Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

TOP STORY >>Petition drive is moving

Leader staff writer

As Sherwood Alderman Charlie Harmon pulled his proposed ordinance clarifying how the mayor would conduct hirings and firings, petitions continued to circulate through the city asking for a criminal investigation of the council.

At a specially called council meeting March 6, Harmon led the charge to revoke Mayor Dan Stedman’s hiring of Lee Church to head the city’s Public Works Department. The council overwhelmingly disallowed the appointment. Harmon, in his first term as alderman, is the son of former Mayor Bill Harmon, who retired Dec. 31 after 10 years of running the city.

Aldermen voted without any open discussion at the last council meeting, leading some residents to believe that prior discussion occurred in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Stedman, who became mayor in January, called the council’s decision “government at its worst. Neither I as the mayor, nor Lee Church, have been given the opportunity to succeed or to fail.”

This is the same Lee Church that the council unanimously approved at a Jan. 22 board meeting to be the city’s representative to the regional Joint Emergency Medical Services Board, which oversees the ambulance services for Sherwood and other area communities.

“It’s a sad day for the city,” the mayor added.

As of Tuesday, about a dozen residents were taking petitions around the city asking for signatures. The petitions, which will be forwarded to the Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, ask for “a formal investigation; and if merits are found with our allegation, that charges be filed and pursued against each defendant named to the fullest extent of the law.”

Seven of the city’s eight aldermen are named in the complaint. The only one not in the petition is Alderman David Henry as he has been out of town and did not vote at the February meeting.

The grassroots effort to have the prosecuting attorney look into the council’s behavior is being spearheaded by residents Doris Anderson and Julann Carney.

Carney said the group is canvassing the city and getting a number of signatures on the petitions.

“Many are afraid to sign in fear of retribution, especially city employees,” said Carney, adding, “We are taking our time and doing this right.

“We are very steadfast in putting a stop to the way our council has been governing the city through phone calls, private meetings and even gathering at restaurants,” she said.

Anderson said she called some of the aldermen before the March 6 meeting to see what the problem was. “All I was told was ‘We have the votes and we’ll do what we want.’ How did they know they had the votes? Did they have an illegal meeting?” she asked.

Anderson is also concerned how the aldermen were notified to sign the letter calling for the March 6 meeting.
“Surely there was some discussion, which violates the FOI laws, unless they blindly signed the letter,” she said.
Carney said, “It’s not a vendetta, but government only works when it is out in the open.

“It is encouraging that the ordinance has been pulled, but are they (the council) going to play nice now? It only takes 35 percent of the people who voted to initiate a recall of aldermen,” she added.

Harmon delivered his proposed ordinance to the city clerk’s office on March 8 to be placed on the council agenda for its regular meeting next Monday. But this Monday, he asked the clerk to pull it from the agenda.

According to a letter he delivered to the mayor when he filed the ordinance, Harmon wrote, “I have attempted to draft this in such a way that does not infringe on your right to appoint or remove department heads as allowed under relevant statute, but only provides for reasonable notice to the city council after the fact when such appointments or removals are made.”
The proposed ordinance, which had been approved by the city attorney, would have required the mayor to notify each member of the council within three days of a hiring or firing of a department head.

The council would then have until its next meeting to either accept or reject the mayor’s appointment.
Any override would need six votes.

The ordinance states that the ordinance is necessary “to allow the Sherwood City Council its right of oversight…in order to ensure the proper and orderly growth of the city.”

In a March 5 letter signed by every alderman, the council called for the March 6 meeting and after listening to the mayor and a full room of residents who mostly supported him, aldermen quickly voted against the mayor without publicly offering any reason.

After that meeting some aldermen said the concern was that the person the mayor had hired to run the department was a problem in the city’s fire department and it wasn’t right to move a problem from one department to another.

Yet other council members were upset because they had not been consulted as they had been in the past when other mayors ran the city.