Dear Attorney General Dustin McDaniel:
What with all the time you spend fighting payday lenders and studying the layout of the governor’s office and responding to letters from Arkansas House and Senate members who have important questions about who is supposed to keep the ditches clean and whether blue lights on emergency vehicles should flash or rotate, I sure hate to bother you with a question about the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
And this is probably not a valid request sent through the correct channels. I’ll just hope this open letter and the e-mail sent to your nice spokesman fella will warrant some response — even if it is one of those nice letters where you use a bunch of sentences and quote chapter and verse of state law to essentially tell me you wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole the goings-on at the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
Not that anyone would blame you for dodging this question. In fact, the one or two times you come to Fort Smith during your gubernatorial campaign, might I suggest the following answer if anyone asks your thoughts on Fort Smith municipal government: “Next question, please.”
Anyway, here’s the deal.
For several months now members of the Fort Smith Board have created a fuss over the future of trash collection in the city. Several years ago, the Board agreed to a plan to fully automate the city’s trash collection. But with less than 10% of households fully automated, four Board members approved just a few months ago a hybrid plan that leaves some trash collected the old-fashioned way.
A few folks said the hybrid plan was needed to best address trash collection in Fort Smith’s older neighborhoods. Others said the hybrid system ended any chance of realizing savings from a fully automated system.
That debate really doesn’t matter now. On Thursday (Aug. 23), the four members of the Board who had opposed the fully automated plan, suddenly switched their votes and re-engaged the plan to fully automate the city’s trash collection. This vote switch came after months of conflict that includes an ongoing citizen initiative to get the issue on the city’s November ballot.
Which almost brings us to the question for you. You attorney-types like to lay out the facts in an orderly fashion. Here goes.
• A vote on automation was not on the Aug. 23 Board agenda, and only a unanimous vote of the Board can place an item on the agenda at the last minute.
• Out of the blue, a City Director calls for a vote to return to the fully automated plan.
• With basically no discussion, the four Directors previously opposed to full automation agreed to the vote. The three Directors who have been for fully automation clearly appeared to have been caught off guard, and asked several questions skeptical of the sudden move.
• When the item was then approved for a vote, it passed unanimously, with the four Directors previously opposed to full automation voting to reverse their decision and end months of unnecessary drama caused by their previous opposition to full automation.
• This all happened within just a few minutes.
Question: Would you send some of your primo investigators to Fort Smith for a few days to explain how the four Directors who appeared to be in complete lockstep on their position reversal DID NOT discuss this action prior to the board meeting?
We all know that to plan a vote outside of a meeting is a clear violation of the law and basic public trust in this municipal governing body. We also know that sometimes appearance can be deceptive; you know, like that innocent-until-proven-guilty rule when the IRS comes a-calling.
Most in Fort Smith who give a damn about this sort of thing believe the four Board members either talked directly or through a proxy to arrange this sudden vote. To be more blunt, many in Fort Smith are more likely to believe that Elvis, riding on a unicorn and dropped off by a UFO flown by Amelia Earhart, took a crap on their lawn than to believe these four Board members didn’t somehow organize their vote outside what is allowed by law.
Personally, I didn’t get a good look at who was flying the UFO.