Friday, June 25, 2010

TOP STORY>>Mayors attend league meeting

Leader staff writers

Mayors from area cities attending last week’s Arkansas Municipal League meetings in Hot Springs all came away with something different.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman came back excited after listening to a presentation on city leadership.

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Wil-liams left happy about his city’s presentation at the convention.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke got the scoop on natural gas.

And Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher went to improve his knowledge and skills in obtaining grants for the city. “I’ve got a $7 million wish list and want us to get some help in turning some of the projects into reality,” he said.

“I went to purposely get more involved in the grant process. There’s not much free money out there, but there is a lot of 80/20 matching grants,” Fletcher said. In an 80/20 grant the federal or state government will fund 80 percent of the project and the city will chip in the other 20 percent.

The 76th annual Municipal League convention was held June 16-18 and attended by city leaders from across the state.

Convention workshops included avoiding lawsuits, the new social media, the safety of bank deposits, economic development, using technology, dealing with dogs, benefits of parks and recreation and wellness.

“The meetings were very educational for me. I did a lot of networking, which should help us in the future,” the mayor said.

Fletcher said the problem was not so much finding federal or state grants, but finding private foundations willing to help with projects.

The mayor left the convention feeling good about some funding probabilities for revitalizing Main Street and possible funding for a 2,500-square-foot expansion of the senior center. “We are looking at building a safe room in the expansion and using it as an exercise room and for other functions too,” he explained.

The other interesting piece of information that he came back with had to do with what businesses and industries look at when considering to locate to an area.”

“The top item on their quality-of-life list is good public schools, followed by affordable housing costs and having higher-education opportunities in the area,” he said.

Hillman also said it was a good meeting. She said the summer conventions are more laid back than the ones in January, when newly elected city leaders are coming together and, when the state legislature is in session, discussing the bills going through the legislature.

She enjoyed a presentation by Lyle Sumek, a former San Diego city official who now operates his own consulting and motivational company. Sumek’s topic was “Leadership for a Sustainable City—Lessons, Traits, Choices and Actions.”

Sumek focused on how cities need to communicate effectively with their residents, staying proactive on issues and making good decisions and sticking to them even in face of resistance.

Hillman came away feeling good about the direction of Sherwood. She also thought the workshop on using Facebook and Twitter useful. “It gave us a look at the good and bad of using these social networks and will be helpful whenever the city decides to look at those forms of communication,” she said.

Beebe Clerk-Treasurer Carol Crump-Westergren was also at the workshop and said it appeared to draw the most attendees.

“They talked a lot about how Facebook and Twitter are affecting how cities communicate with their citizens,” Crump-Westergren said, adding that twittering was a topic she knew nothing about.

“I thought you had to twitter on your phone, but apparently, you can twitter on a computer. It was interesting,” she said.

Williams presented a workshop on upgrading technology to save time and money. “They called it the bailout that didn’t cost a billion dollars,” the mayor said, referring to the fact that Cabot didn’t have the money to make payroll when he took office almost four years ago and now has $3.35 million in the bank, thanks in part to technology improvements that have increased productivity and cut the time required to process applications—for example, for purchase orders and permits from days to minutes.

Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler represented Cabot as president of the state City Clerk Association, and city planner Jim Von Tungeln used Cabot and Bryant in his workshop as an example of how planning should work. Von Tungeln works for both cities.

Ward’s mayor said energy was one of the most significant topics discussed during the convention.

Brooke served on the committee that passes resolutions on proposed changes in law to send to the state legislature.

The committee voted down a resolution that, if passed by the legislature, would require natural gas companies to construct sound barriers to muffle production noise.

The resolution committee also voted down a resolution to take to the legislature that could have increased the amount firefighters and police officers would have had to pay into their retirement accounts, and it also voted down a resolution that would have given cities in dry counties the right to call for an election and vote the city wet.

Brooke said he learned from meeting with representatives from Chesapeake, one of the largest gas companies, that a station to sell natural gas to fuel cars is being built in North Little Rock, so anyone with a natural gas car will have access to fuel.

He said he has never attended a convention when he didn’t learn something.

Jacksonville officials attending the convention included aldermen Kenny Elliott, Bob Stroud, Marshall Smith, Reedie Ray, Kevin McCleary and Bill Howard, human resource director Jill Ross, city engineer Jay Whisker and retired Mayor Tommy Swaim.

Besides Hillman, Sherwood aldermen Butch Davies and Sheila Sulcer were at the meeting.