The Little Rock Board of Directors approved a revised ordinance on dockless electric scooters at its Tuesday meeting. The board also approved a resolution to target development money in East, South and Southwest Little Rock, but consideration of the resolution was marred by procedural bickering and tension along racial lines, echoing contentious meetings of the recent past.
The ordinance requires scooters to be operated on the street in bicycle lanes where available. That’s a change. City code previously required scooters to be operated on sidewalks. The new rule prohibits riders 16 and younger from operating scooters and limits riders to one per scooter.
Under the new ordinance, scooter companies must pay a $10,000 annual franchise fee and $75 per device operating in the city.
San Francisco-based Lime is the sole scooter provider in Little Rock at the time. The scooters have been ubiquitous in downtown Little Rock since the city entered into a trial agreement with Lime in January 2019.
In December 2020, the board amended a similar ordinance to prohibit the use of the scooters in certain residential areas and require that scooter companies provide helmets to riders younger than 18. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. vetoed the ordinance a week later, calling the amendments “unduly burdensome.”
At-large Director Dean Kumpuris, who proposed the helmet amendment in December, said on Tuesday, “I cannot in good conscience accept money in a franchise fee for something I think is basically unsafe.”
At-large Director Antwan Phillips said he liked riding the scooters, adding, “I do not want our city to legislate on the parade of horribles. There are so many things that we recognize in life that come with some danger, and we accept them and move forward, and I don’t want our city to be thought of as a city behind the times because we’re afraid of the parade of horribles.”
“I generally consider myself being a pretty progressive person,” Ward 3 Director Kathy Webb said. “But without a helmet requirement I cannot vote yes on this ordinance.”
Mayor Scott emphasized that by not passing the ordinance the city would be leaving money on the table. To Kumpuris, he said that based on data from Lime, there have not been scooter-related injuries in Little Rock.
The ordinance passed after Ward 4 Director Capi Peck, who initially voted present, changed her vote to yes. She was joined by Phillips, Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix, Ward 2 Director Ken Richardson, Ward 5 Director and Vice-Mayor Lance Hines and Ward 6 Director Doris Wright.
Confusion reigned during discussion over the resolution to provide a “targeted community development initiative” for wards 1, 2, 6 and 7, sponsored by Phillips, Richardson and Wright. Before the reading of the ordinance, Kumpuris asked Scott if there was citizen comment for the resolution. Scott said there was and Kumpuris asked to speak after public comment. Scott read the resolution, asked for votes and declared it passed and then called for a second reading. That’s standard practice for an ordinance, but a resolution only requires one reading. Adcock and Hines asked for a roll call, while Phillips and Webb asked for clarification from City Attorney Tom Carpenter. Meanwhile, Hendrix, attending remotely, asked, “What are y’all talking about?”
Kumpuris then motioned to expunge the vote. After a voice vote, Scott ruled that the nays — those voting against expungement — had it. Hines then requested a roll call and a lengthy discussion followed.
Kumpuris explained why he wanted to expunge the vote, “We made a procedural error. People have come to speak. I’ve got something to say. … We’ve now passed something that has huge consequences, and I think that’s wrong.”
Phillips asked Carpenter whether those who came to speak could still be heard even if the approved resolution wasn’t expunged. Carpenter said that would be out of order.
In the roll call, which was broken up by several long requests for clarification, Ward 7 Director B.J. Wyrick joined the Hendrix, Phillips, Richardson and Wright in voting no. The 5-5 vote meant the expungement motion failed.
After the vote, Adcock demanded a roll call on the original resolution vote, and Hines said, under the board’s normal procedure, a roll call shouldn’t require a second. He said his motion for a roll call on the initial resolution vote should have been honored. Adcock said she would “FOI” the vote in the morning. “I feel like this board has a right to know how each of us voted on this item,” she said.
After the meeting, during board discussion, Phillips thanked citizens for coming to speak on the resolution and said he voted against the expungement because, as a sports fan, he knows “that you don’t take points off the board.” He called the resolution a “symbolic and significant step” for the city.
Hendrix asked City Manager Bruce Moore if the resolution was a guarantee that the city would spend money in the targeted neighborhoods.
“As I look at this, the board just set a policy,” Moore said. “The policy says that we are to look at putting funding, when available, or new resources into these neighborhoods … . As funding becomes available … I believe it’s incumbent on the mayor and I to come back to the board and say, based on this policy, this is what we recommend.”