The following letter to the editor was submitted to The Patriot by Scott Biddle, a resident of Searcy, AR. The letter was originally written by “Searcy Citizens for Ward 1” & posted on their blog.
This week a Federal judge ruled that a “lawsuit brought by 20 states challenging the health-care overhaul law” can move forward, and those states can “contest whether the law’s ‘individual mandate’ requiring virtually all Americans to buy health insurance exceeds Congress’s constitutional authority.” Hearing about this story in the news, Searcy voters may remember our own city government exceeding their constitutional authority in June 2009.
In the June 2009 Searcy City Council meeting, five of the City Council (English, Chalenburg, Arnett, Dixon, and Sterling) voted to appoint the initial seven A&P Commission members recommended by Mayor Belinda LaForce. Some of those appointees were not qualified electors (they did not live in the city limits), which violates Ark. Const. art. 19, Sec. 3. In the meeting, the Council discussed Attorney General’s opinion #2007-055. In this opinion, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel explained that the Arkansas Constitution requires Commission members to be qualified electors. In appointing the A&P Commission members, the Mayor and five of the aldermen ignored the Arkansas Constitution (the other three voted against the appointments).
Despite City Attorney Buck Gibson’s and Mayor Belinda LaForce’s assertions that the appointments were not unconstitutional, Aldermen Mary Ann Arnett and Mike Chalenburg requested a legal opinion on the issue from the Lightle Law Firm, and they received the law firm’s response June 15, 2009. The City Attorney and the Mayor were copied on the response and received the legal opinion. In the opinion attached to that email, the Lightle Firm advised the city to obey the Arkansas Constitution and Attorney General’s opinion.
In his response to the Lightle Law Firm, Alderman Chalenburg said, “It may be a disappointment to some, but we do need to abide by the law. We simply believe that if there is a good chance that the appointment process of the A&P Commission is suspect it would be better to deal with it now and not later…I also agree we need to abide by the law.” However, Mayor Belinda LaForce, City Attorney Buck Gibson, Alderman Mary Ann Arnett, and Alderman Mike Chalenburg did not take action to correct this violation of the state constitution.
In a March 4, 2010, article in the Daily Citizen, Warren Watkins reported that the City Attorney and the Mayor said the following:
- “Three commissioners may have to resign if the city council follows their attorney’s advice. At a joint meeting of the Searcy Advertising and Tourism Promotions (A&P) Commission and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board held Wednesday afternoon at city hall, Searcy City Attorney Buck Gibson advised those gathered that an amendment would need to be made to the council’s ordinance for the A&P tax and commission requiring A&P commissioners to be Searcy residents.”
- “Mayor Belinda LaForce said she was concerned with the residency issue and noted it had surfaced some months ago and needed to be resolved. A&P commissioners Oliver Montano, Bob White and Amanda Foust do not live in the city, LaForce said.”
The Arkansas Constitution and Attorney General’s opinions on the qualifications for Commission members did not change from June 2009 to March 2010. What did change was two of our city officials finally acknowledged that they had ignored the Arkansas Constitution.”