Leader Blues

Friday, July 03, 2009

TOP STORY >> Council fills seat held by Fletcher

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Before new Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher could finish his thoughts about filling his vacant council seat, John Ferrell was nominated, seconded and approved by a near unanimous vote on Thursday.

Alderman Terry Sansing abstained, calling the whole affair a slap in the face of the city residents and the new mayor.

“It was unfair to the other five candidates who applied for the position and unfair to the citizens to not have a voice,” Sansing said.

“It was just more of the same back room politics that I thought we were getting rid of,” Sansing added.

There are now two aldermen on the council not voted in by the people.

Ferrell will hold his seat for the next 18 months. Kevin McCleary, who was appointed after the death of Alderman Robert Lewis, is serving an unelected near-four-year-term.

Besides Ferrell, who is a plant manager for Ashland, five other residents from Ward 4 submitted resumes to council members.

Those candidates were Mary Twitty, Beckie Brooks, Marcia Dornblaser, Jerry Meharg and Charlie Brown.

Sansing told the council, “I know a special election will cost us some money, but we have six candidates that would like to be on this council. Let the citizens choose.”

Alderman Bob Stroud, who nominated Ferrell, asked the city attorney about the law in this case.

City Attorney Robert Bamburg responded that the statute says the council shall appoint residents to fill vacant seats. “But the council may also refer any question to the residents,” Bamburg added.

Sansing responded, “The law allows it, but is it morally right?”

“I’ve got nothing against John (Ferrell), and he may turn out to be the best candidate, but I’ve never been in favor of the council filling seats. There needs to be an election.”

Fletcher wanted the council to wait until the first meeting in August, explaining that the city attorney would miss the next meeting and this would give people time to look over the resumes.

Stroud said the council didn’t need the city attorney present to fill the seat and nominated Ferrell. It was seconded by Alderman Marshall Smith, following by Sansing’s discussion of the matter and then the vote.
Sansing also voiced concern that many of the candidates weren’t at the meeting.

“They were told not to come, that it was only up for discussion and that no action would be taken,” the alderman complained.

“It just wasn’t fair. It’s not how a council voted in office by the people should be acting,” Sansing lamented.

Aldermen Reedie Ray and Avis Twitty were absent.

After the vote, Fletcher congratulated Ferrell, who was at the meeting, and told him that arrangements would be made to swear him in before the next council meeting.

According to his resume, Ferrell has lived in Jacksonville since 1973 and worked at Ashland for more than 40 years. His wife, Nola, taught at Arnold Drive Elementary School for 35 years.

“I sincerely feel the varied background of my career path and other public service organizational involvement and my strong desire to serve make me a strong, viable candidate,” Ferrell wrote in his resume.

He sent in his resume six days after Fletcher defeated Alderman Kenny Elliott in a June 2 run-off for mayor.

In other council business:

Fletcher pulled his request to create an education advisory council, saying he wanted to review it and make sure everyone had a voice on the panel. He stated he wanted to add a base representative to the group.

Under the pulled proposal, Fletcher wants the group to include two members from the Jacksonville Education Foundation, two members from the Jacksonville World Class Organization, two members for the Chamber of Commerce education committee, two citizens at large and one city council representative.

The focus of the group is to “serve and focus efforts on the acquisition, creation, examination, exploration, and potential enhancements of a quality education system” for the city.

The council approved a resolution authorizing a “contract of obligation” between the city’s wastewater utility and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

Thea Hughes, wastewater utility manager, explained that this was just an update of the contract the city already has with ADEQ. “In lieu of a performance bond, the utility can enter into a contract of obligation, and that contract must be updated every few years,” Hughes explained.

The contract locks the utility into covering the cost for any corrective action, closure or post-closure care of its solid waste disposal or processing facilities.

In his monthly report to the council, Fire Chief John Vanderhoof stated that his department responded to 98 rescue calls, 52 still alarms, 20 general alarms and had 229 ambulance runs in May.

The chief estimated fire loss for May at $7,700 and fire savings, based on the quick response of firefighters at $202,300.