In Tuesday afternoon’s Little Rock Board of Directors agenda meeting, at-large director Dean Kumpuris followed up to the letter he sent city leaders on July 18 — which called for the board to improve its policy-making — by introducing a resolution asking for the board to meet for an additional hour and a half before its 6 p.m. voting meetings every other Tuesday to discuss “policy issues.”
Kumpuris’ addition of this item to Tuesday’s agenda meeting allows for the resolution to be added to the agenda of next Tuesday’s voting meeting, where it can be further discussed and potentially voted into effect. Kumpuris’ proposal was met with mixed reactions from city directors, but most were confused about the mechanics and timing of the resolution.
Ward 1 city director Erma Hendrix asked Kumpuris to “be more specific” immediately following his introduction of the resolution.
“One of the things you would like to talk about, and have talked about all the time, is residency [requirements] for the police,” Kumpuris replied. “And this would give us the opportunity to have an informal meeting where we sit down and really talk about it, and talk about the pros and cons of what’s happening.”
As he did in his letter, Kumpuris referenced “big issues” the board will soon need to address for the city, including the expiration of its contract with the Pulaski County Jail and its insurance policy for employees.
Hendrix said that “working people” couldn’t come to a meeting that began at 4 p.m., and Kumpuris replied that he is one of the “working people.” He said he could arrange his calendar so that he comes to City Hall every Tuesday at 4 p.m., whether for the agenda meeting, which is normally scheduled at 4 p.m., or for the voting meeting, where the board would meet for an hour and a half to discuss policy before eating dinner and then having its regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. before “moving on with life.”
Kumpuris emphasized that his introduction of this proposal only slates it for discussion at next week’s meeting.
“As long as you talk about at-large positions, I’m for you,” Hendrix said.
Vice Mayor B.J. Wyrick asked Kumpuris whether he was proposing to have a policy discussion every Tuesday or every other Tuesday during the board meeting, as well as who would be preparing the agenda for such a discussion.
Kumpuris replied that his “inclination” is to alert city staff about the topics the board wants to discuss — such as the topics he included in his letter and referenced earlier in the meeting — and allow directors to bring up topics they’d like to address.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. interjected to remind the directors that he is chairman of the board, so if the resolution passes, any items the directors want to discuss will be sent to the mayor’s office, where his staff will prepare the agenda, to “make sure things are decent and in order.”
Kumpuris added that part of his reasoning for introducing the resolution is that “on paper,” the board is supposed to use its 4 p.m. agenda meetings to discuss larger policy issues, but said the board only talks about a policy if there’s a resolution or ordinance related to it on the agenda. He said the board doesn’t talk about policy in a “broad sense” that allows it to “really find the third, fourth or fifth way of doing something.”
“When we [currently] talk about policy here, in my opinion, we talk about an individual thing that one of us puts on [the agenda], not generalized issues that confront the whole community,” Kumpuris said. “And that’s what I think we ought to be doing.”
Kumpuris said it’s the board’s role to establish policy and the job of the mayor to execute it.
Scott again stepped in to clarify.
“This board is a policy-making board. It’s not a management board,” Scott said. “It only works on policy. I’m assuming that is the intent of Director Kumpuris, is to have more policy discussions. Now, one might add that … as he shared, [and] as far as I can remember, the agenda meetings are supposed to be that setting to do that. What Director Kumpuris is sharing is he believes over the past 20 or 30 years, that [the agenda meeting] may have not been the place [for these discussions], from his perspective. It’s up to the board on that decision. We’re going to do policy, whether it’s at the agenda meeting or at another meeting that the board wants to schedule.”
Wyrick said additional policy meetings might help the board be “better prepared” to discuss and vote on issues that come before it.
“I agree with Dean that we go through the agenda items, and then at the end, we all kind of trail off on what our own little agendas are and ask for information and have questions,” Wyrick said. “So, I think it’s probably a good idea.”
Scott added that “most likely, the exact same thing” will occur if directors vote to schedule another meeting specifically for policy discussions.
Ward 6 director Doris Wright said she agrees with Kumpuris’ resolution “in theory,” but she doesn’t think the board needs to add an hour and a half to its agenda meetings. She said she’d rather have the board set aside time within the existing timeframe of the agenda meetings to discuss policy.
After some confusion about whether the board needed to vote to add the item to the agenda for next week’s meeting, or whether it could simply be added at Kumpuris’ request, City Attorney Tom Carpenter said both ways are essentially possible — the board has an ordinance in place that allows for directors to put an item on the agenda “as a matter of right.”
Kumpuris added that he did, in fact, want to put the resolution on the agenda at Tuesday’s agenda meeting, allowing for it to be discussed and voted on by the board next week.
Wright reiterated that adding time for a designated policy discussion is “a little too much” for a Tuesday night meeting when there’s time allotted for it on the Tuesday afternoon agenda meetings.
“As it is, I’m not in support,” Wright said.
“I’m not asking anybody to vote on it,” Kumpuris replied. “All I want to do is have a discussion about how we do policy better. That’s all I want to do. I think we shirk our responsibilities in what we do.”
Ward 3 director Kathy Webb suggested the board set aside time to discuss policy issues by having a board “retreat” when “specific” issues come before the board, allowing the board to study an issue and be better prepared for a vote on it.
At-large director Joan Adcock quickly replied that she does not want the board to do another “budget retreat,” saying it’s “not good” for city department heads who are asked to compile “wish lists” of things they want, which are then inevitably rejected by directors and not placed in the city’s budget.
Ward 3 city director Ken Richardson asked how the city is “defining” and “quantifying” policy “without divorcing ourselves from specific projects in specific wards.”
Richardson also asked, “more importantly,” what makes this point in time the “magical, majestical” moment to designate such a process for policy discussion.
“Why now?” Richardson prompted.
“It’s a reflection on what we do and don’t do. It’s a reflection on what our job is. It’s an admission, at least, that I wrote in that letter, that I thought I was not doing my job,” Kumpuris replied.
Kumpuris said it’s an “admission” that the city isn’t doing a “good job” of fighting crime, and that it’s spending “almost $6 million on [Prevention*, Intervention and Treatment programs]” but the board “never sits down to talk about all of the issues together and how we make it better.
“You can talk about crime, you can talk about community centers, you can talk about the jail, you can talk about any of the health programs. All of those things are hard issues to talk about,” Kumpuris said. “They require a lot of thought, and it is an admission on my part that I don’t think I’m doing a good job. I’m offering this as a way of trying to make the city better. You can say to me, ‘What the hell have you done for the last 20-something years?’ … [But] we have systemic problems that we try to address piecemeal, and we don’t do a good job of looking at holistic approaches to it. We spend a lot of money on mediocrity.
“If we continue doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome, then shame on us,” Kumpuris added.
Scott replied to Kumpuris’ comments, saying that he “understands” what Kumpuris is talking about but that he “can’t account for what the city board has done the last 24 [or] 26 years.
“What I can account for, as the state’s chief elected officer and executive officer, [is] that I campaigned on change,” Scott said. (He said “state,” but surely meant city.) “Over the last 210 days, I think everyone can attest that City Hall has changed and will continue to.”
Scott added that “historically,” the board has not been “brought in” on large policy decisions, like the budget or amendments to the budget, very early in the process. Scott said the “management team” of City Finance Director Sara Lenehan, City Manager Bruce Moore and himself has been discussing the issue of “funding” for the Pulaski County Jail for the past “three or four months” with the mayors of North Little Rock, Jacksonville, and “all the other mayors” within Pulaski County.
“I think this particular type of [resolution] does encroach upon governance issues,” Scott said. “We can discuss all day during [an] agenda meeting or a meeting that we want to add to on another day, that’s fine, but we do have to understand that discussions are sometimes discussions that one will adhere to, that’s a part of that learning.”
Hendrix had the final word on the issue.
“For 21 years, this city has sat here, I don’t know which adjective I’d like to use, but we have a new mayor who is the chief executive officer of this board, and I think that all of us need to recognize that,” Hendrix said. “My thing is that the downfall of this board has been the at-large positions. I don’t care. It’s not legal. I attempted to do something about that last year, but it took time and money and effort. … I have problems with Dean coming here, handing this to me, and to all of us, at the last minute, thinking that we’re going to vote on it. I’m your friend, but I’m going to speak the truth whether you like it or not.”
As clarified by Carpenter and Moore, directors will vote at next week’s meeting on whether to add Kumpuris’ resolution to that agenda. If the board votes to keep it off the agenda, it will automatically be added to the agenda of the Aug. 13 agenda meeting for a vote at the Aug. 20 voting meeting.
*Correction: A previous version of this story had the incorrect name for the city’s Prevention, Intervention and Treatment [PIT] programs.