From The Arkansas Project:
How well I remember my days as a candidate! Alderman Arnett kept a busy schedule putting eyebrow-raising posts on her Facebook campaign page about her funeral, and bragging about how many neighborhoods she walked while regularly parking in the handicapped parking space at city hall. Working so hard for the people of Searcy, even campaigning for local tax increases on top of her regular duties, this driven public servant has been forced to catch up on sleep by napping through city council meetings! (VIDEO)
Many aldermen just want to make city government work better. But that’s not enough for Alderman Mary Ann Arnett. Her agenda: stamp out the extraordinary dangers of unregulated yard sales. Well, not all yard sales – just the ones run by dark-skinned people. Don’t believe me? Well, I can reproduce email just as well as the next blogger. Here’s her request to Searcy code enforcement personnel, dated June 2, 2009:
Visit The Arkansas Project for Arnett’s full comments.
The mayor has passed along these figures that show how much the last A&P tax (which was overwhelmingly rejected by voters at the polls) brought in during its tenure:
August 8, 2012
To: Members of the City Council
From: David Morris
I have asked our City Clerk/Treasurer to furnish me with the amount of the collection of the former advertising and promotion (A&P) tax, that was collected in Searcy in 2009. As you know, the former A&P tax was one percent (1%) on prepared food and three percent (3%) on lodging. The tax was collected for approximately five and a half (5 ½) months.
The actual collections for the five (5) full months were as follows:
July 2009 $79,287.48
August 2009 $79,550.03
September 2009 $82,519.80
October 2009 $84,861.82
November 2009 $78,527.80
The average of these five (5) months of full collections is $80,949.39 per month. Assuming that monthly average continued, the annual revenue generated would have been $971,392.68.
On February 21, I emailed the mayor a request for the minutes of last month’s city council and ask that he forward it to the city clerk, since she had not responded to another FOI request I made 3 days previous. He forwarded her my request, and she responded the next day, (copying the city attorney, peculiarly), saying she did not receive my original request, but my second request was not able to be filled right away.
From her email, which is public record:
You subsequently requested a copy of the minutes of the February 14 council meeting. I have not yet prepared a draft of the minutes, but will do so in advance of the March 8 agenda meeting as time permits. The Council will take action to approve or amend/adopt the minutes at its regular March meeting on March 13.
The draft minutes/working minutes will be adequate. I assume you do have a draft that you took during the meeting or do you make the draft from a recording? I am not familiar with this process. Please send me whatever you can as soon as possible.
I received no answer to that email.
Well, today is March 8th and, you guessed it: I have not received any minutes.
I have delayed writing this post out of respect for the mayor, but good grief. It’s been nearly three weeks now.
Think about this folks: we live in a city in which the city council meetings are not recorded, the city budget is not published online, and we apparently cannot easily access the minutes of what is happening in our own city council’s meetings!
Transparency isn’t difficult, unless there is something to hide, but it is essential. Publishing these minutes or at least making them easily accessible should be the bare minimum of what this city is doing to remain accountable to the people.
On a related note, last week I received an email from my alderman and former opponent for city council in 2010, Mary Ann Arnett:
Nicholas, I assure you that the current council is transparent and nothing improper is going on.
I am not sure where this comment came from, seeing I had not alleged any wrongdoing or impropriety. Perhaps she knows something we don’t?
Kind of reminded me of when people tell me they’re “honest to a fault” (a phrase she also used during the campaign), when you’ve never accused them of being dishonest. That’s usually a good sign that they cannot be trusted–they know they’re dishonest, so they have to overcompensate for it by convincing you otherwise. I responded and told her we must have very different definitions of the word ‘transparent.’
I don’t really suspect the city is hiding anything (in this particular situation), but it’s a matter of principle at this point. Why can’t an average citizen have a record of what is happening in their own little hometown of 20,000 people?
I’d like to find out what is going on. Release the minutes.
Early voting on the Searcy bypass tax begins next Tuesday, December 6th. It will be held at the White County Clerk’s Office, 315 N. Spruce Street in Searcy.
Below is an example of the proponents’ literature that is being distributed. It was taken from Mary Ann Arnett‘s Facebook page, a Searcy alderman. (I just want to point that out in case she runs for re-election and, I don’t know, says she never supported a tax increase)
Apparently this tax is going to create jobs–who could be against that?
It’s no big secret that I have big issues with this whole ‘vote for jobs’ tactic. Effective? Maybe. Dishonest? In my opinion, yes.
To find out why, check out my November 9th post.
And don’t forget to vote.
As I mentioned on my Twitter account, I had a good visit with Searcy Mayor David Morris on Friday morning. We spent about two hours discussing the tax proposal and the city budget.
Here are some facts that he shared with me:
- The 2012 budgeting process starts Monday (yesterday) and will be passed in November or December.
- The budget “cushion”–which he defined as projected revenues minus projected spending–was about 3%-4% for 2011.
- The mayor wants a 10% budget cushion and promises to achieve this by the end of his first term.
- Over the past 3 years, the city has been financing a lot of capital:
- 15 new police cars in 2009
- 5 police cars in 2010
- 1 fire engine, priced at $490,000 with approximately 1.7% interest. This will take 6 years to pay off.
- They also bought 5 police cars this year, but they were paid in cash.
- Morris says that the plans for financing these vehicles were put into place by the previous leadership and, in the case of the fire engine, could not be stopped.
- He promised that he would not finance any more vehicles while he his mayor.
- Morris also said that the city reduced its employees by ’3 or 4′ this year and will continue reduce the number of city employees in 2012.
- The mayor showed me receipts from various city departments, and demonstrated the oversight process that he has implemented, which includes reviewing every receipt of every expense and requiring initials from department heads as well.
As we have been discussing, it is time for real reforms in Searcy government and I am glad to see that Mayor Morris has already started implementing some changes that will help get us where we want to be as a city. There is still a lot to be done, but these are steps in the right direction. In tough economic times, everyone has to tighten their belts, and city government is no exception.
I asked the mayor what it will take to have the entire city budget published online. He said he supports this idea and hopes to accomplish this in the near future, but he is still getting settled in and trying to sort out some of the residual budgetary problems.
I will make a separate post shortly about my discussion with the mayor regarding the upcoming special tax election.