Hot on the heels of Russellville Mayor Richard Harris’ refusal to permit a marijuana dispensary in the city comes announcement of a campaign to get him recalled in a November election.
The news release, distributed by Kristin Foster of Russellville, a lobbyist and policy advocate who said she’d volunteered for this cause, said a meeting was held last week by citizens frustrated on issues ranging from special fireworks permits to economic stability. The release said the hope is to take a stand against those who make poor economic decisions or “abstain from crucial votes on city economic proposals.” The release continued:
Last month Russellville made national headlines when a group of neo-Nazis disrupted a Holocaust memorial event. A community meeting was announced by Harris in response, and then abruptly canceled a few hours later, causing some citizens to express concern over the mayor’s handling of the event. Harris again came under fire for a controversial decision to abstain from casting a tie-breaking vote on the issuance of a permit for a medicinal marijuana dispensary, stating “As your mayor, I will not cast a vote on this issue because it is so divided and will let the council make this decision.” The permit failed to receive the five affirmative votes needed in order to pass, ending in a 4-4 tie. A statement on the group’s Recall Russellville Mayor Facebook page says that not voting on the dispensary permit “is what started the initial discussion around a recall election.”
Under Arkansas law citizens may petition for a special recall election by collecting signatures equal to at least thirty-five percent (35%) of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for that office at the preceding general election. “We want to see everyone in Russellville have the opportunity to succeed,” said Jami Brent, Recall Russellville Mayor spokesperson. “If our officials cannot make the decisions necessary to move that vision forward, then we believe it’s time for those officials to make way for those who can.” According to the campaign they plan to collect approximately 2,900 signatures in order to put the question on the November 2019 ballot.
The issue didn’t mention another burning issue that Harris has dodged — casino gambling. He’s said he wouldn’t endorse a casino permit application in Russellville unless voters were heard first. Last week, the state Racing Commission rejected all five casino permit applications for Pope County because none had the endorsement of local officials, as the amendment requires. A local ordinance requires a referendum first, a law that some have argued is unconstitutional.
Foster said there’s frustration on the casino issue, too, but the mayor hasn’t been directly involved recently because the permit applications all specify sites outside the city. Those require approval of county officials, not the mayor.