Petitions just short of signatures

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Carroll County Clerk Shirley Doss has certified 133 of the 164 names on 13 pages of petitions to change the form of municipal government in Eureka Springs.

The petitions ask to change from the mayor/alderman system to that of city administrator.

They were submitted to Doss about 4:30 p.m. Friday, March 19.

In the city administrator system, the administrator is hired by a seven-member board of directors. The mayor's position becomes primarily ceremonial.

Doss said Monday morning one of the 13 pages of petitions had not been signed by the canvasser (person asking for signatures on the page) and had to be thrown out.

There were 13 additional signatures Doss could not certify as registered voters within Eureka Springs city limits.

A total of 145 signatures are needed, 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the November 2002 mayoral race.

Doss said she had notified James DeVito, one of the petition organizers, of the insufficiency and he had brought in two additional pages of signatures Monday morning.

She has another 10 days to certify the signatures on the new pages.

Once she has completed her certification, Doss sends the petitions to Arkansas Secretary of State Charlie Daniels for additional certification.

He then calls for an election within 30 to 50 days of his certification. That could place the issue on a ballot for the May 18 primary election, since it is already scheduled.

Once the election is held, there are 15 days to challenge the results. When those days have passed, Doss sends the election results to the secretary of state for further certification.

Once the state certifies the election results, the city council is required to divide the city into four wards of approximately equal population size.

Carroll County Election Commission Chairman Levi Phillips commented on that division to Mayor Kathy Harrison during the Heroes Breakfast (see related story on Page 1) Thursday morning.

"In my opinion, Eureka would have to have a census taken to determine the numbers to divide up for the wards," he said. "You can't just draw lines on the city map and call it equal."

Within 10 days of the wards being established, the secretary of state must set a primary election in 60 to 75 days and a general election to follow, seven to 15 days later.

Candidates for the seven-member board of directors and the mayor's post then have 20 days to file a 50-signature petition.

Races with more than three candidates will be on the primary election ballot. The top two will face each other in the general election.

Positions #1 through #4 on the board are elected by voters of the specific wards. The other three board seats and the mayor are elected at large.

The ward representatives will serve only two years -- until the next general election, if the first election is held this November.

Those in the at-large seats and the mayor will serve until the second general election in November of 2008.

After that, all terms are four year terms.

While the mayor continues to preside over the board meetings, the other duties are primarily ceremonial. The mayor does not have a vote during board meetings, but still has veto power.

Once the board of directors is in place, the group is required to hire a city administrator to supervise and control all administrative departments, agencies, offices and employees; and nominate all city commission members, subject to board approval.

The administrator takes on all powers currently held by the mayor and any additional duties which may be assigned by the board.

The administrator can be hired for an indefinite term, but the board could fire him/her. The board is prohibited by state law from firing the administrator between Jan. 1 and March 1 following a general election.

The board of directors acts as the legislative branch of the city government -- passing laws and approving budgets while the administrator is responsible for running the city.

Eureka's city government began as a mayoral form in April of 1880, according to the city hall website.

It was changed to a city commission form in early 1916. The change to mayor/alderman form came in early 1968.

A special election was held in April of 1980 to try to change to the city administrator form of government. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 506 to 403.

All six members of the current city council are up for election this fall. They serve two-year terms while the mayor and city clerk serve four year terms. Mayor Harrison has two years and nine months left in her term.

Former Mayor Don Thurman was the first to hire an administrative assistant, Gerald Carr, in the mid-1980s. There have been three others since that time. The post has been vacant since August of 2003.

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