Give Earle a break, Fred!
Even with new mayor in office, resident continues to be thorn in council’s side
With a new mayor in office and the last two tumultuous years behind them, Earle officials are asking the public to cut them some slack and lay off complaining about everything they do.
“We are trying to improve,” said Councilwoman Jimmie Barham. “And all we can do is try. But we need the people to support us.”
The latest complaint came from resident Fred Pitchford who accused the city of not advertising the job of building inspector in the newspaper and for hiring City Councilman Bobby Luckett to fill the position.
Luckett was hired by former Mayor Carolyn Jones after she was unable to find anyone qualified to do the job.
Although there is no state or city prohibition against allowing officials or their family members to do business with the city, auditors recommended the city amend its ordinance to specifically note the hiring of Luckett and the reasons behind why he was chosen.
The city passed a revised ordinance on its first reading, but Pitchford spoke out against it when it was read a second time claiming that the ordinance is misleading and that it is illegal because the law requires the city to advertise the job.
Pitchford said he asked for documentation from City Clerk Cynthia Conner showing when they advertised the job.
“It was mentioned (in the ordinance) that you all did an exhaustive search,” Pitchford said. “The information she provided shows that you all did not. When you all made the decision to hire Mr. Luckett, you all knew it was required by law to run an ad in the paper. So what the ordinance is saying is not true.
We cannot have a law that is based on a lie. It will not stand.”
Pitchford, who has filed numerous lawsuits against the city in the past for not following the law — many of them frivolous — put the council on notice that he would take them to court over this matter as well if they failed to follow the law.
“If you all continue this pursuit knowing you are in violation of the law, then we will have to deal with it in court,” Pitchford said.
Arkansas law allows cities to pass an ordinance permitting an alderman to conduct business with the city and to prescribe the extent of that authority.
The city has an ordinance which allows family members of elected officials to provide services to the city, but the city council decided to follow the advice of the attorney general which urged municipalities against having a generic catch-all provision allowing for the hiring of family on the books.
Mayor Sherman Smith disagreed with Pitchford.
“You said we are amending it to cover up some- thing that we did wrong,” Smith said. “I’m saying we are amending it at the advice of the attorney general. The attorney general did not say that it was wrong.
He just said it would be better if it wasn’t just blanket in nature.”
Pitchford insisted that his interpretation of the law is correct and that the city is required to advertise the position.
“It’s not a matter of what the attorney general said,” Pitchford said. “The attorney general doesn’t have the authority to make law.
The legislature is the one who put that law in place.”
“That’s your opinion,” Smith responded. “I don’t know if she (Jones) made a diligent effort or not. But the attorney general and the auditors are not arguing simply because she failed to advertise it.”
Barham asked Pitchford to stop lecturing the city about the law and threatening to take them to court every time he disagrees with something they do.
“I don’t understand why,” Barham said. “You know Mr. Luckett is an honorable man. (Former Building Inspector Manuel) Clouse has not been well. He (Luckett) was kind enough to say he would go through the school and get the qualifications. I’m asking you to have some understanding about it. I’m not begging. I just want to ask you to think about it and find it in your heart not to just give us a hard time about it.
That man is doing the job.
And we are trying to get back on track. We’re not doing it just to give you something to pass the time and tell us we are breaking the law again.”
Councilman Robert Malone agreed, and said Luckett is more than qualified to do the job.
“How many people are you going to find with his qualifications to do the job?” Malone said. “You can put that in the paper all you want. But how many people are you going to find with the qualifications to be a city inspector? That man is brilliant. And for two or three years he used to go with the city inspector and he did the work. And nobody said anything about that. But every time we try and do something there is always a snare. Everybody has something to say about it.”
Malone said Pitchford needs to stop nit picking city officials.
“Everything we do is an issue,” Malone said. “And it shouldn’t be that way. It just shouldn’t. This is not the time. This makes no sense. We need to come together as one.”
Pitchford said he will continue to insist that the city follow the law.
“I will not stop because what you all fail to realize is that the whole system of municipalities is built on laws,” Pitchford said.
“That’s the foundation. I can’t go along with what you are doing. I know Ms.
Jones is the one who brought it to you. But you all are the ones who approved it. I just feel that with all the knowledge and experience you all have, a lot of this was done intentional. That’s why I am speaking about my concerns.”
By Mark Randall