Searcy Friends of the Voters: “If Pro-Taxers Had Spoken the Truth, Tax Would Have Failed in Landslide.”

Letter to the Editor

The people spoke. The Searcy Friends of the Voters are pleased that so many of our fellow citizens exercised their right to vote (a right we fought hard to protect when the city tried to deny it). The results are in, and now the mayor wants to investigate to determine whether “misinformation” played any role in the outcome.

Let me save the mayor the trouble: misinformation played a HUGE role in the outcome – if the pro-tax crowd had spoken the truth the tax would have gone down in a landslide.

For the last week or two leading up to the election, the pro-tax folks kept claiming that our statements were lies. We acquired a document they were circulating (I received this from a citizen who received it from alderman Mary Ann Arnett – one of the pro-tax people) which alleges to refute our claims. I will now list the pro-tax claims of our “untruths” and cite the facts in our final word on the topic.

Pro-tax folks said “Nothing that has been done [by the city] has been or was illegal.”

  • Judge Tom Hughes ruled on September 30th that for the previous 3 months the city had been enforcing an ordinance that didn’t exist. This means that they were violating several state laws pertaining to public referendum. It also means they were violating Section 1-7 of Searcy’s code of ordinances which says the following: “It shall be unlawful for any person to change or amend by additions or deletions, any part or portion of this Code, or to insert or delete pages, or portions thereof, or to alter or tamper with such Code in any manner whatsoever except by Ordinance of the City Council, which shall cause the law of the City of Searcy, Arkansas, to be misrepresented thereby.”
  • Arkansas code 7-9-111 states the following: “The date of any special election shall be set in accordance with § 7-5-103(b) but in no event more than one hundred twenty (120) calendar days after the date of certification of sufficiency by the municipal clerk.” Our petitions were certified as sufficient on July 10, 2009 which meant that this law (combined with Arkansas code 7-5-103 which required the election to be held on the second Tuesday of a month) required that the election be held no later than October 13, 2009.
  • The city council voted on June 9th, 2009 to take specific actions with regards to the A&P commission after being provided an Attorney General opinion which specifically stated that taking such actions would violate the state constitution.
  • The city council started collecting the tax 50 days after the passage of the ordinance. Arkansas code 14-55-203 states “The effective dates for ordinances of a general or permanent nature and other local measures of a general or permanent nature of cities of the first class, cities of the second class, and incorporated towns shall be upon publication or posting as is otherwise required by law, but not before ninety-one (91) days after passage by the governing body of the city or town.”
  • The city council refused to hold the ordinance “in abeyance” as required by Article 5 of the state constitution which states “[a]ny measure referred to the people by referendum petition shall remain in abeyance until such vote is taken.”

Pro-tax folks said “At least three attorneys think the judge was incorrect in his ruling”

  • The losing attorneys always think the judge was incorrect in his ruling. If they really believed they had a legitimate case, they would have appealed.

Pro-tax folks said “No ordinance has been proposed prior to the one that was passed by the council”

  • In February, the city council held a public hearing on a proposal to pass an ordinance establishing an A&P tax which would have dedicated (in the language of the ordinance) 75% of its revenues to Parks and Rec. In March the city council discovered that they could not legally pass such an ordinance, so they had to choose between an ordinance dedicating 100% to Parks and Rec and an ordinance dedicating 0% to Parks and Rec. Instead of holding another hearing, they simply chose to propose and pass an ordinance dedicating 0% to Parks and Rec, which differs substantially from the original proposal dedicating 75% of the revenues to Parks and Rec.

Pro-tax folks said “By the ordinance, any A&P commissioner can be replaced by a simple majority vote of the council”

  • None of the commissioners can be “replaced” by the council, they can be “removed” by the council, but all replacement appointees have to be chosen by the remaining A&P commissioners.
  • 2 of the 7 commissioners could not be removed by a simple majority vote of the council.
  • There are several examples of A&P commissions around the state appointing their own members (as required by state law). In these minutes, the A&P commission in Benton re-appoints one of their own to another 4 year term the city council does not take any action in the appointment process, and there are numerous similar examples elsewhere around the state.

Pro-tax folks said in response to a statement that some A&P commissions have spent 50-75% of their revenues on salaries and benefits for their staff “Fort Smith reported the 2009 budget 37% for A&P personnel, 20% for the operation of the Visitors Center and 43% for Marketing and Advertising”

  • We did not say “in 2009”. The fact is that in 2002 Ft. Smith spent 52% on salaries, benefits, office space, etc. In 2005 Hot Springs spent 71.5% of their A&P revenues on staff. (neither city provides an itemized expense list online any more and several cities have moved to exempt A&P commissions from FOI reporting requirements to avoid people like us disseminating this information).
  • How much of the “Visitor Center” operating cost includes personnel? Do they just have a building that sits there unstaffed? Ask any businessman what percentage of his “operational costs” are directly attributable to staff costs and you might see that the portion listed as “A&P personnel” combined with the portion listed as “operational costs” which represents staff for the visitor center STILL exceeds 50% in Ft. Smith.
  • Please note what did not happen in Ft. Smith. Examine those numbers carefully and tell me what percentage went to either improving parks and rec or building new facilities to attract people to town. In their “defense”, the pro-tax folks cite a city that spent none of their A&P funds on Parks and Rec.

Pro-tax folks said with regards to our statement about Benton’s A&P commission paying for a trip to Las Vegas that A&P funds were not involved “That was the city of Benton expense and they elected to go in order to meet some of the prospects identified in the study”

  • We were partially mistaken. The study as a whole cost $70,000 and the Benton A&P commission paid a third of it (with the city and their Public Utility Commission each providing a third as well). Here’s a news story about the Benton city council voting to authorize their third and here is a link to the meeting minutes where the A&P commission in Benton reports the expense of sending their third ($23,333) to the advertising group running the “study”.

Scott Biddle

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The Arkansas Patriot is a conservative organization dedicated to equipping citizens with the truth, insuring transparent government, and encouraging citizens to question their government boldly.  The editor can be reached at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com Follow The Patriot on Twitter and Facebook.

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