Well, it took 17 days & some public pressure, but I did finally get the Searcy City Council minutes I requested on February 21st.
(You can review the minutes for yourself here)
You might remember last month when I reported that the council had repealed its single, solitary transparency ordinance to avoid a ‘huge box’ crisis? Well, I wanted to see what the vote count was, and how each alderman voted (outrageous, I know).
Here’s what I found in the minutes, and you can read from the original transcript as well:
Item (m) on the agenda was an ordinance to repeal the provision in the Code of Ordinances that required enhanced notice to citizens of Searcy in certain elections concerning taxation and revenue measures. The ordinance deletes Section 10-9 of the Code of Ordinances in its entirety. Mr. Raney made a motion, seconded by Mr. Sterling, to suspend the rules and allow reading of the ordinance by title only. Motion carried with the following voting “yes”: Raney, Brewer, Derrick, Cothern, Arnett, Dixon, Sterling and English. Mr. Gibson read the ordinance by title only. Mrs. Arnett then made a motion, seconded by Mr. Cothern, to adopt the ordinance. Motion carried with the following voting “yes”: Brewer, Derrick, Cothern, Arnett, Dixon, Sterling, English and Raney. The ordinance has no emergency clause. Ordinance 2012-12
That’s a total of 8 yes votes from a council of 8 members. Class example of groupthink. Out of 8 members, not one of them said, “Wait a minute, we should think about this.” Or, “Perhaps we should ask the voters what they think, or notify the people that we are going to consider repealing this.” They just rammed it through, hoping it would go unnoticed by myself & the people of Searcy.
You know, folks, being on the city council really shouldn’t be that difficult. You have a few basic responsibilities: keep the lights on, don’t break any laws, be open & accountable to the people (particularly in a small town like Searcy). But these people can’t do it. They can’t just be upfront and honest about why they’re doing what they’re doing, or even say what they’re doing.
Some of them have actually been out in the paper saying this vote was actually a vote to ‘save money’ because the transparency ordinance was ‘costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.’ They are either too ignorant or too dishonest to tell you that the ordinance didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. The council cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars by playing political games & hiding tax votes at special elections. There was never any cost to the taxpayers so long as the council did not call a special election. Because you see, the ordinance only required notifications to be mailed in regard to special elections.
And need I document all of the ways that these people waste money? (I’ve been doing it for years on this site). They don’t really expect us to believe that they’re interested in saving money, do they?
Bottom line: These people could screw up cornflakes. They are anything but transparent, and we know they break laws. We also know they can barely keep the lights on–by their own admission, the city government would’ve gone into hypovolemic shock if they hadn’t gotten their extra revenue from the new 1% sales tax, which is the result of their own poor budgeting over the last 8-10 years.
It’s analogous (or ‘sorta like,’ for those of you on the council reading this) to what we see at the federal level: let’s spend a lot of money, hire more city employees than we can afford, and then run out and scream “CRISIS!” in order to justify tax increases.
The council had revived a very small amount of skeptical optimism in me after they took my advice on their last tax proposal, and insured the people that the money & the bypass project would be handled transparently. I have serious doubts about that now. My optimism has been removed, leaving only skepticism.
I feel strongly that every council member who voted to repeal Searcy’s lone transparency measure should be defeated this fall. It’s not personal, it’s simply a matter of leadership. We need aldermen who are independent thinkers, who will ask questions, who will do outrageous things like say, “Wait a minute, slow down, let’s think about this before we ram this through.”
If we can’t insure basic transparency at the local level, how can we ever hope to achieve it in the state or federal governments? We deserve to know how our money is being spent and how our local government is operating. It’s time we start demanding it, and we do it at the ballot box.
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.
Someone reminded me that I left everyone hanging on a story I posted earlier this month (after the passage of the Searcy bypass tax, which has now been proclaimed as a ‘mandate’ for more taxes in Searcy…go figure). Apologies for the delay, but I really couldn’t care less about politics during the holidays. Anyway, I promised to tell you more about a brief conversation I had with Mayor Morris at the courthouse on election night.
It was a short conversation, but the mayor invited me to come back by city hall and visit with him after the first of the year about his agenda going forward (I say ‘back’ because I previously met with him in September of this year to talk about the city budget, bypass tax, etc.).
I also took the opportunity to ask the mayor if he had given any more thought to my suggestion that the city setup a website to track the collections & spending of every penny of the bypass tax money. The mayor told me,
We are going to do that. We are going to put it all online.
So, now it’s on the record and I am very anxious see this project take off when the collections start in April. This is a great way to instate some transparency in city operations and create some trust between the taxed and the taxers.
I am looking forward to meeting with the mayor after the first of the year. Perhaps we can do some video interviews.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a merry Christmas. Enjoy this next weekend of holidays and get some rest. We have a lot of work to do in 2012.
As promised, here is a follow-up story on the wonderful editorial that the Searcy paper ran this past Sunday.
After ripping off my pre-election analysis and making some incredibly insightful post-election predictions, they admit that their post-election predictions were incorrect…and they’ve NEVER BEEN HAPPIER TO ADMIT IT! Never ever!
We were wrong, and have never been happier to admit it.
Searcy voters passed a 1-percent tax increase this past week, but in reality did much more. By a 7-to-3 margin, voters demanded that Searcy move forward and become the progressive community that the current competitive economic climate demands. Our community has been stuck in a vicious cycle of defeating taxes for the sake of defeating taxes, while scoffing at the long-term economic rewards that would benefit everyone. Those who have said infrastructure creates jobs have been derided, despite clear examples of this being true.
On Tuesday, voters said, “Enough.”
Don’t you find it odd that in the same article, the paper admits that they expected the tax to barely pass, but by the end of the article, the margin was a MANDATE for progress (which is code for ‘more taxes in the future’)? That would be like going on NFL Live and predicting that the Patriots will barely beat Tebow and the Broncos before the game, because the Broncos are a pretty talented team. But after the game, you come back on air, NEVER HAPPIER TO ADMIT that you were wrong, and say that the Broncos are actually awful because they got beat handily, the Patriots will run away with the rest of their games, and no one can hold a candle to their talent. In fact, their victory is a mandate for Patriot victories in the future…(okay, it’s not a perfect analogy, but you get my point)
I’d like to know, voters of Searcy: Did you DEMAND that Searcy become a ‘progressive community?’ Or did you vote for some road improvements? Because I am pretty sure you have rejected attempts to make Searcy ‘progressive,’ like when you voted down the A&P tax in 2010 by a 10-point margin. And I was pretty sure that this tax was just about road improvements…right?
And when did we give the paper unilateral authority to declare a tax increase as ‘progress’ anyway?
This notion that we have been ‘defeating taxes for the sake of defeating taxes’ is an affront to the intelligence of every Searcy and White County voter. As I have documented thoroughly over the past few weeks, this most recent tax was vastly different than the past taxes that have been proposed. Previous taxes lacked transparency, definite sunsets, etc. To say that those taxes were defeated ‘for the sake of defeat’ is outrageous, insulting, and simply untrue. Continue reading
In an editorial the Searcy paper wrote on Sunday, they accomplished many breath-taking feats, but each deserves its own blog post. So we will start with their continuation of ripping information off this blog without crediting us. I’ll follow up with a post or two this afternoon about the “substance” of their article.
S0, here is what the paper said they would have predicted about the Searcy bypass tax, if they had had the guts to make a prediction before the election actually took place:
In the failed county-wide vote, the issue was approved within the Searcy city limits by a 10 percent margin. Nonetheless, we knew many factors — such as concerns about the northern route’s location and the election being held 12 days before Christmas — could create a different outcome. If forced to predict, we would have said it would pass, but only by a nose.
Fascinating, post-election prediction, don’t you agree? I would say that I couldn’t have said it better myself, except I did…on election day last week:
First of all, I think the results will be fairly close. I would define close as 5-7%. This is just gut instinct, based on the way the last several taxes have gone…
Secondly, I think the tax will probably pass. I say this because, yes, the city faced no organized opposition and the vote was 2 weeks before Christmas.
Great reporting, guys! While mocking blogs on your Facebook profiles, you have now officially stolen analysis from a blog that you so heartily despise.