Month in Review: September 2018

Most of the time, city councils everywhere operate very similarly. But occasionally, something happens that completely flips the script.

Such as the council members who forced the cancellation of a meeting.

Or the council that expelled a sexual harasser.

Or the mayor who felt taken advantage of by the county.

That’s all pretty heavy. But on the lighter side, we also looked back to International #CityHallSelfie Day and received a final judgment about who took the best city council selfie.

To see what got under people’s skin this month, check out the September Month in Review.

And if it’s good news you are seeking, find out the heartwarming story behind this image:

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#169: Van Buren, AR 9/24/18

Mayor Bob Freeman swung around to the front of the council dais and glanced down at his notes momentarily before turning to the two women at his side.

“In July of this year–make sure I’ve got this correct,” he instructed them, “–in July of this year, y’all had gone to a movie?”

“Yes,” replied each woman in turn.

“When you came outside, you noticed there was a gentleman–or, you noticed there was a truck that the engine was revving?” the mayor continued.

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes.”

“So you went to the truck–”

“We actually went around the truck,” one woman jumped in to steer the story in the correct direction. “I looked over because it was revving up so much. The gentleman had slumped over and I knocked on the window trying to see if he could hear me. He was unresponsive.”

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(S)heroes!

She indicated to the good Samaritan next to her. “I had her go get somebody to help. I went around to the driver’s side. Luckily it was unlocked. I pulled him out. She helped me with CPR.”

“You applied CPR,” Mayor Freeman picked up again now that the details were ironed out. “Revived him. Between your actions, you saved his life.”

After the photos and as the mayor plopped down in his seat, he remembered one other brave soul in the room.

“Alderman Swaim had knee replacement one week ago today and he’s here tonight. That’s why he did not stand for our pledge and we’ll say that’s okay!”

Alderman Alan Swaim raised a ringer and quipped: “I did not kneel either!”

That prompted a huge laugh from the room–perhaps from the topical humor and perhaps a window into Swaim’s own views on kneelers.

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Truly presidential

There was something eating at Mayor Freeman. He started off inauspiciously enough by describing a meeting with the county sheriff’s department.

“Last Monday night, [I] went to the Facilities Commmitee meeting because they were discussing the rates that they charge municipal governments for inmates,” he explained. “Our rate has been $10 a meal. We haven’t actually paid $10 a meal until the last year and a half because we haven’t had inmates in the jail.”

He continued, “they are looking at raising that rate. I asked for an opportunity to see the numbers. We sat there through the committee meeting and we left and were later informed that they had gone ahead with an ordinance to raise the rate to $50 a day.”

The mayor frowned deeply. “What disappoints me is the fact that I asked to see the number and that was just ignored. There’s a piece of me that feels I’m being taken advantage of because I am a lame duck. ‘We can do it because the mayor’s leaving anyway.'”

“I’m not!” piped up Alderman Jim Petty to reassure the mayor whose team he was on.

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Stick together!

After Mayor Freeman had vented, it reminded Alderman Darral Sparkman of something.

“Chief, I just wish you’d tell your officers–those deputies or whoever it is run up and down this highway do not turn on their lights, and they drive at light speed!” he railed. “We have been hit nearly three times!”

“Are you talking about our officers?” Mayor Freeman quizzed.

“No, the sheriff!” Sparkman exclaimed. “These guys never turn the lights on!”

It seems like the bad blood with the sheriff’s office runs deep in Van Buren. Let’s hope they clean up their act in time for the next mayor.

Month in Review: October 2017

October is an exciting month because you can always count on at least one city council to really get into the Halloween spirit. Sure enough, Wisconsin delivered. But there were plenty of other highlights, including a sudden competition between two cupcakeries and a mayoral field trip that I may have been invited to.

The podcast was also busy, as we heard from a former Scottish Highland dancer, a city manager who remembered the ejection of one council member, and a robot-heavy episode of our “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project. Look at the highlights in our October Month in Review.

And if you still aren’t convinced that last month was any different from the other 11 months of the year, THIS wizard-priest will cast a spell on you:

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#137: Maumelle, AR 10/16/17

Tragedy plus time equals comedy. But how much time is needed?

Well, if you’re the mayor of Maumelle–not a lot.

“I’ll need to let you know that Council Member [Rick] Anderson will not be here tonight. He is in the hospital,” Mayor Mike Watson blurted out at the top. Without missing a beat, he added dryly, “I think that’s a valid excuse. I don’t know if that’s what I’d pick for MY excuse. But he can do that.”

While my imagination wandered to what, exactly, the mayor might think up for his excuse, Council Member John Vaprezsan invoked Anderson’s name in the pre-meeting prayer. Pointing to the victims of wildfires, shootings, and hurricanes, he concluded ominously, “we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few minutes.”

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The mayor looks to be about 16″ from heaven.

With all this talk of death and infirmity, it was about time for some goods news. And it came from a surprising place: the bank account.

“Our financials look better this month. We’re right at budget,” an employee at the lectern gestured to a colorful graph on the wall. “The yellow is–okay, first of all….” She paused and was clearly battling mixed emotions about the yellow portion of the chart.

“I revised all these charts because somebody didn’t like the colors and I didn’t really like the colors either,” she vented to the council members, who squinted their eyes to better comprehend her predicament.

She inhaled and got back on track. “As you can see, we’ve got $5.5 million [cash on hand], so we’re well covered.”

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Yellow? All I see is green.

The mayor abruptly swiveled in his chair and reached down for a few well-covered things of his own.

“We’ve got the budgets here.” He lifted a stack of binders, sliding them down the dais. “Take the one that’s got your name on it. Don’t take somebody else’s just to be ornery,” he scolded preemptively.

“I was still making changes after lunch today.” He let out an exhausted chuckle. “It’s not an excuse, but I’ve looked at it so much, it’s hard to catch mistakes in it now.”

Mayor, if you need someone to proofread the budget–and clandestinely add some puns and emoji–send it to me. My fee is a tiny $5.5 million in cash on hand.

Council Member Steve Mosley leaned forward like an intrigued professor who just thought of a reason to reference some fascinating new research. “I don’t know how many folks saw–this doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

He opened a newspaper. “It talks about Farmington, Arkansas. They recently found that they had some embezzlement going on for $1.5 million over seven years. He was basically taking money home. All they noticed was that traffic ticket revenue had gone down.”

He folded the paper and let the damning accusation settle in.

“Things can happen. So everybody has to stay alert.”

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One more reason for me to look over your budget!

Not to be outdone in the field of literacy, Council Member Vaprezsan gestured to his own magazine.

“I got the City & Town. If you haven’t had the chance to look at it, it’s pretty neat.” Not at all subtly, Council Member Jess Holt reached across and snatched the publication.

“Council Member Holt’s picture is ALSO in the magazine,” noted Vaprezsan as Holt flipped through it with fixation.

“So is Council Member [G.K.] Timmons and City Clerk Tina Timmons!” exclaimed Holt.

Whew! Maumelle made the news without a scandal.

#135: Springdale, AR 10/10/17

“Before we proceed,” Council Member Kathy Jaycox stopped the meeting cold in its tracks, “could we recognize some guests in the audience? They’re here because they are trying to earn badges.”

Mayor Doug Sprouse relaxed. “Sure. Would somebody like to tell us who’s here?”

The Boy Scout troop leader stepped to the microphone and ordered his young charges to their feet. “Gentlemen, if you’d like to stand. They’re working on their communication merit badge.”

“Okay,” the mayor replied, doing a little drumroll on his desk and smiling. “I don’t know how much communication you’ll learn from THIS bunch, but we’ll try!”

As soon as the Scouts settled back in their seats, the council took up the titillating issue of an emergency replat of the Sunset Industrial Park Phase II subdivision. Things went smoothly on the first roll call vote. But suddenly, the staffer at the lectern barreled ahead without warning.

“The next item is a–” she announced, before the mayor halted her for a necessary second vote.

“I’m just in a hurry!” she chuckled as the next roll call rolled on. “I’m doing my part to make it short!”

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Communications lesson: keep it short, but wait until people are done voting.

Now, under normal circumstances, updating personnel policies is hardly a mouth-watering affair. But today? Let’s just say: don’t judge a book by its heavily-tattooed cover.

“So, if someone’s trying to apply for a position,” Council Member Colby Fulfer mused, “we can still use discretion based on someone’s physical appearances or sources of income that could be questionable? Could we discriminate?”

“It depends,” replied Mayor Sprouse matter-of-factly. “We do have positions where we can have those requirements. They would be the obvious ones like personal appearance.”

Council Member Mike Overton threw up his hand and grumbled, “not in all departments can we have people looking at Jo-Jo the tattooed man!”

Wow. I would be more worried that a grown man chooses to go by “Jo-Jo” than the fact he has tattoos.

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I associate myself with these reactions.

At this point, Mayor Sprouse, who had apparently been sitting on a powerkeg of exciting news all meeting, finally lit the fuse. “As we’re looking at possible fire stations with a bond issue, I would really like to go look at one,” he prefaced.

“The best one sounds like it’s in the Kansas City area. I think it would be great to go up there and look at that.”

Field trip! I love car rides. Which brings up an important question: I am invited, right?

“We’ll just go when the most people can go,” Sprouse glanced around. “I know that the press will be invited.”

That’s me, baby! If the mayor is a man of his word, City Council Chronicles will happily ride shotgun on the party bus.

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Real talk: I’ll only go if the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette isn’t invited. 

“We would leave 7:30, 8 in the morning,” he continued, diminishing my interest slightly in this excursion. Immediately, crosstalk ensued as council members simultaneously tossed out their availability.

“What about the 23rd?” hollered one voice. As the mayor scanned his schedule, other council members nodded in agreement.

“I’ll have to cancel a couple of meetings, but I can move those,” the mayor assented.

“What could be more important than being with the council, mayor?!” Council Member Overton joked. The mayor pursed his lips and bobbed his head without further reply.

Final thoughts: I’ll see you guys on the 23rd.

#106: North Little Rock, AR 5/22/17

I won’t sugarcoat it: the North Little Rock city council meeting was a riddle wrapped in a mystery and stuck inside one of those Chinese finger traps.

Act I — How Do You Solve a Problem Like 7213 Westwind Drive?

“We have to deal with weeds that are taller than us. We have to deal with gutters coming down, lights coming down,” a woman pounded on the podium in frustration.

“I wish everybody would stand up and show that we’re all here wanting to say: IT IS A MESS. It is a safety hazard.”

Incredibly, virtually the entire audience rose to their feet and stood in solidarity as she pleaded for the city to dynamite that deathtrap.

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¡Sí, se puede!

The aldermen stared silently as irate neighbors aired their grievances.

“He’s using his yard for a bathroom,” a man shook his head.

“I have gone to court. I have watched as he has been fined. He just ignores it,” a woman frowned.

“We implore you to put an end to our neighborhood nightmare,” begged another man.

But if the eyewitness testimony didn’t seal the deal, the photos certainly did.

“There’s an air conditioner with an extension cord running through the tub–very unsafe,” a city employee flashed a picture onscreen as the council murmured in disbelief.

“That one scares me to death,” Alderman Debi Ross muttered, staring at an electric water heater without covers.

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A future murder scene, probably

The city’s lawyer sighed and waved his hand. “We’ve given this man numerous opportunities. He’s been in jail. I don’t think he’s going to do it.”

“We’re gonna stop that cycle tonight,” Mayor Joe Smith stonily vowed. The council voted to condemn the house.

Act II — The Ghost in the Scrapyard

“A few weeks ago, I heard the noise in Glenview from this plant and they stopped at 11 o’clock at night,” Alderman Linda Robinson shared with the council, referring to a distant scrapyard.

“It’s my understanding that they don’t work late at night. But what I kept hearing–the boom, the boom–I called someone from that area. I said, ‘is this from that scrap metal plant?’ They started laughing and said, ‘yes, it is.'”

“I’m not sure exactly what noise you heard,” a city staffer shrugged and looked perplexed. “They have not been operating at night.”

“This was a few weeks ago and it was from THIS plant,” insisted Alderman Robinson. “We need to send the police out.”

The mayor bit his pen. “Well, I don’t know, Linda. If you heard it…” he trailed off.

At this point, one of the scrapyard’s owners stepped dramatically to the podium.

“We hire the North Little Rock police off-duty to be our night watchmen. So as far as the police on site–they are on site.”

From here, the plot thickened. “I personally approve the time cards,” he said. I haven’t seen anything since January 2015 where we had the crews that were working at night.”

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CCTV footage from scrapyard

Mayor Smith pondered hard about how to reconcile Alderman Robinson’s noises with the fact that no human was seemingly on duty.

“Surely you wouldn’t have anybody moonlighting down there that you don’t know [about]?” Smith inquired.

“They better not be because the police would be evicting them from the property and giving them a place to stay for the night,” the man replied with certainty.

Sir, you don’t need the North Little Rock PD at your scrapyard. It sounds like you need an exorcist.

Month in Review: August 2016

During this Labor Day weekend, it’s a good time to remember all of the people who labor hard every week at city council meetings for hours and hours–or, sometimes, for 19 minutes. Catch up on where City Council Chronicles visited in the month of August.

P.S. If you didn’t see our appearance in last week’s Baltimore Sun, don’t worry–my intern spends 23 hours every day reading each newspaper in the country to see who mentions The Chronicles. And he finally found one!

#45: Harrison, AR 8/25/16

Looking like a tough-as-nails judge and sounding every bit like the cattle rancher he is, Harrison Mayor Dan Sherrell jabbed his pen into his notes.

“I had a request to move somebody up from the agenda. I’m gonna put Mr. Matt Bell on there, but if he’s up there too long–” the mayor brandished a hefty wooden gavel and gave a sinister smirk–“mallet comes down in my hand.”

Watch your fingers and toes. His Honor runs a tight, highly punitive ship.

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“I will throw it. I never miss.”

“I approach the council to discuss a variance we’re seeking for the Ride the Ozarks Rally,” Bell beseeched the village elders, “so we can set up a designated area to provide receptacles for the smokers. We are trying to keep our park clean.”

But Councilman Brian Herring didn’t care for this un-American segregation of nicotine. “I’ve heard from several citizens and only one has been for it. I’m for the motorcycle rally but I’m not for the variance.” He shook his head. “So…that’s it.”

Mayor Sherrell leaned forward. “All in favor–”

“I want a roll call,” snapped Councilman Herring. He got it–and lost 6-2.

“Okay,” the mayor clucked with a twinkle in his eye. “I will open it to the floor. Yes sir, Mr. Johnson?”

A balding, red-faced man in the front row stood up. He clutched a sheaf of papers in his left hand.

“Earlier this summer, I was surprised to see a coyote walking down the street I live on. As the summer went on, I saw more coyotes during the daylight hours. I’m afraid to leave my dogs in my fenced-in backyard!”

He looked dead-on at the man in charge. “Mr. Mayor, you said I should talk with my neighbors to see if there is a problem. Well, I have spoken with 103 of my closest and dearest neighbors.” The council guffawed.

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Hmmm, methinks this might be a future city council candidate.

“Most of these people have seen coyotes. When I googled ‘coyote attacks on humans,’ one of the first things is a nice 23-page article.” He yanked it out from his packet and passed it along the dais.

“What has been done to remove coyotes out of this neighborhood?”

The mayor pounced like a mongoose on a chicken’s neck.

“I’ll tell you EXACTLY what’s been done. Animal Control is setting cage traps out there. We’re catching an abundance of skunk and groundhogs and possums.”

Half of the room snickered. The mayor stared menacingly at his challenger, gripping the 23-page article. “Since you’re good with all this stuff, if YOU google how to catch ’em…”

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“I’ve never wanted to throw my gavel so badly.”

He calmed himself and continued. “We have one man that’s willing maybe to trap. He has a regular job, but he said he’ll be willing to do it. We will have to be very, very careful about doing this.”

What “regular job” does this coyote-trapper have? Snake wrangler? Bear tranquilizer? Not many guys sit at a desk all day and moonlight as a wildlife vigilante.

This is exactly what made Councilman Mitch Magness nervous. “Would any of the public…like a child in the area, be-”

“That’s why I’m saying, we’re gonna have to be very careful,” Mayor Sherrell retorted ominously, folding his hands on the desk. Then he leaned back and broke into a gaping smile.

“I’m familiar with coyotes, believe it or not. But how I’d take care of ’em is not probably the way you’ll take care of them.”