Planning Commission Chair and city council candidate LauraJo Smole was the only person to give public comment at Monday’s city council meeting, and she scolded the mayor for poor administrative leadership citing two particular incidents under his watch – City Building Inspector/Police official Bobby Ray who violated city policy, and decertified law enforcement officer Austin Young who was hired after being fired from Green Forest Police Dept. for misconduct.
Austin Young is the son of the Eureka Springs Police Chief Brian Young, whom Berry allowed to be hired within the same department as his father due to the lack of a city policy addressing nepotism. “I feel that hiring a child to work directly under a parent is 99 percent a poor decision,” Smole said, demanding immediate action. “Can the citizens of Eureka Springs trust the judgment of a police chief who overlooks these kinds of infractions?”
“Who are you willing to protect, the citizens or the police chief and the code enforcement employees?” Smole asked the mayor.
Alderman Harry Meyer echoed her sentiment, saying that earlier in the year he attempted to discuss the code that described city council confirmation of new hires in the police department. Meyer said that because of his inquiry he was told that he was trying to micromanage the police department and was told that the police chief and the mayor have exclusive control over hiring and no longer require council’s approval.
Meyer said the events described by Smole are examples of why council approval should not be discredited saying, “After recent events I hope the council sees why there is a need for this type of oversight.” Meyer said he wants to form a committee to create an ordinance that provides the citizens with checks and balances of staff administration.
He also said it is time to address nepotism and thorough background checks for new officers within the city employment policy. The updated policy that Meyer recommends should be that which, “And I can’t believe I have to say this,” Meyer said, “that denies employment of anyone who is under investigation to a crime,” referring again to Young who was knowingly hired under such a premise.
Berry made no comment regarding his administrative duties nor the recommended improvements. Alderman Bob Thomas added to the agenda setting the discussion of a nepotism clause to the employee handbook for the next meeting scheduled for Monday, Sept. 28, at 6 p.m. in the AUD.