Eureka Springs City Council began 2017 with a heated argument when alderman Kristi Kendrick observed constituents were complaining about commercial intrusions into residential neighborhoods, and opposing views filled the air regarding what to do with Bed & Breakfasts. After much ado, council passed a resolution, drawn up on the spot by City Attorney Tim Weaver, imposing a moratorium through June 30 on issuing any new Conditional Use Permits in the R-1 and R-2 zones. The intent was to give the Planning Commission time to clear up points in City Code.
Because of other issues circulating around the table, alderman Bob Thomas announced he would turn in his resignation letter the following morning. Several pleas for him to reconsider were aired, and the following day he decided to stay.
Council voted to abide by the abridged edition of Robert’s Rules of Order.
At one final budget workshop, aldermen decided to add $5000 for a flow meter for Public Works and $4500 for the Cemetery Commission to the 2017 budget.
In a joint workshop with the Parks Commission, aldermen discussed Kendrick’s proposal for streamlining the process for vacating properties. She contended the city must use unopened streets not owned by the city for streets or pedestrian purposes such as trails. Her suggestion was to pass an ordinance taking back unopened spaces from Parks and giving Parks jurisdiction over existing and planned trails. Weaver and Parks Director Justin Huss identified complications, though her intent of simplifying the process met with general approval.
In February, Mayor Butch Berry said sewer rates had not increased in eight years and the city was not meeting its bond covenant stipulating that revenue from water and sewer should equal 120 percent of the cost of water, and the city is supposed to save another three percent for debt service. Council voted to increase by 30 percent both water and sewer rates.
There were three entries from properties wanting to host a food truck in different zones, so they were all winners.
Citizens gave council examples of what those with disabilities face in Eureka Springs, including pointing out the courthouse was not fully compliant with requirements of the American with Disabilities Act.
Berry presented another strategy in March in which water rates would not be increased, sewer rates would be increased 21 percent and everyone would pay an Infrastructure Improvement fee. He said the sewer rate increase would bring revenue to about the break-even point and the I&I fee would go toward meeting the bond covenant.
Council passed the first two readings of an ordinance on the one-eighth-cent tax for Lake Leatherwood on the ballot at a special election June 13. Berry said he would look in the budget for funds to buy the cemetery a used pickup.
The third reading of Ordinance 2253 which gave jurisdiction of existing and proposed trails to the Parks Commission but returned other green spaces to the city got a rough reception, but passed.
Berry announced the downtown Transit building was now being kept open seven days a week from 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. all year to make the handicapped bathroom available.
An April 13 workshop on proposed No Smoking in city parks ordinances caused a ruckus due to enforcement. The first attempt to pass an ordinance failed, but at the June 12 meeting a vote for a ban to Basin Park, all playgrounds owned by the city, the skate and dog parks, Lake Leatherwood ball fields, the concession and swimming areas at Lake Leatherwood, springs and springs reservoirs, passed.
On April 24, council passed all three readings plus the emergency clause of Ordinance 2255, which increased sewer rates by 21 percent and added the I&I fee to all utility bills. The increase was first reflected on the June 1 bills.
In May, it asked what was the city’s standing on promoters of the recent “Jesus Parade” refusing to allow certain churches to participate. Weaver said the recent non-discrimination ordinance had exceptions. Sentiment was against discrimination, and Berry said the city should stay out of it because people can see the irony without the city influence.
Berry said he had appointed his assistant, Kim Stryker, as the point person in city hall to hear grievances regarding noncompliance with the ADA.
The May 8 meeting was also the first mention of a possible new meeting site for city meetings. Diane Murphy, president of the Community Center Foundation (CCF) board, presented the city with a proposal. Aldermen had objections, but authorized Berry to continue negotiating.
Dr. Dan Bell spoke for a committee to bring a medical marijuana dispensary to Eureka Springs. At a June meeting, Marvin Park and Ronnie Rateliff told council they were planning to apply for a license to open a marijuana dispensary in town. Council approved Resolution 711, “This Council wished to express its support for the establishment of one or more facilities to dispense Marijuana for medical use within the Corporate City Limits of Eureka Springs, Arkansas.”
The July 10 meeting became so contentious three people got up and left, and the meeting was a bumpy ride due to interpretation of Robert’s Rules of Order which council had voted to adopt, so approval of June 12 minutes was deferred.
Then came approval of the June 26 minutes. Kendrick identified points of concern, and alderman Mickey Schneider took exception and made confrontational and personal remarks toward Kendrick, so Berry tried to regain control, but Schneider was not deterred. As Kendrick began to offer a rebuttal, City Clerk Ann Armstrong gathered her things and left. Berry again aimed for civility, but two aldermen got up and left, also.
The four aldermen remaining were split 2-2 on approving the June 26 minutes, so they agreed to delay discussion.
Council convened a special meeting July 12 to discuss behavior of Schneider and her husband in the County Clerk’s office in Berryville when they wanted their names removed from voter rolls. County Clerk Jamie Correia called to speak with Berry about Schneider not being a registered voter, therefore she was ineligible to be an elected official. According to Correia, Berry was not there and she spoke with Armstrong who said she would speak to Schneider. She then asked if Schneider re-registered if she could keep her seat on council, and Correia said she could. Schneider said she re-registered the following day. Council voted to table further discussion until July 24, when it was dropped.
Kimberly Clark urged council to learn non-violent communication skills because, “It is embarrassing what goes on here.”
Looking for a home
Search for a new meeting site expanded to include the Auditorium lobby and 25 Norris St., a city-owned building presently occupied by Dr, Charles Beard whom Berry claimed intended to relocate to southern Arkansas the first of the year.
Aldermen toured 25 Norris and the downtown firehouse as potential meeting sites. Berry estimated each would cost about $30,000 to renovate. Berry suggested they move city meetings to the Auditorium lobby, which is where they met for the first time September 25.
In October Berry announced he had learned Dr. Beard did not plan to relocate but instead fully intended to remain at 25 Norris. However, no one had a copy of his lease, and it appeared no one knew when he last paid rent. He had apparently made improvements to the property back in the ‘90s in lieu of rent, but the paper trail was lost. Berry presented a proposed lease asking for $2000 per month for the property, and a new proposal from the CCF was gaining more votes among aldermen, but they delayed a decision.
In October, the attorney for Dr. Beard countered that $1000 per month was an appropriate rent. A side issue regarding a move to the Community Center was whether the Eureka Springs School District could actually give the property to the city. Berry was pursuing a decision from the Attorney General.
In November, aldermen again considered the five-year offer for space at the Community Center. The offer was that during the first year the Foundation was to renovate the space and the city would take care of exterior work to make the parking lot and ramp ADA-compliant. In years two-through-five, the city would pay an annual rent of $5000, or about $27 per meeting.
Aldermen Thomas and Mitchell were unsure the Foundation would not default on their lease with the school district, and alderman Terry McClung moved to go forward negotiating with the Foundation. Thomas wanted to amend the motion for the city to have exclusive use of the room, but that failed, and vote on McClung’s motion passed. Later, Thomas announced he wanted to reconsider the vote, saying he made a mistake.
Berry reported the Attorney General’s preliminary opinion was positive that the district could give the Community Center property to the city with certain restrictions. McClung pointed out it did not matter because the school board had not even discussed it. Berry said he would be on the agenda for the first school board meeting of 2018, and he would continue negotiating with CCF.
Berry told council about the upcoming Night Market in which on December 9 Spring Street would be barricaded to through traffic from 4-10 p.m. Vendors would be able to set up tents on the street. He acknowledged there were naysayers.