ES Council discusses doubling mayor's pay

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Eureka Springs -- Debating whether or not to change the duties and pay of the city's elected city attorney and city clerk/treasurer, aldermen argued both sides of making changes or leaving things as they have been since 2003.

Any changes made, they were told by Mayor Kathy Harrison and City Attorney Tim Weaver, would not take effect until the first of next year, when both offices are up for election. After that, salaries could not be lowered during the terms lasting four years.

During the discussion on the city attorney's duties and pay, the council paused to conduct the meeting's "open mic" portion of the meeting. Only one person appeared to speak -- former alderman Karen Lindblad -- who urged the council to resist making any changes to either position. Requiring the city attorney to be present at council meetings and maintaining full-time hours for the city clerk is "the best use of taxpayer money," Lindblad said.

Following resumption of the discussion, Alderman Terry McClung told Alderman Beverly Blankenship that if she wanted changes made, to draft an ordinance and present it at the next meeting. Blankenship replied that she would do so, although not being able to attend the meeting.

Alderman Lori Weaver, wife of attorney Weaver, said that the council needed the protection that the presence of an attorney afforded, noting that it didn't make any difference who held that position.

A motion to present an ordinance redefining the city attorney's duties was made by Blankenship and seconded by McClung passed on a 5-1 vote, with Weaver dissenting.

In discussing the duties of the city clerk/treasurer, Alderman Penny Carroll asked if the duties of the clerk required her to be at city hall full time.

Harrison answered that when other employees were performing some of the clerk's duties when she was only working part time, the state auditor had found such action illegal.

City Clerk M. J. Sell told the council that her duties included being the "go to" person at city hall. "When someone calls with a question, if I don't know the answer, I know who does," she said. Among the clerk's duties are taking minutes at City Council, Planning Commission and Historic District Commission meetings, transcribing them, maintaining city ordinances and signing all permits and licenses issued by the city.

Based upon the suggestion by Alderman Rick Rojek that nothing be changed, no action was proposed.

The discussion opened by Blankenship concerning the mayor's duties and pay, took a different direction. Blankenship had checked the salaries of several other cities and found they all have a higher mayor's salary than Eureka Springs' $6,000 per year. And two of the cities surveyed have an administrative assistant to perform some duties, both at $30,000 or more per year, she added.

"What we have is a full-time mayor drawing a part-time salary," Blankenship said. She said the city needed to either keep the mayor's salary part time and hire an administrative assistant or raise the mayor's salary to $12,000 to $14,000. Rojek interjected that $24,000 would be more appropriate to attract qualified candidates to run for the office.

McClung said he favored hiring a city administrator, a course of action that could not be pursued for two more years since voters turned down the administrator type of government. Alderman Robert Berry said he favored "taking the money and hiring an administrative assistant," noting the city still has a problem with budgeting.

What was not discussed was that if the budget would not provide for raising the mayor's salary by $6,000 to $8,000 a year, how could it support hiring an administrative assistant, whose salary would be close to or at $30,000 a year, according to Rojek.

Blankenship moved to consider an ordinance doubling the mayor's salary to $12,000 a year, which was seconded by Carroll. The vote was 4-2 with Berry and McClung voting nay.

Discussion of petition to

abolish CAPC

The final discussion brought to the table by Blankenship was about the petition being circulated in the city to abolish the CAPC and two percent tourism tax. Blankenship said she had received numerous telephone calls from business owners asking her if the City Council could stop the petition drive.

Tim Weaver said that as a council, the aldermen could not spend any taxpayer funds to fight the referendum, but as individuals they could meet with city voters and try to convince them not to vote for the measure, should it make it to an election ballot. "Get the people to go your way," Weaver said.

If the petitions are submitted to the County Clerk as a referendum, it would require a special election to be called. If they are submitted as an initiative, it could be placed on the November general election ballot, Harrison said.

Blankenship said that one problem is that most of the business owners opposing the elimination of the tax and commission live outside the city, and therefore cannot vote.

If the referendum or initiative should pass, the elimination of the two percent tax on hotels, motels and other businesses would mean finding an alternative tax approvable by the voters, or businesses would have to start spending their own money, individually or collectively, on advertising.

The council was unanimous in urging residents and business owners unhappy with the actions and/or operations of the CAPC to attend meetings and voice their concerns and suggest changes.

"If you are upset, call me or come to the (CAPC) meetings," said Rojek, who is one of the three City Council members serving on the commission.

Mayor hires building


Mayor Kathy Harrison announced the hiring of an interim building official for the city at Monday night's council meeting.

She introduced Marian Chrysler as the replacement for Justin Fuson, who resigned the position last month.

While Chrysler was reported to have extensive experience in building inspection, she has not yet received certification from the state. She also lacks state licensing as a plumbing or electrical inspector.

Harrison said Chrysler would become the building official upon her receipt of certification and licensing.

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