Sebastian County officials review paper costs, water park questions

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Tuesday (Jan. 21) saw the Sebastian County Quorum Court move closer to issuing meeting packets in digital form. The night also included questions of County Judge David Hudson about revelations that a consultant brought into speak to the Quorum Court and Board about amenities at Ben Geren Aquatics Center actually raised concerns about the projects budget, but was told to keep his opinions on the budget quiet.

At a separate meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors, the Board approved issuance of about $35 million in bonds before moving to set an early date for City Administrator Ray Gosack's next performance review.

The Quorum Court took up the issue of moving to digital meeting packets during discussion of an appropriation ordinance to come before the Court for a vote in February.

During the discussion of the move to digital, County Infrastructure Administrator Kevin Smith highlighted how the county could expend about $10,000 on equipment, including iPads for Court members to receive the digital meeting materials and an updated wireless network so they could access online material from the Quorum Courtroom on the second floor of the court house.

Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge said the move, which saw all members of the Court voting to move forward with the proposal with the exception of Justice of the Peace John Spradlin, would save the county at least $15,000 a year in printed material costs, though he said the number would probably be significantly higher.

"At this point in time, the Quorum Court is getting a printed copy of the agenda and all of these backup documents for it," he said. "During the budget cycle, we're talking several reams of paper in one packet."

During the research on moving from paper to digital, County Director of Technology Services Leslie Harris said she had been in close contact with Fort Smith officials about the city's transition to all-digital meeting packets, which was estimated to have saved the city about $13,000 each year.

She said aside from intensive training of technology-challenged Quorum Court members, there would likely not be much in the way of costs or any other downsides to making the move.

"The biggest hurdle will be training," she said. "You have to come up with a good training plan to get these guys comfortable. One-on-one (training) will probably be most effective."

Once an appropriation ordinance is approved next month, Harris said equipment could be ordered, installed and training could begin on county-issued iPads or other tablet devises as soon as May.

"We just didn't expect it to happen this fast," she said.

‘BLINDSIDED’
Before the meeting was adjourned, Justice of the Peace Shawn Looper called attention to an article published earlier Tuesday by The City Wire that highlighted the city's attempts to keep water park consultant Kent Lemasters concerns about possibly-inflated numbers tied to the Ben Geren Aquatics Center budget quiet. Looper said not being provided the information made it tough for him to effectively do his job as a justice of the peace.

"Had I known he wrote that in an e-mail, I would have asked him how he plans on saving $3 or $4 million. But we didn't have that information at that joint meeting."

Looper added, "It's a little unsettling to vote on a project and then to be blindsided with this."

"I didn't blindside anybody with anything, Shawn,” Hudson responded. “The numbers on this, I'm not even sure what the background on…my involvement was to meet with this gentleman after the joint meeting. He did make some comments relative to cost. The main focus of that meeting was features."

Hudson, who was copied on an e-mail from Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack that instructed city staff to keep Lemasters from discussing his concerns regarding the budget before the Quorum Court and the Board of Directors, said he was unaware of any e-mails regarding cost concerns.

"Yeah, I don't know about any e-mail. There may have been some discussion about what the focus of the meeting was because this project has gone for a whole year. We wanted to focus on making a decision (on amenities and design), which is what happened."

CITY BONDS
At Tuesday's meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors, Directors approved the issuance of bonds tied to a March 2012 sales tax measure.

The debt, which was sold on the bond market Tuesday, averaged an interest rate of 2.96%, according to Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, who added that demand for the more than $34 million in bonds was so strong that nearly $81 million in orders came in — ensuring all of the city's bonds sold with no problem.

Dingman said the reason for the city's delay in issuing the bonds approved in 2012 was due to certain regulations placed on the city by the Internal Revenue Service.

"When you issue a bond, you only have so much time to (use) the money until the IRS starts giving you trouble about interest and all sorts of stuff," he said. "I think we had authorization for $155 million or whatever the number was and we issued the bulk of them just after that election. But we knew we wouldn't be able to spend them all fast enough in order to satisfy their regulations, so we deferred the second phase of it until we were ready for the money."

The bonds issued Tuesday will fund the city's continuing efforts at wet weather drainage improvements, as well as other sanitation improvements.

PERFORMANCE REVIEW
Tuesday's meeting also saw City Director Pam Weber bring forward a motion to conduct an early performance review of City Administrator Ray Gosack, whose last performance review was in July 2013, a review that resulted in Gosack receiving a 2.5% pay bump to an annual salary of $153,237.50, plus a car allowance of $5,400. Gosack was not scheduled to have another performance review until June.

As for details about what will be discussed during Gosack's performance review, no one will know unless Board members decide to dish on details of the meeting after the fact due to personnel matters being discussed behind closed doors in executive session.

Asked why she called for a review, which will take place during the Board's regularly scheduled Feb. 4 meeting, Weber did not provide details.

"No comment on personnel," she said. "There's some things that I wanted to discuss with the administrator. That's all I'm going to say."

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Weber went on to say, "A performance review is not something you take lightly."

City Director Keith Lau, who seconded the motion to place Gosack's performance review on the Feb. 4 agenda, would not provide specifics as for why he seconded Weber's motion, though he said he had been mulling the issue for some time.

"I can't say because it's a personnel issue," he said. "For me, it was a previously discussed issue."

Lau said his desire to put Gosack through his sixth performance review since 2011 was about philosophy, though stopping short of explaining what exactly that meant.

"Mine is a philosophical…what I'm wanting to do is a philosophical issue. It's about…Of course, that's probably all I need to say. I better not say."

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Comments

Directors Lau and Weber

How about asking Mr. Gosack why he repeatedly withholds information from the Directors, pontificates about his own policy and tries to direct it his way and forgets that he is employed by the citizens of Fort Smith and at the pleasure of the Directors! This has been going on for years and maybe we finally have someone who will smack him down.

Let George Do It

Let me see if our elected City Directors have the right stuff and will call old Ray on the carpet for all of his little secrets not shared with his bosses. We all know that Kevin and Andre will remain silent or say "lets move on" but will George, Phil, Pam, and Lau do their duty for the citizens of the city? Any bets?

Ray's Salary Package is $195,096 Not $158,638

But before you blow off the slight mistake of $36,458, think; the difference is actually more than the annual median household income for folks in Fort Smith.

Gains and losses

It would seem that if the man was paid on a commission basis for successful ventures and accomplishments, the taxpayers would save over 195,000 dollars per year.

A Mere $3Million! Can We Be A Bit More Transparent?

The article written about Mr Lemaster's trip to Fort Smith, paid for by taxpayers only begs more questions on how our city functions. JP Shawn Looper brought up the TCW article last night in the Quorum Court meeting. County Judge David Hudson kinda blew off the questions as the cost could be $8M or it could be $10.9M, we won't know until sealed bids come in. Was city staff told not to allow Mr Lemaster to discuss costs? Why did Mike Alsup not address Mr Lemaster's concern about, "the estimates to construct the waterpark are extremely high." For the sake of transparency, shouldn't Mr Lemaster have had the freedom to address those "extremely high" estimates?

Freedom To Speak

In the land of Oz where transparency is clouded by the Wizzard, you must request permission to speak and never question the word of the one with the power to set the big black SUV's in motion delivering subpoenas.

Not inadmissible in the Court of Public Opnion

Lemasters comments would be stricken from the record if the dishonorable Judge Hudson had his way. Guess what. The issue is not in a court of law presently. But the way things are going, somebody is gonna get busted or sued....See y'all in a higher court.

I'm not going to take this anymore!

Been this way since the beginning in Ft Smith, the only difference is now we are reading about it. One can certainly see the need to change things where citizens CAN hear about what's going on with the guy that's being paid $195,000 to run the city even if it could very well could be the main problem is he's out on a tight rope and people are taking turns shaking it. Underneath the disturbing part here TCW points out there are still the usual disturbing things going on and I am seeing a lot of money not only not going to the same part of town that it has for years but some is being taken away from it for the others. Mea Culpa. Since MS Weber is a Director at large it is difficult to believe this isn't a big part of the skewering process she has in mind.