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Earle silent on resident’s community center complaint

City Attorney: ‘ It’s a complaint. It’s not a lawsuit’

news@theeveningtimes.com

Earle will not respond to a complaint by a resident who is threatening to sue the city for deceptive business advertising, willful malice, and ill treatment towards her after she inquired about renting the city’s community center for a church function.

Jeanetta Burton appeared before the city council at its Sept. 15 meeting and read a letter addressed to all eight councilmembers in which she accused them and City Clerk Cynthia Conner of libel defamation and of deceptive, willful, and fraudulent business practices, and demanded an answer within two days.

But according to the council, none of them received a copy of the letter. Councilman Jesse Selvy was the only one who picked up a copy of the letter.

City Attorney Davis Loftin said that there is nothing to respond to because no lawsuit has been filed.

“Respond to what?”

Loftin said. “It’s a complaint. It’s not a lawsuit.”

Earlier in the year Burton asked the city about renting the community center on behalf of Breaking Yokes & Deliverance True Ministries, Inc. but was told that the building was not available because it was in bad shape.

The building had not been used in several years and needed extensive repairs. The roof leaked, there was a broken water pipe, and the glass doors were broken as well.

At a special meeting in June, the council admitted that the building had not been properly maintained and decided to make the necessary repairs in order to be able to rent the building to Burton and to generate future revenue.

The city paid Councilman Bobby Luckett $800 to fix a leaky spot on the roof and to install some sheetrock, and $700 to Councilman Donnie Cheers to replace the windows and for concrete work around the door.

Councilman Robert Malone, who volunteered to oversee the maintenance of the building, also replaced some ceiling tiles, cleaned the bathroom, and did some weedeating.

Councilman Charlie Young donated $550 toward the repairs and City Clerk Cynthia Conner donated

$150.

But according to Burton, after obtaining the key they discovered that the inside of the building had not been cleaned as they were told it would be, and that the inside was in deplorable shape.

“There were no air conditioning ducts in seven rooms of the center,” Burton wrote. “It was infested with all manner of rodents, insects, bird droppings, and frogs, spiders and grasshoppers, which caused the incorporation to take matters in its own hands.”

The church had to clean it in order for it to be ready in time for their event.

Burton said she contacted the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office and was told that they were unaware that the community center had been empty and left unused, and that the city could not charge a charity or non-profit organization to use the building.

Burton also said she found out from the County Assessor’s Office that the building is listed as being owned by Earle and not as a community center.

“So my question to the council is, does the Earle Community Center really exist?” Burton asked in her letter.

Burton claims that Conner and Councilwoman Jimmie Barham exhibited ill will towards her and the church. Barham at the June special meeting asked “why I could not use one of the 27 churches in Earle?” and that Conner stated “the city did not have any money to repair the building.”

Burton said her son researched the community center and found out that the Community Center was organized as a non-profit when it was purchased under former Mayor Sherman Smith’s administration, and that the city in 2001-2003 received a $35,948 grant to make improvements, and that the city also received a block grant from the state for $22,272 in 2011 for repairs and another one for $77,000 for the tennis court, city hall, and community center in 2011.

The city also received a $22,000 grant from East Arkansas Planning and Development District in 2013 and installed air conditioning units, fixed the roof, replaced ceiling tiles, tore out a wall, and extended the kitchen.

Burton further alleges that false information in the press which reported that she was renting the building for a “family function” and comments by Conner that the city got an electric bill for $733 caused her “embarrassment, mental anguish, excess stress.”

Burton said in her letter that she has consulted her son’s attorney in the state of Washington and is entitled to seek substantial monetary and punitive damages from the city.

Mayor Carolyn Jones, who was specifically excluded from the complaint, said the city should have answered Burton.

“I really think we should have responded and not ignored it,” Jones said.

“Everybody ignored it.

That would have upset me too.”

Loftin said the letter was not faxed to his office until Sept. 17th and that there was not enough time to respond

within the two days

Burton demanded.

“You’re the only one who had it,” Loftin told Jones.

He again counseled that there was nothing to respond to.

“It’s just a letter,” Loftin said. “It is nothing that requires a response. And she doesn’t ask for any damages.”

Councilman Charlie Young said the city should answer the letter.

“I think we should hear her out and see what she wants,” Young said.

Others agreed that the city should not respond.

“Respond to what?” Councilman

Robert Malone said.

“I’m the same way,” Councilwoman Jimmie Barham concurred. “I’m going with our lawyer.”

“Don’t worry about it then,” added Councilman Kenenth Cross.

A vote to have Loftin respond to Burton’s letter failed 4-4.

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