City Council wants voters in the dark

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Recently the city of Gosnell proposed an ordinance that it will vote on in January. According to the Arkansas Municipal League an ordinance is “a local law that usually regulates persons or property and usually relates to a matter of a general or permanent nature.”

The ordinance in question has to do with trash pick up in the city. The ordinance, if passed, will be a big deal for Gosnell residents and the city administration knows this. By reading the ordinance aloud three times (at the council meeting this month, December and January) before a vote will take place, the Gosnell City Council is giving its citizens proper time to hear about the ordinance and express their opinions about it, whether it be privately to their councilmen or at a public meeting.

This is generally what representative democracy looks like. People will elect a representative to make decisions about their government and the people have the ability to discuss their opinions with that representative.

This is not always what happens in Blytheville, Arkansas. It’s not even what happens most of the time.

While it is true that the people elect their representatives and said individuals will make decisions about governing, it appears to me that the ability to discuss with those representatives is rare. This is not because the representatives try to ignore their constituents; it is because they do their best to keep the public uniformed.

They do this by enacting a policy which allows for them to present, “read” and vote on an ordinance the same day, ironically always an emergency, not three times on three different days as the AML suggests. And I don’t care what they say, the reason they are doing this is to keep the public uniformed and keep as few people from asking questions at those meetings as possible.

I have said before that an uniformed electorate is dangerous. I have to think that some people agree with me because according to the Arkansas Municipal League, “The passage of an ordinance typically involves three (3) steps. The first step is the introduction of the proposed ordinance at a council meeting. The second step is to allow for the city clerk’s, recorder’s or attorney’s reading of the ordinance; this is followed by allowing the person(s) proposing the ordinance the opportunity to explain its provisions. Third, the council debates the ordinance and either defeats, postpones, refers it to a committee for study or approves it. If approved by a majority vote of the council, it is then signed by the mayor and attested to by the city clerk. A.C.A. § 14-55-201 et seq.”

That being said, the Arkansas Municipal League continues, “Remember that all ordinances of a general or permanent nature must be read fully and distinctly on three different days, unless two-thirds of the members of the council shall suspend the rule. A.C.A. § 14-55-202. However, “[i]n a city with a population of less than fifteen thousand (15,000) persons in the most recent federal decennial census, if the ordinance under consideration has been submitted to and approved by the electors of the municipality and is being amended, repealed, or otherwise altered by the municipal council, then the ordinance shall be fully and distinctly read on three (3) different days not less than twenty-eight (28) days apart.” Act 1052 of 2017 (effective Aug. 1, 2017). If an ordinance is passed with a valid emergency clause, it will take effect immediately. Please note, however, that an emergency clause requires a separate and distinct vote of the council and requires a two-thirds vote of approval by the council. The mayor may not vote on the emergency clause. Ark. Const. art. 5 § 1.”

I understand that in some instances real emergencies occur and ordinances need to be enacted instantaneously to address those emergencies. But the Blytheville City Council chooses to “suspend the rules and read by title only” the ordinances all three times the very same day it is first proposed as a matter of standard operating procedure every time they want to pass something. And in case you were wondering the last things to get passed through this “please don’t let them find out” loophole was the purchase of a new vehicle for the mayor.

I know that some of you may say that since this action is not illegal it isn’t a problem. That is incorrect. Recently I heard someone say that too many journalists these days stop caring about an issue if it turns out that it is “legal” even if it is still morally wrong. This public blinding and non-discussion that occurs almost every month with the Blytheville City Council is morally wrong and it is something that you, the voters, can change if you start treating it like the important issue that it is.

Voters need to attend their council meetings and keep these people in check, because as I have seen in just a few months working here, they aren’t going to do it themselves.