Thursday, February 3, 2011

Compromise Budget Passes; Willis Promises Veto And Will Open City With No Budget

HELENA-WEST HELENA- The Helena-West Helena City Council passed a compromise budget offered by Alderman Larry Brown by a vote of 6-4.  An irate Mayor Arnell Willis promised a veto and said he would use his Mayoral powers to declare an emergency and open the city without an appropriation.

Willis opened the meeting by blasting Brown's budget proposal contending that, despite Brown's inclusion of items Willis said were deficient in the last council budget he vetoed, it was illegal.  Willis also announced that he would declare an emergency and open the city without a budget if the city council did not pass the budget he wanted.

He said, "I am asking all city employees to report back to work at their scheduled time and ask the City Clerk to expedite payroll tomorrow."

Jarrett responded with two attorney general's opinions that supported the council's position and definitively refuted Willis's contentions.

Jarrett then made a motion to adopt Robert's Rules of Order as the council's procedure manual.  Alderman Don Etherly seconded the motion.  Willis refused to allow the vote until Alderman Jay Hollowell said, "It's Ok.  I have no problem with it."  Jarrett the looked at Willis and said, "You have your permission."  An exasperated Willis said, "Madame Clerk, call the roll."  Robert's Rules were adopted by a vote of 8-0 with Aldermen Joe St. Columbia and Eddie Clark abstaining.

Following that vote, Jarrett made a motion to adopt Brown's compromise budget.  Etherly seconded that motion.  Willis retorted, "It's illegal.  We will not vote on that budget!"  Alderman Jay Hollowell asked to adopt the 2010 budget as the city's 2011 budget.  Alderman Christopher Franklin said, "That's the budget that you guys said made the city bankrupt."    Brown then offered to Willis to go through the budget line-by-line and try to alleviate his concerns.  Willis snorted, "I'm not here to play no games.  I have the Mayor's authority and I will open it up!"  Alderman Monica Davis interjected, "You are the one who shut the city down."

Willis then presented a court case from 1996 from the old City of West Helena when Riley Porter, after a lengthy shut down due to a council boycott, sued to open the City.  He said that case gave him authority to open the city up without a budget.

Alderman Don Etherly, a licensed attorney, pointed out the case could not be used as precedent because it was a circuit court case that was never appealed.  Its facts were also not analogous because the city was dealing with a boycott and no council quorum.  This council has now passed two budgets that Willis has vetoed or will veto by choice.

Alderman Daniel Strickland admitted it was a good budget but said he could not vote for it because it took away Willis's authority to keep his department heads.  Willis recently hired two new department heads with criminal histories. Aldermen Etherly pointed out that when the mayor properly hires people, they will then be included in the budget. Etherly concluded "you have to hire them right!"

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