Saturday, February 5, 2011

I'll Take "Some People Don't Believe Fat Meat is Greasy" for $60,000.00

HELENA-WEST HELENA --- Remember the various categories from the television game show Jeopardy? Well, there's a new category soon to be added: "Some People Don't Believe Fat Meat is Greasy."

You have seen the saga of the city's budget crisis play out online, on television, in the newspapers and on the street. The Council passes a budget. The mayor vetoes the budget. The city shuts down. The council passes a "compromise budget." The mayor vetoes the compromise budget. The city does not shutdown. Instead the Mayor declares a "so-called" emergency and says that the city will operate under his authority as mayor because it is an emergency. Mind you that the emergency was created by a veto signed by the mayor.

Many years ago, during our college days, there was a sign in the treasurer's office which read "Poor Planning on Your Part Does NOT Constitute an EMERGENCY on Our Part." Simply put, you need to get your stuff together and if not, you suffer the consequences of your own poor planning.

In city government where there is a ten (10) member city council, a majority of six (6) votes is needed to conduct business. Mayor Willis is well schooled in democracy with his 30 years of public service. He now calls the budgets that have been passed "illegal." He has not presented any legal alternative plan to keep the city operating.

The illegal claims are misplaced. He says that he must present the budget otherwise, the budget is illegal. Mr. Willis then quotes Arkansas Code Annotated (ACA) Section 14-55-401 as his emergency authority to operate "without a legal budget in place." Let us look to the language of the law ourselves. That section reads: "All laws, ordinances, resolutions, or orders, lawfully passed and adopted by the city or town council, not inconsistent with the Constitution or laws of this state, shall be, remain, and continue in force until altered or repealed by the council." Mayor Willis seems to be using this language to justify his claim of an emergency and his ability to operate under the 2010 Budget. 

If the analysis of our laws of this state ended there, then Mayor Willis might be on good stable ground. However, the analysis must go further. Arkansas has three sections dealing directly with city budgets. Because this is an important point, we will quote the relevant language in its entirety:
  1. ACA - 14-58-201 - Submission Deadline: On or before December 1 of each year, the mayor of all cities and incorporated towns having the mayor-council form of government shall submit to the governing body of the city or town, for its approval or disapproval, a proposed budget for operation of the city or town from January 1 to December 31 of the forthcoming year. (Emphasis Added)
  2.  ACA - 14-58-202 -Adoption Deadline: Under this subchapter, the governing body of the municipality shall, on or before February 1 of each year, adopt a budget for operation of the city or town. (Emphasis Added)
  3. ACA - 14-58-203 - Appropriations; alterations and limitations:
    (a) The approval by the municipal governing body of the budget under this subchapter shall, for the purposes of the budget from time to time amount to an appropriation of funds which are lawfully applicable to the items therein contained.

    (b) The governing body may alter or revise the budget and unpledged funds appropriated by the governing body for any purpose may be subsequently, by action of the governing body, appropriated to another purpose, subject to the following exceptions:
    (1) Funds resulting from taxes levied under statutes or ordinances for specific purposes may not be diverted to another purpose;
    (2) Appropriated funds may not be diverted to another purpose where any creditor of the municipality would be prejudiced thereby. (Emphasis Added)
The gist of these sections is that the city's fiscal year runs from January 1st to December 31st. The city can extend its current budget by up to 31 days in order to receive accurate end of the year information to be included in the budget for the new year. Mayor Willis is trumped by this particular code section for two (2) age old reasons: first the specific law will always overrule a general law; and second the law to which he makes reference deals with items that are permanent in nature and budgets are always subject to change and amendment.

Budgets expire or term-out on February 1st at 11:59 p.m. At midnight on February 2nd, if there is no new budget or current year budget, the city cannot operate. The Attorney General of Arkansas has spoken to this question.  See AG Opinion 2002-268. There the Attorney General summed it up this way "It is my opinion that state law does not authorize an automatic reinstatement of the most recently adopted budget. Rather, the city council must affirmatively act with regard to this matter. This conclusion follows from the fact that city budgets must be formulated on an annual basis, see A.C.A. § 14-58-201 et seq., and cities are prohibited from basing their proposed expenditures on the revenues from succeeding years. See Ark. Const., Art. 12, § 4." (Emphasis Added)

The mayor has five days, Sundays excepted, to issue a veto. This article does not deal with all of the particulars of a veto. However, the mayor could legally take five or six days to figure out whether he will veto an item and if so, what his plan going forward will be.  Mayor Willis, even if he is right, has acted with such speed that no alternative plan could be lawfully engaged by him.

One prime example of this scenario is payroll on February 4, 2011. The city council met on Thursday, February 3, 2011 and passed what they call the Brown Budget because Larry Brown presented it as a compromise between the Willis and Jarrett budgets. The mayor had five days in which to veto that budget, Sundays excepted. Therefore, the mayor had up to Thursday, February 10th, on which to issue his veto. In the meantime, the city services could have legally operated for six days while the mayor made up his mind or tried to reach consensus.

Instead, on Friday, February 4, 2011, according to published documents, Mayor Arnell Willis vetoed the Brown Budget. See Willis Veto. Mayor Willis simply says that Brown's budget is illegal because under ACA 14-58-201 the "mayor . . . shall submit . . . a proposed budget." Mayor Willis contends that Brown's Budget is illegal because the mayor did not submit it.

Willis and City Treasurer Patrick Roberson went further on Friday afternoon. They spent $60,000.00 on Jimmie L. Wilson and Roosevelt Collins. According to published reports and statements made by both Mayor Willis and Treasurer Roberson, the city is in near financial ruins. Yet he has found money for $9,000.00 worth of ink pens, paper clips and boxers of highlighters, pay raises for Bobby Jones and Anthony Banks at nearly $10,000.00 each, over payments to employees that total nearly $7,000.00, increase salary for Allen Martin from $18,000.00 to $37,000.00 and increased the salary of the city attorney by $20,000.00.

Because the had the scoop on this matter when our program aired this morning, many of you did not believe we had the checks to which we referenced. Here are the checks.

Jimmie Wilson
Roosevelt Collins
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then these two pictures are worth $60,000.00 words and fat meat is greasy too.

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