The Little Rock City Board got unhappier Friday after the Arkansas Blog reported that War Memorial Golf Course would be closed at the end of June.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr., City Manager Bruce Moore and Parks Director John Eckart have not responded to requests for comment to confirm or deny the report. Additional reporting indicated that Hindman Park Golf Course also had been targeted for closure and employees had been informed, along with several dozen other city parks employees.
The problem, from city directors’ perspective, is that layoffs and closures are only speculative until the City Board acts. There was no vote at a discussion of the budget Tuesday.
This afternoon, Scott’s new public relations hire, Stephanie Jackson, acknowledged that the parks director (and heads of other departments where Scott proposed job cuts) had met with individual employees. But she said they told them they “could” be affected by budget cuts and then “subject” to Board of Director votes.
Our sources say those informed of job cuts were told unequivocally Tuesday that their jobs were being eliminated.
Director Capi Peck isn’t happy about how the matter was handled. She’s a liaison to parks and recreation and had no advance knowledge of the proposed cuts. “This is not a dictatorship, and he can’t make it one. It’s disgusting.”
Director Joan Adcock similarly faulted Scott’s approach of laying out two budget proposals and expecting a vote last Tuesday when directors had been given no advance indication of what the proposals would contain. She said golf course closings, to name but one potential cut, had “not been decided by the board and it cannot be done until the board votes on it.” She’s objected to closing Hindman Park Golf Course. She said she didn’t receive any outline of Scott’s proposals until an unexpected recess in Tuesday’s board meeting when Director Ken Richardson had a seizure.
She said she was working to make sure city employees were present at Tuesday’s meeting and that they’d be given a chance to speak. Scott had told two who’d signed up to speak earlier this week that they couldn’t but they could do so next week. He apparently didn’t realize that public comment normally isn’t allowed at agenda sessions. Adcock said she intended to make sure they had an opportunity.
Adcock said she believed Scott , a newcomer, perhaps was not yet a skilled counter of city board votes. At least five votes are needed, plus the mayor’s own tie-breaker, to pass a budget amendment through the 10-member board. She said from remarks Tuesday night it appeared he had few supporters for his proposals, maybe no more than Erma Hendrix. She acknowledged the budget had to be cut, but it required a full discussion by the board first.
Peck, too, said more discussion was needed, particularly on the golf courses. “Everybody wants to explore what’s happening with War Memorial,” she said.
Bruce Moore has apparently been doing round-robin calling of directors on behalf of the mayor and attempting to arrange one-on-one sessions on the budget. The mayor can’t meet with a board member on the budget without giving public notice and opening the meeting to the public. But can the city manager do so? He talks with individual board members about matters all the time. But if he’s gauging one-by-one approval or disapproval of the mayor’s budget, he moves into sensitive territory. An Arkansas Supreme Court decision said a city administrator’s round-robin sounding of Fort Smith city directors to reach a decision amounted to an FOI law violation.
Director Kathy Webb confirmed that Moore had arranged a meeting with her Saturday. She said she spoke with him often and didn’t see it as a problem. Adcock said she wouldn’t participate in one-on-one meetings with the mayor and hadn’t scheduled a specific meeting with Moore, but, for example, had talked to him several times today. Moore said later that the meeting with Webb was about “two successful initiatives (A Bridge to Work and Cities of Service) that she has been involved in. ”
Moore added: “I have had multiple calls from multiple sirectors regarding the budget presentation. Some of them our suggestions and some of them are clarifying in nature. And that is no different from any other budget discussion that I have experienced.”
Adcock and other board members viewed Scott’s opening and closing remarks on the budget Tuesday as lectures. They were not appreciative.
The controversy is larger than unilateral decision-making on golf courses.
City directors are questioning the mayor’s expenditures since taking office, with what Adcock said was some $350,000 in hires. He’s also added a two-man police escort service, which no other mayor has employed. Space has reportedly been provided, two directors said, in City Hall for Rep. Charles Blake, a political ally whom many expect to see named Scott’s chief of staff. Stephanie Jackson said no space has been provided for Blake and no decision has been made on the chief of staff.
The Arkansas Times and others have made requests for records on Scott’s expenditures but none has been supplied. Among the requests unfilled is a narrow request for city expenditures on a recent program with Immanuel Baptist Church.
Scott vowed to have a transparent and accountable administration.