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You might remember last month when I reported that the council had repealed its single, solitary transparency ordinance to avoid a ‘huge box’ crisis?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.