Leader Blues

Monday, March 12, 2007

TOP STORY >>Residents may sue council over vote

Leader staff writer

A group of citizens that a former mayoral candidate called a “small disgruntled group” is looking at filing legal action against the Sherwood City Council.

The council made it clear in a 6-1 vote Tuesday night that they wanted the mayor to terminate the new head of the public works department that the mayor had just hired.

“How did they know that they had the votes in advance, unless they met in violation of the Freedom of Information Act,” said resident Doris Anderson. “Charlie Harmon, who typed up the letter calling for Tuesday’s special council meeting, took that letter to each alderman, that’s a circular meeting,” she said.

“I’ve received a number of calls and emails and all the people I’ve talked to are upset with the council and the strife they are causing. It’s amazing the number of people that have come forward and said the council acted in bad faith,” Anderson said. “The citizens expect aldermen to be better than bullies on the playground.”

Alderman Butch Davis talked with the Municipal League Thursday to make sure the council had not done anything wrong. “We would not intentionally break the law,” he said, “and according to the Municipal League we did not.” She and other citizens will be meeting next week to determine if they will file a criminal complaint with the Pulaski County prosecutor or look at other court action.

Anderson said her group is also talking about putting aldermen back on two-year terms or on term limits.

“He is no longer running the department,” Mayor Dan Stedman said Friday. “I’m currently filling in.”

The mayor said the employee, Lee Church, is still on the city payroll as a temporary employee helping the mayor.
Even though the council voted to have Church terminated, they voted unanimously at a Jan. 22 board meeting to make him the city’s representative to the Joint Emergency Medical Services Board, which oversees the operation of MEMS.

“Church is a good man,” Davis said, “but I just felt he didn’t have the leadership qualities needed for the job of running a department of 40 people. I had leadership concerns with him.”

Davis added that it is the mayor’s prerogative to make department head appointment, but that the council has the right to accept or object to the decision.

“I’m hoping things will now get back to normal,” Davis said.

The mayor concurred.

“I just want to leave the situation alone and get turned in the right direction of doing a good job for the people of this city,” Stedman said, adding, “I hope the council will see fit to do their job of legislating and let me make decisions and run the city.”

The council called for the Tuesday meeting, in a March 5 letter to the city clerk, 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.
Once the meeting opened, Alderman Charlie Harmon, the son of former Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon, quickly made a motion to rescind Stedman’s hiring of Lee Church as the public works director.

No one was fired to make the hiring of Church possible. The person who had been temporarily filling the position since it became vacant last year was moved to another city position.

The mayor started his defense, saying he was voted in by 62 percent of the residents, and carried every precinct, to run the city.

Harmon interrupted, “Is any of this relevant ?”

“Yes, it is,” Stedman said, adding that the alderman would have an opportunity to respond. But when it came time for Harmon to respond, he along with the rest of the council sat quietly, waiting to cast their vote.

Stedman told the council that in the 65 days that he had been mayor that he had worked every day. “I’ve been in the day-to-day trenches,” he said. “I have the authority to hire my own department heads.”

“Church has all the qualifications. I did all the interviews and he was the most qualified,” Stedman said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, he called the council’s decision “government at its worse. Neither I as the mayor, or Lee Church, have been given the opportunity to succeed or to fail. This is a sad day for the city.”