In a six-page letter sent by Dean Kumpuris to the board of directors on Thursday afternoon, the longtime at-large director shared his concerns about the process for policy making on the board, the future of funding for the city’s parks, the board’s role in the city’s school system, sources of economic development and the impact of Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs on Little Rock’s youth.
Laura Bender, administrative assistant to the board, sent Kumpuris’ letter to the board, Mayor Frank Scott Jr., City Manager Bruce Moore and City Attorney Tom Carpenter, along with an article from the Wall Street Journal about urban anti-crime efforts in the U.S. that Kumpuris references in his letter.
Throughout the letter, Kumpuris takes issue with the board’s methods for creating and enacting policy for the city, including its weeks-long struggle earlier this summer to pass an amendment to the 2019 budget.
“I voted to give the Mayor the authority to close two golf courses and to cut the budget in multiple other areas,” Kumpuris wrote. “I feel that it was correct financial decision to make but if I had to do it over again, I would have insisted on a very different procedure.”
Kumpuris writes that his problem with the budget amendment is that he feels it was passed without knowledge of “all the budgetary facts” and without a defined plan for the future, specifically the lack of information about a source of funding to re-purpose Hindman and War Memorial golf courses.
“It was ill-advised to promise re-purposing of two city golf courses during a budgetary crisis,” Kumpuris wrote.
Kumpuris proposes that Carpenter draft an ordinance to review the parks and zoo budgets “with the goal” of having an election in November 2020 to create a dedicated source of funding for the parks — which Kumpuris estimates will need to be around $25 million — as well as a “temporary tax” to improve the parks and re-purpose Hindman and War Memorial golf courses.
Kumpuris, who has served as an at-large director since 1995, also wrote that the board has done a “terrible job” at navigating large policy issues, instead focusing on “individual” issues, such as zoning and one-time expenditures.
“As a result, policy is often made on an ‘as needed’ or ’emergency basis’ where we oftentimes do not have the luxury to consider the entire consequences of our actions,” Kumpuris writes.
To help improve this, Kumpuris suggests dedicating an hour and a half at each week’s board meeting to discuss “policy and policy issues” in order to “give clear direction to the Mayor and his cabinet on how to carry out our decisions.”
“If we do not take the time and effort to set policy, then we will govern by crisis management and/or we will abdicate all of our responsibilities to the Mayor,” Kumpuris wrote.
The at-large director suggests the board assume its “legal and morale [sic] responsibilities” in the same way that Scott has assumed the “full breadth of his legal responsibilities” by taking advantage of a 2007 ordinance that names the mayor as CEO of the city.
Kumpuris references the Scott Script — the compilation of recommendations from the various committees of Scott’s Transition Team — several times throughout the letter, writing that some of his ideas for improving the city or board structure are similar to suggestions in the Scott Script, while writing that others are “interesting concepts that I do not completely understand.” He adds without elaboration that he thinks one suggestion in the document “may be illegal.”
The letter also includes Kumpuris’ confusion about the role of the city in the future of the Little Rock School District, and he suggests setting a policy decision to clarify how the city needs to work with the district, private schools and the library system to “enhance the educational opportunities of our young people.”
Kumpuris also writes that the city needs to survey its Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs to asses their effectiveness in improving crime and “youth advancement.” He included the Wall Street Journal article as a reference to this issue.
In closing, Kumpuris writes that the city’s employee health insurance, the Pulaski County Jail and Rock Region Metro are all issues that need to be looked at “urgently.”
Perhaps in reference to Scott’s desire to remove or restructure the at-large positions on the board, Kumpuris ends the letter by writing that “the Mayor and his cabinet have a vision for City government that do not include me.” He writes that while he is still on the board, he plans to focus on improving the city’s park system and ensuring the board is responsible for setting policy.