Category: Solutions for Searcy

Vote Tally on Searcy Transparency Ordinance Repeal: Unanimous

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You might remember last month when I reported that the council had repealed its single, solitary transparency ordinance to avoid a ‘huge box’ crisis?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

Nic Horton

Solutions for Searcy: SearcyStreets.com

Well it’s Thursday evening and I realized I still haven’t posted my first “Solutions for Searcy” piece this week, as promised.  Unfortunately it has just been ‘one of those weeks,’ but the week is not over yet and I have found a little bit of time, so here you go.

A note as we begin: I hope this series of proposals can serve as a basis for debate in cities across the state.  The problems in Searcy government are widespread across the state (many of them facilitated by the Arkansas Municipal League) so the solutions should be applicable around the state as well.

As I mentioned earlier this week, one of my suggestions to Mayor Morris at our meeting last week was, assuming the proposed tax passes, to setup a website called “SearcyStreets.com” (or something similar) where monthly expenditure & revenue reports can be posted.  This will show voters that the mayor & city are serious about spending the money appropriately–and only on roads as promised.

The mayor expressed some concern about the cost of such a project, so I told the mayor and I will tell of you now:  I will personally volunteer my time & abilities in web management to setup and maintain such a website.  The only costs to the taxpayers would possibly be domain purchase.

This is a real solution for Searcy, a step that will work towards mending some of the lost trust between the voters and the city government.  Furthermore, similar ‘online checkbook’ proposals have been proven to reduce waste and change the relationship between elected officials and constituents.  The city has nothing to lose; taxpayers have everything to gain.

This is a win for everyone.  I hope the mayor will seriously consider putting this reform in place.

Many more of my ‘Solutions’ proposals will deal with similar transparency reforms, including putting the entire city budget online.  I discussed this specifically with the mayor.  I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Nicholas Horton

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.  Contact The Patriot at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com   

Discussing the Searcy Budget with Mayor Morris

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:
  1. 15 new police cars in 2009
  2. 5 police cars in 2010
  3. 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.

Nicholas Horton

Recapping the Bypass Tax Campaign & Where We Go From Here

Since the defeat of the proposed county sales tax on September 13th, I have withheld public comment in order to not be seen as a “sore winner.”  However, there have been important developments in the last two weeks regarding the bypass project and several folks in the community have asked me to weigh in. In order to establish a clear path forward, it is important to identify what led to the defeat of the tax:

  • The economy.  Plain & simple, times are tough and voters (especially in the rural parts of the county) are tired of seeing the price of commodities skyrocket.  This was a chance for them to stop an additional 1% increase and they did it.
  • The proposal.  The proposal that was put forward was flawed.  We said this repeatedly in our campaign against the tax and the people said it on September 13th.  The county asked for too much money, at a bad time, and in a secretive way—secretive as in placed at a special election, during the county fair, and financed by a ‘ghost committee. 
  • The lack of transparency.  We were told by elected officials that we would “miss a great opportunity” if we did not pass this tax.  We were told that the $54 million in state highway money would “go somewhere else” unless we handed over an additional $18 million to the county.  I said it then and I will continue to say it:  this is simply not true.  All of the comments from the state highway department in the paper & at the public meeting in Searcy last week clearly show that the road—north & south halves—will be built.  The tax would have simply sped up the process.  The south half will be built without any ‘matching funds’—set to begin construction sometime in the next 36 months—and the north half may be built without any matching funds as well.  This tax was never about building a road.
  • The speed.  The money that is needed for the north section bypass is not needed until the south half is completed.  This will be many years down the road—more to come on this topic.  So why did we have to vote now, and we just could not wait until a regularly scheduled election, when we had more information about the bypass route?
  • The uncertainty.  Proponents of the tax were unwilling to specify how every penny of the tax money would be spent, but furthermore, they were unwilling to be honest with voters about the fact that the bypass route (north & south halves) is out of their control.  Our group expressed concerns that we were being asked to pay for a road that had no definite route.  One week after the tax was voted down, the state highway department announced a route.  It varies significantly from the route that was being publicized during the election—and many residents are less than pleased with the path of the road.

So where does all of this leave us and where do we go from here? We can have this road built & we can do it without raising taxes.  We can have real economic development. We can grow and improve our community. But it will require real leadership & a commitment to fixing these systemic problems that have been plaguing our community for at least a decade.

In the coming days, I will be releasing a series of articles that propose real solutions for fixing the way our city operates.

More to come.

Nic Horton

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. Contact The Patriot at arkansaspatriot@gmail.com