Peeples sits in on final WM City Council meeting
Mayor, city officials reflect on retiring city attorneys storied career, character
A 30-year servant of the City of West Memphis capped his career with his final city council meeting last Thursday. City Attorney David Peeples’ eyes welled up as he watched and listened to City Clerk Phillip Para read consecutive resolutions setting his retirement and declaring his city attorney office vacant.
After the meeting Mayor Bill Johnson waxed eloquently about the man who grew to be his personal and professional confidant.
The mayor said his city attorney turned in a perfect record before retiring to become an administrative law judge, set to hear social security cases out of Paducah, Kentucky. Johnson has been mayor since 1999, and before that ran the city utilities. Peeples won the office when Keith Ingram became mayor in 1987.
Johnson and Peeples served the city together for most of that three-decade time span.
“I’ve been with him close to thirty years,” said Johnson. “He has represented me and the city in many, many cases and he never lost one. That is a record in and of itself.”
Peeples won election to the office and was sworn in Jan. 1, 1987, alongside new mayor Keith Ingram. The former mayor acknowledged Peeples’ career publicly last week. “Thirty years ago we came into office together,” said Ingram. “David has a tremendous background.
He is the finest city attorney I know. He has dealt with everything from the EPA to the railroad and has done an exceptional job for the city. He has been a difference maker.”
City Treasurer Frank Martin said the city attorney had provided diligent, painstaking attention to even the finest details. According to the financial administrator, Peeples was a stickler.
“Municipal government is very difficult,” said Martin.
“We had many discussions about why he was doing it that way. In the business world, you can often jump from ‘A to Z’ to get something done, but in municipal, you have to step from A to B to C… all the way to Z, and he was very astute at getting that done. The mayor will miss him.”
“He is the most thorough attorney I know of,” said Johnson. “If there is a mistake in something, he will tell you. He can’t be intimidated. He can’t be pushed.
He is going to do it right.
He is going to take his time.”
Peeples himself recalled a six-digit contract mistake on a bond in favor of the city which he felt compelled to point out.
“The mayor still jokes that I cost the city a lot of money on that one,” said Peeples.
Cases dealing with the advent of city-wide cable television, the EPA and railroads marked the three decade career of Peeples.
The regional Time Warner Cable contract was challenging. Local folks wanted both Memphis and Little Rock news and insisted on Razorback sports access.
Having network coverage from two television markets was taboo for cable companies back then. Written testimony from the original public hearings still filled the top shelves in his office last week.
“I negotiated the cable franchise ordinance probably 24 years ago and we had lots of public hearings,” said Peeples. “It turned out people wanted access similar to what Memphis had but also wanted a Little Rock station that did Razorback broadcasts. We got to the point where they said they couldn’t do a Little Rock station. So I told them we have come to a point where we can’t go any further.
And the cable folks closed all their notebooks and said we can’t do this. I told our people to be patient. Two days later they called back and said they were agreeable to offer Arkansas stations.”
Peeples was the last man standing in an eight-digit multi-jurisdictional lawsuit with the EPA over the 8th street landfill. The mayor was proud to recount the result.
“One of the first things we had them realize that there was an unregulated landfill on south 8th Street used by anybody,” said Peeples.
“Because it was referred to as the city dump, the EPA drew the conclusion that it was the City of West Memphis’ landfill site. We kept telling them we don’t own it. We don’t run it. We don’t have to do anything with it.”
“We were assessed our portion of the share at $14,000,000 for the cleanup,” said Johnson.
“He settled it for $4,000.
Now that’s a highlight.”
Once a train blocked all the intersections in the city which violated railroad regulations. With the help of then Assistant Police Chief Mike Allen, now Crittenden County sheriff, the city prevailed against the railroad by ignoring settlement offers and pressing it all the way to a hearing.
“No one had ever pushed it all the way through before,” said Peeples. “We told them we were proceeding with it. We loaded up the car and when we got to highway commission in Little Rock and walked into the room there were all these news cameras there because nobody had ever pushed the railroad. The Highway Department agreed with me and it didn’t hurt that the engineer got on the stand and said it was too much trouble to break the train at intersections.”
Peeples said he was most satisfied with his legal work that led to new jobs being created in the city.
Projects he listed included the purchase of the Friday-Graham rail spur opening the potential for thousands of new jobs at the newly dedicated West Memphis International Rail Park, ensuring water works for the Hino plant in Marion, landing the Family Dollar Distribution Center, a trucking hub that has since turned into a FedEx facility, and improvements at the airport and the city river port that have already paid off with new jobs.
“Hino just expanded and will be hiring close to 800 people and none of that may have happened if we had not helped them meet their water certification requirements,” said Peeples.
“There are jobs here to be had because of what people up here did.”
A Peeples looked ahead, he said retirement from the city position will not end his working days as he moves up to the judge’s bench. The mayor turned his eye to the future, too.
“He will be a great administrative law judge,” said Johnson. “I told him they were very fortunate to get him. I will miss David personally and professionally.
I consider him one of my closest friends. He is a man in whom I can confide.”
“I’ve developed a lot of deep and meaningful friendships that I am going to take with me when I leave here,” said Peeples.
“My family roots run really deep in West Memphis. I have no plans to sell my house. I’ll be home on the weekends, be at church on Sundays and still be involved with the community.”
By John Rech