ward. Thornton said, “Well, I just can’t call you up and ask you, because that is an illegal meeting. You can’t do that.”
Maddox countered by stating, “Well, you can cancel a meeting with just your spoken voice, that doesn’t seem quite correct.” Maddox questioned why she could not call alderman and ask whether they wanted to cancel a meeting. Thornton replied,”If I call to ask you to vote on whether or not to have a meeting, that is a meeting.” Maddox pointed out that the January council meeting was canceled by the mayor, simply sending out a letter. Alderwoman Maddox suggested the mayor could inform aldermen when she saw a need to cancel a meeting, giving alderman the initiative to agree or disagree.
The mayor said she did not think that was right. Some aldermen saw a need to change the rule from how it has “historically” been done. Alderman Maddox pointed out the mayor has cancelled meetings in the past and not rescheduled them, something that leads to a very lengthy agenda at later meetings. He asked Thornton how she did that, in the past, if there was no ordinance giving her the power.
Thornton explained that, after attending the Municipal Leagues Winter conference, it was advised that each city should have an ordinance specifying meeting times. Maddox said he felt it was important for the council to follow the Municipal League suggestion to pass meeting rules and regulations at the first meeting of the year.
Finally, after nearly 20 minutes of debate, the council voted unanimously to hold meetings at 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month at Hardy City Hall. Due to scheduling conflicts by the mayor and clerk, the council’s next meeting was moved from Feb. 19 to Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.
After jumping the meeting time hurdle, Alderman Maddox proposed an agenda format to follow, which is somewhat different than the current one the city has used in that past. Maddox explained that, in the past, public comments and presentations have been last on the agendas prepared by the mayor. He said it was not respectful to the public. He also suggested Clerk Groves prepare the agenda. After the motion and second were made to vote, the mayor began a discussion stating, she “has always done the agenda” and that Groves, “has no interest in doing the agenda.”
The new format also included allowing department reports to be presented, something currently done by all other cities in Sharp County, except Hardy.
Maddox’s motion proposed allowing speakers to appear before the council before business is conducted. The mayor continued to question Maddox’s motion, despite a motion and a second to vote on the item. Thornton asked why he wanted Groves to prepare the agenda rather than her.
Groves explained she did not have time because, unlike recorder-treasurers in other cities, she does not have a secretary and is in the process of learning a new auditing program. Eventually, the council unanimously voted on the agenda format, including having Groves prepare agendas and changing the deadline for anyone wishing to get on the agenda from to 4 p.m. on Thursday. The former deadline to get on the agenda was Friday at 4 p.m.
Main Street Hardy
Al Corte, Executive Director of the Main Street Hardy organization, asked that the city make its appropriation of $1,500, something he said was pledged last year but never made. The funds help with expenses of Main Street Hardy events. Besides the March 23-24 Gun and Knife show slated for the Hardy Gym, Corte also outlined 2013 activities planned by Main Street Hardy. They include a Crafters Day set for April 27 to feature local crafters in the downtown, an outdoor Bingo night and a Mountain Music Festival on May 18. The fall brings plans for an Oktoberfest downtown.
For 2013, per the new ordinance passed at the Feb.5 meeting, council meetings will be held one hour earlier than in 2012 — 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays at Hardy City Hall. The public is welcome to attend the meetings.
(Reprinted with permission:) © Copyright 2013, Area Wide News
Story URL: http://www.areawidenews.com/story/1940985.html