The Little Rock Board of Directors declined to suspend its rules, as it often does, and advance consideration of an ordinance to call a July 13 election on a sales tax increase. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has proposed raising the sales tax by 1%, which would generate an estimated $53 million per year.
All ordinances require three readings, a tradition City Attorney Tom Carpenter said dates back to early American government when citizens would gather to hear a proposal, go home to discuss it with their neighbors, repeat that process and then vote. Board members frequently make motions to suspend the rules the first time an ordinance appears on an agenda and the clerk reads the ordinance three times in the same meeting to satisfy the rule. Such a motion requires approval from eight of the 10 board members.
After the first reading of the two ordinances related to the sales tax election, At-large Director Antwan Phillips made a motion to suspend the rules and place the ordinance on a second reading. Ward 2 Director Ken Richardson seconded him. In a voice vote, Scott ruled that the “ayes” had it, but on a roll call, no other board members joined Phillips and Richardson in voting to suspend the rules.
Scott then announced a specially called meeting at 4 p.m. April 27 to have a second reading. If a motion to suspend the rules isn’t successful then, the board will hear a third and final reading May 4 and take a vote on whether to refer the tax increase to voters.
After the failed motion, Phillips asked his fellow board members if they would discuss why they voted no. He directly asked At-large Director Joan Adcock if she would explain her no vote. She declined. She’d asked Phillips to weigh in on a contentious issue last week, so he said since she’d called him out, he was returning the favor.
A host of well-known local folks spoke for the tax plan, including Port Director Bryan Day, Museum of Discovery Director Kelley Bass, Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Gretchen Hall and Chris East and Amanda Nipper, co-chairs of Think Big Little Rock.
Greg Moore, speaking on behalf of Arkansas Community Organizations, urged the board not to move forward on a tax increase when so many people are still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. He also faulted the priorities, pointing to an allocation of 4% for housing efforts as compared to 9% for the zoo. “Let’s get through the pandemic first before we start talking about raising taxes,” he said.
Meanwhile, the board approved a long-discussed ordinance aimed at curbing drag racing and caravanning. Violators will face a fine of up to $1,000.
Drivers would be cited for caravanning if two or more cars, driving in close proximity, committed two or more traffic violations. Phillips asked Carpenter if two cars in a funeral procession that failed to use their turn indicator would be in violation of the ordinance. “This is about illegal actions that are about a threat to public safety or welfare,” Carpenter said. The intent of the bill will be considered by law enforcement and prosecutors, he said.
The ordinance also prohibits “vehicular trespass,” which covers drivers who operate a “vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety” of people or property as long as the property owner posts a sign at the entrance and exit of the property that says, “No Trespassing, No Access to Parking Lots After Close of Business, Violators Will Be Prosecuted.”
Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix and Ward 2 Director Ken Richardson voted against the ordinance.
The board also voted without dissent to extend the local emergency declaration related to the coronavirus pandemic for fourth months, until Aug. 31. The city will continue its mask mandate — until the legislature takes away that right. The mayor has promised that he will review the emergency declaration and mask mandate every 30 days.