Fort Smith Board to review agency funding, sex rules

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

City directors will review 2013 funding recommendations from the Outside Agency Review Panel as well as sexually oriented business zoning and Citizens Forums at the Tuesday (Nov. 13) study session.

During the session, which takes place at the Main Library on Rogers Avenue, directors will consider $162,000 in funding to outside agencies. It will also look at recommendations from Fort Smith Director of Development Services Wally Bailey to adjust the allowable land use for sexually oriented businesses to 4% from the 1.4% number passed by the board in May.

The Outside Agency Review Panel recommended in a Thursday (Nov. 8) memorandum that disbursements of $54,000 be awarded to the recreational, arts and humanities, and social and community services sectors.

Across all sectors the city received 27 applications, 26 of which will receive funding of some kind should the board accept panel recommendations. The one organization that does not show a funding award is the Fort Smith Christian Women’s Job Service Corp. The group was asking for $10,000 to cover general operating expenses, but according to a panel worksheet, no award was given on grounds of “omitted documentation requirement not received by 24-hour deadline.”

“Documents were still outstanding at time of initial review,” the document added.

The five largest awards will go to Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club ($16,000), Lincoln Youth Service ($15,000), Fort Smith Regional Art Museum ($10,500), Fort Smith Symphony ($10,385) and Girls Inc. ($10,000) pending board approval.

SEX LINES
On sexually oriented businesses, Bailey will update the board on actions his department has taken since the May decision.

“We have continued to review several possible scenarios to get the Fort Smith ordinance closer to what the courts have said is an acceptable land area,” Bailey said in a memorandum to Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack.

Bailey continued: “While we cannot say for sure how a court will rule with regard to the required land area, we do feel more comfortable that an amendment that would permit 4% versus 1.4% could put us in a better position should a legal challenge occur.”

Bailey’s concerns are well-founded.

In the 1990’s, the now defunct Regina's House of Dolls sued the city for lost revenue totaling $800,000 (and won) as a result of zoning rules that were too restrictive. Nevertheless, the board voted 5-2 at the May 15, 2012, meeting to slash land use to the 1.4% number.

CITIZEN’S FORUM REVIEW
Finally at the request of directors George Catsavis and Pam Weber, the board will revisit citizens forums at the end of each regular meeting to replace the monthly town hall meeting.

The board conducted citizens forums at the end of each regular board meeting until May 2012.  During the forum, participants were allowed to address topics involving city government that weren’t an item on the meeting agenda. Two minutes were allowed to each citizen.

The forums were televised as part of the regular meetings until funding for televising the meetings was removed during the 2012 budget process.

The board later restored funding for the TV broadcast, but cut out the forums and replaced them with a monthly town hall meeting in which citizens could have five minutes each to address the mayor and city directors.

“This format allows for more discussion between citizens and board members than what was possible in the citizens forum,” Gosack said.

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According to Gosack, “two citizens accounted for 50% of the 36 total appearances of citizens. At the town hall meetings, there were a total of 14 appearances. The greatest number of appearances by any citizen was two.”

Gosack’s report shows the two residents responsible for 18 of the 36 appearances were Elizabeth Mayo (12 appearances) and Rosemary Wingfield (6). Since the town hall meeting was instituted, Mayo has appeared only once and Wingfield not at all.

Link here for the full study session packet (PDF).

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