Questions over city's liability keeps Artery issue unresolved

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

EUREKA SPRINGS -- The Artery is back up in the air.

A month ago, City Council voted to keep The Artery under the auspices of the founder of the outdoor art gallery, Charlotte Buchanan, and her husband, James Yale. Two weeks ago the council tabled action on the contract to hold a workshop that resulted in a proposed four-year contract that would allow two sets of the 4 x 8 foot panels to be displayed.

Action on the contract was tabled Monday night. Buchanan stood listening quietly to the lengthy discussion, but Mayor Dani Joy refused to allow Buchanan to speak. At the end of the discussion when Buchanan said, "A lot of disinformation was presented here tonight," Joy cut her off saying, "You are out of order, Charlotte."

Earlier in the evening Joy called for the police after former Mayor Beau Satori went over the time limit of three minutes allowed for public comments. Satori was trying to finish a comment on the cost of replacing limestone sidewalks. Satori said the cost of replacing limestone sidewalks would average $8,000 per business, not $40,000 as was stated by Councilperson Joyce Zeller at a previous council meeting.

Earlier speakers against Buchannan went over the time limit, as well. But Satori went on even after the mayor said, "Beau, you don't get any more time than anyone else." Joy then called for the police. Later in the meeting a policeman arrived and stood behind Joy.

Buchanan said she should have been allowed to speak.

"They are abusing our Constitutional rights," Buchanan said. "I had a right to speak and correct the load of misconceptions. The public had a right to hear the contract read into the record and know what sections we were negotiating."

The first public comment came from Mickey Schneider, who said it isn't censorship, but common sense to avoid exposing children to nudity in public artwork.

"Innocent children and unsuspecting adults have no option but to look," Schneider said. "Charlotte being the only one to decide what artwork is used is ridiculous."

Buchanan has proposed an art committee to review the artwork. The city has discussed forming an art committee to review art for The Artery and other public areas.

A petition signed by 76 people in favor of Buchanan was presented by Chris Rose, who spoke about the painting which evidently has offended some people. It depicts a Madonna-like woman breast-feeding a nude baby.

"Breast feeding is natural," Rose said. "It is good. There is nothing obscene about it. It is good for our community and culture to advocate breast-feeding, which is beneficial to our children. I think The Artery and the cinema are assets to Eureka Springs, and I have collected the signatures of others who agree."

He also presented a petition with 81 signatures in favor of continued operation of the Starlight Lucky 13 outdoor cinema, also operated by Buchanan. Joy sent an e-mail to council members stating the outdoor cinema violates the city's noise ordinance.

Mayor questions cinema's legality

"I think the city is breaking their own law by allowing the theater to continue," Joy said.

Another public speaker, Phyl Shimaka, questioned the non-profit status of The Artery.

"If they are riding in on 501c3 status on the National Heritage Foundation, it just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection," Shimaka said. "The city should make sure it is being paid for public use of property. All artwork should conform to Arkansas standards for public decency."

The Artery Foundation is part of the National Heritage Foundation, and shares its federal tax status.

Karen Lindblad spoke highly of Buchanan and pointed out she has previously been named Businesswoman of the Year by the Greater Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Council members weigh in

Alderperson Robert Wagner was very upset with the proposed contract. "I would really like council to take more time with this," he said. "It is full of ambiguous holes that leave the city liable for lawsuits."

He said he wasn't opposed to a contract with Buchannan, but felt the proposal needed more work.

Zeller agreed. "What worries me is getting the city in the situation where we can be sued," Zeller said.

She also said she favors a Eureka Springs arts council to judge the appropriateness of art for public display.

Alderwoman Beverly Blankenship said that before Buchanan started The Artery, the city was looking at spending $30,000 to repair the crumbling retaining wall. She said since the contract workshop was held, she wanted to "hammer it out and get it done."

Alderperson James DeVito also wanted no more delays. Alderperson Butch Berry said since the city has had difficulties getting people to serve on boards like the planning commission, it might not have any better success choosing members for an arts council than Buchannan.

"I'm not sure this is well thought out," Berry said. "We are going to make people unhappy no matter what. If we want art, why don't we buy it?"

Joy said she had received advice from David Schoen, legal council for the Arkansas Municipal League.

Free speech issue raised

"If the city establishes what is known in the law as an open forum for display of artwork, then the city cannot regulate the content of the artwork without running afoul of the First Amendment's free speech clause," she said. "His suggestion was to take everything down, or commission through the city to buy artwork. That takes away the element of lawsuit." Action on The Artery contract was tabled.

In other business:

* Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jeff Feldman made a presentation regarding the "Welcome to Arkansas" statewide customer service improvement initiative. "We want to move the needle on customer satisfaction this year," Feldman said.

* Transit Director Lamont Richie and Police Chief Earl Hyatt made a presentation about proposed revisions to the city's emergency operations plan suggested by experiences from the recent ice storm, and recommendations from federal emergency planners. The revised operation plan that was passed by the council on first reading removes the city council and city attorney from being involved in issuing a state of emergency. During the ice storm, it was hard to get the council members and city attorney all together because of the problems getting around due to downed trees and icy roads.

"We think this plan is very good," Hyatt said. "It is a better tool and resource to deal with disasters."

* At the recommendation of Allan Jay Stallard, grant administrator, Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, the city closed out a grant for a water line for the Crescent condominium development water line.

Lindblad spoke saying the $210,000 project has not created the 25 jobs promised when the city received the federal grant. Stallard said that project started out well, but was harmed by the decline in the economy.

"Hardly anyone is creating jobs under these programs now," Stallard said.

DeVito said the water line helps equalize water pressure, and will be beneficial to future growth.

* The council voted to continue the moratorium on billboards for another 45 days and passed on first and second readings a sign ordinance that would outlaw all new off-site signage. Existing off-premise signs would be grandfathered in.

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