The Spiral of Unaccountability and Corruption (part two)

Friday, December 8, 2017

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not be trusted by anybody,” Thomas Paine

On November 8, I wrote a column demanding answers to a substantial list of unresolved, serious issues before the city that affects all Blytheville residents. A month later, we are essentially no closer to finding out the truth. Why? Well, if the administration doesn’t answer questions posed publicly by the newspaper and if they don’t hold committee meetings – then they obviously refuse to be accountable. Therefore, I don’t trust them.

I wrote the column asking what in the heck are they are doing in private, because they certainly aren’t doing much publicly. It wasn’t a graveling letter of suggestion, begging for royal crumbs of information for little guys like you and I. No, it was a demand letter because they work for us. We are the power, not them!

Can you ignore your boss when he/she asks questions about your job performance? Of course not, and they shouldn’t be able to either.

We have learned a little though.

On November 15, Mayor James Sanders delivered his 2018 budget to the Finance Committee and it includes the elimination of the Parks and Recreation Director position.

One councilperson posted recently on Facebook, in answer to a question about the mayor’s proposed budget, that “we allocated” a certain amount on one particular line item. My question is how did “we” allocate anything if “we” have never publicly met and if law forbids secret meetings?

Arkansas cities are required by law to adopt their annual budget by February 1. Therefore, there is still plenty of time for the Finance Committee to have budget hearings, if they do what is right. However, last year they held no public budget meetings at all – not even one.

Another issue that has been revealed partially, by the Mayor’s new proposed budget, relates to Thunder Bayou Golf Links. I demanded to know if it was going to remain open, be closed or be morphed.

Well the only two answers that have been given since my column regarding Thunder Bayou was that after a couple years of plans to close it, then to repurpose it (which included many month-to-month-to-month appropriations), the Mayor now proposes in his election year budget to increase the golf course’s budget by 16.02 percent.

It was announced that the golf cart leases are set to expire, therefore they will be purchasing the carts by adding $127,000 to the “equipment replacement” line item. But that didn’t answer the question. If we are going to close the golf course, then we wouldn’t need the golf carts, would we? So does that mean that a decision has already been made to keep it open? If so, why not say so? And if we are going to keep it open, should we spend that much money for the old carts?

I also received a visit from Chief Ross Thompson regarding the question I posed related to the Humane Society taking over the city’s animal shelter and why the locks had been changed.

He said that they were merely looking at whether a symbiotic relationship of the two groups, with similar missions, would be more efficient than working alone - but that no decision had been made. He also defended that he hadn’t announced anything since no committee has discussed the issue. (How can they if they don’t meet?) He said the locks were changed because personnel have changed.

Choosing to keep us in the dark, they have still not answered:

— Why aren’t our city officials vigorously and publicly demanding resolution to the Gary Phillips/Blytheville Waterworks investigation?

— Why was Skycop, the expensive end-all-be-all solution to crime in Blytheville, allegedly only alluded to once in the Mayor’s State of the City Address, but never mentioned directly in any town hall, committee meeting or campaign material when the administration pushed the mayor’s Public Safety Tax?

— Why aren’t all committees meeting every month as they are supposed to? Why are those that do, moving meeting dates and time around for member convenience rather than being firmly scheduled so that the public (and press) can know to be there?

— We need to know a lot more about this proposed water deal with ANC? Are we legally required to provide the water? I think we need to know that before we agree to provide 12-years of free water as reimbursement to the college.

— Where are we on the Justice Center?

With all these major issues unresolved and lingering, why aren’t all of the committee meetings being held? Why isn’t the administration communicating with us?

Why did the budget grow from $14,856,767.55 when the 2017 budget was first proposed to $26,023,396.18 now? I know, they point to a water bond issue of $5 million and also to two loans for the construction of the new Justice Center. But, my question is this, if we are so broke that we are annually trying to pass a new tax, can we really afford to nearly double our city’s budget in just one year?

For the record, since my last column a month ago, the full council met once, the Finance committee met once and the Police and Fire met twice (once was special meeting to only address a specific complaint about promotions). Code Enforcement and Animal Control Committee also met once in special session to buy a heater at the shelter. But, there were no regular meetings of the Code Enforcement and Animal Control, Public Works or Airport and Utilities in November. Also, they have already cancelled Code Enforcement and Animal Control and Parks and Recreation meetings scheduled for December.

This administration is definitely keeping Blytheville citizens in the dark by meeting in secret, by cancelling meetings…and when they do meet, they routinely suspend the rules so that the standard three readings of new ordinances are done in one meeting rather than in three meetings. This is done so that citizens can’t be rallied to fight any of their new laws.

Together, you and I will find out these answers and we will hold this administration accountable.