Leader Blues

Monday, June 25, 2007

TOP STORY >>Council promise to literacy group falls flat

IN SHORT: Cabot mayor thought he broke a tie, but city attorney says not enough aldermen were present.

Leader staff writer

Supporters of the Literacy Council of Lonoke County said “thank you” too soon for the city’s contribution of $50 a month toward an electric bill in their new Cabot home that actually runs closer to $100.

The six members of the city council who voted Monday night on the ordinance that would give the organization the money split 3-3, and Mayor Eddie Joe Williams broke the tie. But upon close examination of state law, City Attorney Jim Taylor has concluded that Williams can only break a tie when all eight members of the council are present.

In a nutshell, the ordinance failed.

Meanwhile, the mayor has followed through with his plan to seek private donations and has already collected the $600 the city would have been obligated to pay if the ordinance had actually passed.

Bob Schelle, who has been a member of the organization since 1985 and spoke to the council Monday night about a possible city contribution, said Thursday that on one hand he is disappointed that the ordinance failed because the county has always been supportive and he hoped for the same thing from the city. On the other hand, the controversy over a city contribution has brought more attention to the organization than any of the newspaper articles written over the past 20 years extolling the organization’s good work.

“The biggest problem we’ve had is letting people out there know that we can help them,” Schelle said.

Voting for the ordinance were Ed Long, Eddie Cook and Lisa Brickell. Voting against were Becky Lemaster, Teri Miessner and Ken Williams.

All those who voted against helping the non-profit organization that teaches adults to read, said they appreciate the work the volunteers do, but they think private money should pay for it.

Miessner reminded the mayor and council during the Monday night meeting that when the expenditure was discussed during a recent meeting of the city council budget committee, the mayor, Long, City Attorney Jim Taylor, former Alderman Odis Waymack and Alderman Tom Armstrong had volunteered to pay the bill.

By Tuesday night, Williams had paid his part and had checks or promises from Waymack, Taylor, City Clerk-Treasurer Marva Verkler and Jerrel Maxwell, who runs the city’s public works department.

The Cabot Fire Department has also promised to help raise money to pay the electric bill and Schelle said money for a phone also will be needed.

The literacy council will move into the office vacated about two months ago when the detectives who work for Cabot Police Department moved out of the mini-mall behind the detail shop on the corner of 2nd and Pine and into the old Community Bank building that the city is leasing for five years with the option to buy.

Lonoke County owns the mini-mall where the literacy council will locate.

Although the city paid less than $300 rent while the detectives used the office there, County Judge Charlie Troutman is donating the space to the literacy council. The county also donates the building behind the courthouse that houses the literacy council in Lonoke.

Schelle said he volunteers with the organization because of the great need in the county. An estimated 23 percent of the adults in Lonoke County are functionally illiterate, which means they can’t, for example, read and comprehend a newspaper, he said.

But Schelle said he had one student who couldn’t read a stop sign and another who graduated from Cabot High School about 25 years ago who could not read beyond a first grade level when he came to the literacy volunteers for help.

It sometimes takes years, but eventually they learn, he said, and it’s those successes that make the work worthwhile.

“This one guy I’m teaching took a commercial driver’s license test and passed it the first time,” he said. “That’s why I do it.”