Column: "Sauntering": There used to be petitions everywhere

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

by Mary Jean Sell

In the olden days, say the past 15 to 20 years, residents of Eureka Springs could get a petition drive going to protect or save or get rid of just about anything -- trees, tourists on large buses, whatever.

It has been at least two years, maybe almost three, since a petition hit the city council table. That one was thrown down by former Mayor Beau Satori.

He had canvassed restaurant owners to support Linda Hager as a candidate for the City Advertising and Promotion Commission (CAPC).

The council didn't pay any attention to the more than 100 signatures he had gathered, but decided listening to the half dozen or so telephone calls which made them more responsive to their constituents. Hager didn't get the appointment, twice.

With all the uproar and hooo-haaa going on right now about the CAPC and the expansion of the collectors list (which most of the "aginners" are calling the imposition of a new tax), no one is circulating a petition to repeal the city statutes enabling the collection of the 2 percent sales tax.

We have been assured by those who don't want to collect the tax from "regional shoppers" (a new definition for people who live in other towns but shop here on a somewhat-regular basis) that if the tax would be dropped, thousands more people would flock here to shop til they dropped.

Who knew that was the answer to declining tourism in Eureka Springs? How simple - just repeal the CAPC tax!!

There are always people railing against the Historic District Commission (HDC) because they don't want to obey the rules and get their exterior work approved. It seems to be more fun to do things and see if you can get caught or not.

So why not get a petition together and do away with the HDC? They are only here to make our lives miserable with more rules.

Surely not that many visitors will recognize the difference in wood and plastic as they drive down the streets.

And how about this group that wants to overthrow the current city government and bring in a new system?

You couldn't go to the grocery store and sign the petition, you had to call a telephone number, give the secret password and someone came to your home and you got to sign one of the petition pages. Or they gave you an address of where a petition could be found.

I am hearing rumors of forged signatures, canvassers who signed that they had witnessed each signature when they weren't anywhere close, incorrect information being given out as the reason for the petitions, etc. But those are rumors, who listens to them??

What I do know about this particular petition drive is that the primary group involved all have bones to pick with Mayor Kathy Harrison.

Cindy Akins got the job she was promised during the campaign but the CAPC didn't want to fund a film commissioner's position, so she quit. I don't blame her for that, but she has been putting out a lot of allegations of the mayor not being truthful.

She has appointed herself as the conscience for the community in all matters, but she doesn't attend council meetings or write letters to the editor or put herself on the public line, just on the electronic gossip line.

James DeVito lost in the primary for the last mayoral race and threw his support to Harrison's opponent in the general election.

He tried to work a deal with K.J. Zumwalt to "guarantee" him an appointment to the CAPC, but that didn't work out either.

He served on the city council with Harrison, but never mentioned a need for a new type of city government during his council term -- not even after former Mayor Beau Satori was charged with felonies and misdemeanors relating to failure to pay sales tax and not having business permits.

But that was Satori's business, I guess the assumption is that those practices didn't, or couldn't, spill over into his mayoral duties.

And certainly, no one on the council tried to stop Satori's public berating of council and commission members for what he thought were poor job performances.

DeVito told the CDP Steering Committee last week he is stepping aside as chairman for a while so, "I can reorganize the city government."

He did amend the statement to say he would "be involved with the reorganization of the city government." How? Its all supposed to be done with an election process.

Aldermen Penny Carroll, Butch Berry and Gayle Money were the ones who fought so hard to get former City Administrative Assistant (not City Administrator) Kim Dickens reinstated after Harrison fired her last summer.

They tried to get special council meetings together, tried to override Harrison's actions and veto, but couldn't quite get the procedures right for some of those moves.

And not one of these people have mentioned exploring the possibility of a change in government at the council table. It hasn't been on an agenda or a topic for a workshop or a committee to investigate.

I would think the people of our community would want some public discussion BEFORE they were asked to sign petitions, but it didn't work that way.

I really don't know how Joe Zickmund is involved, because he is, as he so often tells us, a team player who goes by the rules -- the ones already in place.

Former city hall employee Tori Bush continues to be critical at every opportunity of everything being done at city hall by anyone working there. Bush quit because she didn't like the new administration because those people were mean to her friend Dickens.

She went to the Eureka Springs Elementary School and solicited signatures for the petitions during school hours.

I understand some of those at the school who signed have made inquiries about taking their signatures off, but it is too late. According to rumors, they feel they were misinformed.

So what happens if the community should approve the change in government and no one steps forward to serve? We had a hard time a year ago getting candidates to sign up for council. And how many were unopposed?

Two of the serving council members were appointed, not elected.

Does this group have candidates already lined up for council and mayor? Do they already have someone in mind to hire as the city administrator?

How are they going to guarantee that the new system will work any better than the one we have?

An elected mayor and council have to be responsive to the people of the community. An administrator doesn't. He or she only has to be responsive to the board of directors -- the seven people who hire the administrator.

We can hardly get more than three council members to agree on anything now. How will four, or more, agree on who to hire?

I surveyed the three cities who now have a city administrator -- Ft. Smith, Barling and Siloam Springs. Administrator salaries go from $46,800 to $109,000 and none of them were professional administrators when they were hired.

The mayors of Ft. Smith and Siloam Springs make $10,000 per year and the mayor of Barling makes $5,500.

Directors in Siloam Springs make $1,992 a year; those in Ft. Smith make $1,000, and in Barling they make $2,000 per year.

The mayor of Barling would like to see his city go back to the mayor/council form of government.

He wouldn't say exactly why, but he did say, "It is possible for an administrator to have four board members in his pocket and they can approve anything he wants."

In Eureka Springs, when half a dozen phone calls can sway a city council's vote, is a city administrator listening to only seven directors a better deal for the city?

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By the way, the material you have just read is a column, not an editorial. It is my opinion, not the opinion of this newspaper. I want to make that very clear to those of you who have the two confused.

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