ES council waits to discuss application for tour franchise

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Eureka Springs City Council won’t be discussing Joe Gunnels’ application for a group tour franchise for a couple of weeks.

On Monday night, Mayor Butch Berry presented the application to the council, saying it was up for a two-year renewal. Alderman Terry McClung said he was surprised transit director Ken “Smitty” Smith wasn’t at the meeting, recalling when Smith spoke at a previous meeting.

“He made reference when he reported to us last time that he wanted to do this on his own,” McClung said. “Is that something we can consider?”

“I think at this point, what this is is for the group franchise,” Berry said. “When I talked to Smitty, he was talking about individual tours.”

Alderwoman Mickey Schneider suggested postponing the discussion and having a workshop with Gunnels and Smith, and alderman David Mitchell moved to postpone the issue until the council had more information on it. McClung seconded the motion and said he didn’t want to have a workshop.

“I think we need to have Smitty here and we need to have Joe Gunnels here,” McClung said. “Either we’re going to do it or we’re not going to do it. It’s that simple.”

Alderwoman Kristi Kendrick agreed.

“I don’t think this is appropriate for a workshop,” Kendrick said. “This is an application to city council and it should be done in a city council meeting.”

“I think the mayor can very easily suggest the two of them get together, have their own workshop and get back to us with a solution,” Mitchell said.

“That will be fine as long as we can get them together to talk,” Schneider said.

The council voted unanimously to approve the motion, waiting until its next meeting to address the issue.

In other business, Berry updated the council on the city’s search for a permanent meeting space that would adhere to ADA standards. Berry said he recently heard from the Eureka Springs Community Center Foundation, saying the foundation would like to work with the city to create a meeting space at the community center.

“I have talked with the superintendent of schools. We’re still waiting to get some feedback on some information I’ve asked from the school,” Berry said.

Mitchell recalled the other two proposed sites the council has visited on Norris Street and the downtown fire station and said the council has already agreed to make a decision on a permanent meeting space at its first meeting in October.

“If the community center knew they wanted to be considered, they need to get moving,” Mitchell said.

The community center foundation approached him around the time the council visited those two sites, Berry said, but there are some problems with the ownership of the property. The community center is leasing the old high school from the Eureka Springs School District.

“That issue of ownership came up in discussion at the last council meeting in regards to the trail around there,” Mitchell said.

Berry said he met with Eureka Springs superintendent Bryan Pruitt to talk about exactly that.

“They didn’t have a problem providing a lease around the perimeter … the sides of the school to parks,” Berry said. “Their problem was around the frontage. That’s where the issue came up. We’re looking at how the ownership of the property works. As soon as I know more, I’ll let the council know.”

Alderwoman Peg Adamson said it’s important to her that the permanent meeting space be a step up from the old facility.

“I feel the city has an opportunity to show support for the people of Eureka Springs by doing some kind of move that’s really an upgrade and really thinking in terms of an artistic upgrade,” Adamson said. “Something that would really show what everyone can do in this town and what we can actually do as a group.”

Berry moved on to present the financial report, saying the city is in the black by $246,000.

“Overall, I think we’re doing good. We’re showing an increase in the $246,000, which is a lot better than where we have been,” Berry said.

Local TJ Brooks spoke during public comments about the council’s temporary move to The Auditorium, a space that fits ADA standards. The council agreed to the temporary move after Joyce and Eric Knowles threatened to sue the city for not providing an ADA-accessible meeting space.

“I have been where you sit in a different state,” Brooks told the council, “and I want to thank you for what you’re doing.”

Schneider addressed the Knowleses during her council comments, saying the council hasn’t done anything about meeting ADA requirements for 20 years.

“This is the first one that has actually taken action to do, and y’all couldn’t wait three lousy months … before forcing us in here,” Schneider said. “We have no flag. We have no access to our mailboxes. When someone’s up there talking, you can see what they’re saying? If I sit here and sign to you everything that’s going on, will that help you?”

She continued, “This sucks. I have a ton of phone calls and people stopping by to tell me they watch it live at night … because they are elderly and it’s a whole lot easier for them to sit at home and watch the meeting rather than try to get here or there.”

Schneider said she has worked with “handicappers of all sorts” for 50 years.

“I have fought tooth and nail to make the sidewalks compliant, to get handicapped parking. I am not ignorant of the situation,” Schneider said. “I am furious that you’re so self-centered you couldn’t wait three lousy months and let the people … continue to be able to see, hear a live meeting or whatever in the comfort of their home.”

She added, “I think that was very disrespectful on your part. As far as I’m concerned, I’m concerned about the rest of the town and not you two, because you have made absolutely no effort whatsoever to deal with everybody. That’s how I feel, and I hope you are happy and proud of yourselves.”

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 9, at The Auditorium.

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