ES council agrees to create Sustainability Committee

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Eureka Springs City Council isn’t getting rid of plastic bags just yet.

On Monday night, the council heard from citizens concerned about the council’s vote on April 23 to create a proposed ordinance banning plastic bags in the city. Several business owners said it would cost them more to use paper bags, and even that alternative isn’t ideal for the environment.

Alderman David Mitchell, who proposed the ordinance, said he meant to have a discussion about how the city handles plastic bags. The council had “some free flowing ideas,” Mitchell said, that caused him to propose the ordinance.

“We really weren’t putting out that we were rushing into an ordinance,” Mitchell said. “What I thought we were doing was having a discussion about the topic and introducing the subject to the community. It seems to have taken on a life of its own.”

Mitchell suggested establishing a committee to look into the issue, and alderwoman Mickey Schneider said she found Mitchell’s tone “highly ironic” after he proposed the ordinance without community input.

“Not one single time did you even consider letting the people of this town have input, even though I spent 20 minutes …” Schneider said.

Mayor Butch Berry interrupted Schneider, telling her to stick to the topic.

“Point of order. Point of order,” Mitchell said. “Point of order.”

“Both of you quit,” Berry said. “Both of you.”

“Point of order,” Mitchell said.

“Stick to the topic, please,” Berry said.

Schneider said she would and described some of the problems concerning plastic bags. If the council bans plastic bags, Schneider asked, would that include the plastic trash bags distributed by the city? Schneider said the council needs to have many workshops before coming to a decision on the matter.

Alderwoman Melissa Greene said she didn’t interpret Mitchell’s motion as an immediate ban on plastic bags.

“I in no way thought this was a done deal,” Greene said. “It was more like we’re going to discuss it.”

Alderman Bob Thomas asked city clerk Ann Armstrong to read Mitchell’s motion, and she said the motion was “to explore that [the council] draft an ordinance regarding the use of plastic bags within the city of Eureka Springs and their elimination.” Thomas said he appreciated the clarification.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us at one meeting to make a motion to write an ordinance and pass that motion, and at the next meeting saying there’s no mention of an ordinance,” Thomas said. “That confuses the community and it confuses me.”

Berry recalled a recent visit to Branson, where he met the city’s environmental director. He learned Branson has a Sustainability Committee, Berry said, broken into smaller committees addressing specific issues.

“What I was hoping to do was establish a sustainability committee with some key people, including department heads,” Berry said.

Mitchell said he liked that idea but wanted to address his motion .

“The motion was to explore,” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of people forgot the word ‘explore,’ because there’s a lot of meaning to that.”

Mitchell moved to establish the Sustainability Committee, and the council agreed to do so.

Also at the meeting, the council heard from planning commission chairwoman Ann Tandy-Sallee about two new proposed changes to the city code. Tandy-Sallee said the planning commission submitted a list of proposed changes to the council earlier this year and wanted to add two more. Those proposed changes include placing a sign notifying neighbors of new construction once it has been approved. Alderman Terry McClung said he wasn’t sure about that, saying he’s afraid some citizens might believe the sign gives them more power than it does.

“If a person has made an application and it’s all within the definition of the ordinance on a commercial building and somebody speaks out against it, does that mean you can deny it?” McClung asked.

Tandy-Sallee said that’s not the intent of the proposed change.

“It’s just the intent of letting the public know what’s going on,” Tandy-Sallee said. “I think people have a right to know.”

Greene said the proposed change is simply a courtesy to neighbors.

“If someone wants to build something commercial and it’s in our codes, they can do it,” Greene said. “It’s just a sign that’s going to be a notification that a project has started.”

Greene suggested that council accept the planning commission’s proposed code changes, and city attorney Tim Weaver said he hasn’t seen a final copy yet. Greene moved to get the final draft to Weaver for review by the council’s next meeting and amended her motion asking Weaver to put the proposed changes in an ordinance. The council voted on the amendment and the amended motion, unanimously agreeing to both.

The council moved on to hear from Weaver about the parks commission’s partnership with the Eureka Springs Community Center’s new greenhouse program. Weaver said he spoke with a representative from the Arkansas Municipal League and found it’s perfectly legal for the parks commission to pursue the partnership.

Mitchell said that’s not why Weaver was asked to check on the issue, recalling a motion he made Jan. 8 for the council to suspend all engagement with the community center until the council has the community center foundation’s articles of incorporation, lease with the school district and financial records. Mitchell said that motion applied to all city entities, saying Weaver agreed to that earlier in the year.

Weaver said the council agreed to allow the parks commission to continue discussing the partnership with the community center. This decision waived Mitchell’s original motion, Weaver said.

“That’s not what we did. It was never implied that the motion was being in any way redone,” Mitchell said. “I think you’re taking a discussion or a political view and stretching it way too far.”

“What’s the problem with letting parks go ahead and do something that’s good for the community?” Schneider asked. “Why can’t we just leave them alone to do their job?”

McClung moved to override Mitchell’s motion to suspend engagement with the community center, and Thomas said he can’t support that because parks commission chairman Bill Featherstone serves on the community center foundation’s board of directors.

“Mr. Featherstone is a volunteer on both those entities, and I think it’s very important to appreciate that,” McClung said. “He has nothing to gain here financially. The only thing he’s looking at is what he thinks is in the best interest of the city.”

Mitchell said his motion wasn’t about the integrity of anyone on the community center foundation. Rather, Mitchell said, he’s concerned about city resources being used to help a non-profit. When parks director Justin Huss came on, Mitchell said, Huss applied for two grants from the state tourism department for the exercise trail around the community center. Both applications failed, Mitchell said.

“I don’t know why Justin decided to do that on his own. I don’t think he did. I think he got direction somewhere,” Mitchell said.

Berry interrupted Mitchell, and Mitchell said he wasn’t finished speaking.

“Just keep it on track,” Berry said.

“I am, and you’re just trying to distort again and get me off track,” Mitchell said. “The city parks employees are paid by the city. To be using them in a capacity to support a 501(c)3 private entity, despite all the wonderful things it could do for the community and all the great people, is wrong.”

McClung’s motion failed 4-2, with Thomas, Mitchell and Greene voting against it and Schneider and McClung voting for it.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, May 29, at The Auditorium.

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