Tuesday, June 03, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Tension rises in Sherwood

It’s campaign season. That might not be any more evident than it is during Sherwood City Council meetings.

Council members have been bitterly divided over ordinary municipal business, and Mayor Virginia Hillman, who is facing two opponents for re-election, has been the recipient of much of the ire.

In The Leader’s 27 years, we cannot recall so much division over a city’s plan to build a public library. Sherwood’s is one of the oldest and smallest branches in the Central Arkansas Library System.

The conflict is largely over some aldermen not wanting to hold a special election to raise property taxes to pay for a much-needed library. They’d prefer to put it before the voters during the general election in November. To them, it would be undemocratic to sneak in a vote on property tax — a $200 annual increase for a $150,000 home — in August, when many people are on vacation or otherwise uninvolved with civic matters.

Fair point, but we’re not sure a special election would automatically ensure approval of the measure. Consider the recent defeat of Pulaski Technical College’s effort to increase property taxes countywide. That took a lot of grassroots organizing.

When CALS director Bobby Roberts recently told the council of the plan to hold the special election this summer, he was not pleased to hear of the alternative plan to put it on the November ballot. He said the library system, not the city council, is responsible for setting the election date and that a lawsuit against Sherwood may be filed if it interferes because construction plans would be delayed.

Roberts also knows a fight to raise taxes in November would be tough.

The other issue that’s reached a boiling point is the now-canceled plan to build a police firing range on Trammel Road. Residents were alarmed when they were belatedly told of the plan to build an outdoor shooting range near their homes.

City officials abandoned the plan almost as soon as the opposition to it formed.

Hillman, frustrated, said this newspaper called Police Chief Jim Bedwell a liar. A resident who believed the city was sneaking in a firing range in her backyard said that. We know the mayor was simply imprecise with her words. But it illustrates the level of discord at city hall right now.

To be clear, here’s the quote again: Virginia Jones of 828 Trammel Road told us, “So many times that man has told me, ‘You won’t even know we’re out there.’ Liar! Of course I’m going to know they’re out there.”

Tough words. Did she exaggerate? Perhaps, but no more so than saying the shooting noise would be unnoticeable.

Being mayor is a high-pressure job. It’s not easy. Hillman was elected after former Mayor Danny Stedman resigned for stress-related health problems.

Hillman’s opponents, Don Berry and Doris Anderson, can’t beat her by claiming Sherwood is heading in the wrong direction because of mismanagement. Look around, the city’s population is growing and businesses keep opening there, and Hillman deserves to share the credit for the city’s successes.

To move forward, council members should support a timely library vote. Do it for the kids.