Friday, December 30, 2011

TOP STORY >> Resolution didn’t violate FOIA, city council insists

Leader staff writer

Sherwood City Council members deny violating the Freedom of Information Act regarding a controversial resolution condemning the mayor for not telling aldermen the city had received results of a $32,875 feasibility study concerning impact fees for builders.

According to the FOIA handbook, “A quorum of the governing body need not be present for the meeting to be subject to the FOIA. If two members meet informally to discuss past or pending business, that meeting may be subject to the FOIA.”

Alderman Kevin Lilly said, “There were no meetings to discuss it. We can’t meet outside of the public or the press. That is highly illegal.”

The council wants to move forward with a proposal to levy the fees. Alderwoman Mary Jo Heye, a main supporter of the fees, said there would be a public workshop at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 to discuss the plan.

The president of Duncan and Associates, the company that produced the study, will make a presentation at the meeting.

The fees could be as high as $3,830 for a single-family detached dwelling. The fees, if approved, would be charged to new developers to cover road and park improvements.

Heye said the fees are “about growth, paying for growth. Sherwood is underfunded when it comes to infrastructure.”

Conway is one example of a city where impact fees work, and Sherwood needs revenue for roads and parks, Heye continued.

Hillman said she opposed impact fees because “I feel like it will have a negative impact on attracting new residents to our city. We don’t want to give anyone a reason not to move to Sherwood.”

She said that, to her knowledge, neighboring cities do not have the fees. “It would give neighboring communities a competitive edge,” Hillman said.

Seven council members voted Tuesday night to pass a resolution “expressing the disappointment and displeasure” of the council toward Hillman for saying at a Nov. 28 meeting that she hadn’t seen the study, although the city received it in September, and two department heads told the street committee on Dec. 8 they had met with her twice to discuss it.

Tuesday night’s resolution that chastised the mayor was not on the agenda. Alderman Kevin Lilly, who wrote it, said it had been composed within the past week.

City attorney Steve Cobb said the deadline to place an item on the agenda is at noon on the Tuesday before a meeting. He did not read the resolution at the meeting because he had not seen it and did not want to give the impression that he had reviewed or written it.

When asked about whether anyone had violated FOIA, he said, “I don’t want to get into the politics of it.”

Cobb added that he didn’t know anything about the resolution before the meeting and, although he usually writes or is consulted about such documents, it wasn’t legally required that council members go through him.

Aldermen Ken Keplinger, Toni Butler and Charles Harmon said they did not see the resolution until the day of the meeting. Keplinger also said no meetings were held about it.

City Clerk Angela Nicholson said she learned about the resolution from Tom Brooks, a former alderman and the spouse of city council member Marina Brooks.

Tom Brooks said, “It really had nothing to do with the impact fee study, except that some on the council cared a lot, and the mayor didn’t care about it. At this point, there is no question that she has lost the support of the council. Can she build it back up? She could, and I hope that she does.”

Five of the city’s eight alderman gave the impression what was underlying Tuesday’s heated affair was a lack of communication and trust. The mayor echoed their sentiments in that regard.

“They (city council members) could have talked to me about it and they didn’t. Charles (Harmon) did. There are some trust issues with the orchestration of that (the resolution),” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

Butler said, “I thought, whether it was innocently handled or not, it was wrongly handled. People who shouldn’t have been involved were. Everybody wants to be chief. No one wants to be the Indians.”

“We don’t have to love each other,” Butler continued. “We don’t have to like each other. We have to work together to build the city of Sherwood. I feel like there is no communication in the city council. Everyone there has their own agenda.”

The alderman were not out to humiliate anyone in public, she continued. She thought the resolution was a tactful way to address the situation and it should have ended with that.

Butler provided details about the breakdown of communication by describing how she missed a parks and recreation meeting because she wasn’t receiving the e-mails about them and was unable to get in touch with other attendees. She finally got the situation resolved by talking with a staffer who sent out the e-mails.

“I’m not blaming anyone. It was a chain of mistakes all the way down,” Butler explained.

Alderman Charles Harmon abstained from the vote on the resolution. He told The Leader Thursday, “I was between a rock and a hard place. I was torn. I shouldn’t have abstained. I should have voted yes or no.”

He talked to the mayor a week after the November meeting about her claim of not seeing the study.

Harmon continued, “I couldn’t vote yes because she had responded. She had apologized for the misunderstanding to me. But I couldn’t vote no because she didn’t repeat what she said to me to the rest of the council. Her statement (at the meeting) caused more anger. It is unfortunate when a city airs its dirty laundry in public. It’s a black eye on the city. I hope this is a turning point for us, the city council. I hope we can all learn to have better lines of communication in 2012.”

Marina Brooks brought up another point. “Everybody makes mistakes. All she had to say was, ‘I’m sorry,’ and she didn’t.”

Keplinger and Lilly agreed the resolution would not have been brought up if the mayor had owned up to her error.

Keplinger said, “If she would have apologized, the issue would have been dropped. She started blaming other people. You’re the leader of the city. When something happens, you should take responsibility.”

Lilly said, “If the mayor would have shown remorse or gave an apology, an acknowledgement, we probably would not have moved (the resolution) forward.”

Hillman said, “There was no apology I could have made that would have satisfied them.”