Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mayor Willis on the Budget "Court to Resolve This Issue"

According to a published report*, Mayor Arnell Willis is heading to court to deal with the city's current budget situation. The city council met last night and passed a third budget. They had previously passed budgets on January 31, 2011 and February 3, 2011. Each of the previous budgets were vetoed by the mayor. The mayor has the power to issue a veto.

The gripe seems to be, according to the mayor's veto and other published reports, that the mayor wants the council to be directed to vote on the budget presented by the "mayor." Alderman Jarrett presented several legal opinions written by the Office of the Arkansas Attorney General. These opinions are advisory on everyone other than state agencies. Those agencies are required, generally, to follow the advice of the Attorney General. Others, including city government, county government and school districts, are free to follow their own will or the advice of their local attorney or insurance defense lawyer. Our local officials are not required to follow the advice of the Attorney General.

Mayor Willis is hanging his hopes on a 1996 case from the term of the Honorable West Helena Mayor Riley Porter. During Mayor Porter's tenure, the city council attempted to cripple the mayor's ability to operate unless he met some specific concerns they had. The city council boycotted the meetings and deprived the meetings of a quorum. Without a quorum, no business could be conducted. The mayor could not pass a budget because four of the eight council members were not attending the meeting. As a result of that situation, the law was changed to permit the mayor to count in the quorum. Therefore, the problem Mayor Porter had will not recur. That is to say, the minority will not be able to prevent business from being conducted.

Those facts are not present in this situation. The mayor and the council are at odds on some numbers in the budget. That amounts to typical political sausage making. This matter should be resolved by the parties involved; not the courts. The 10 council members and the mayor, as the eleventh member of the council, should meet and decide on the issues of concern.

Until the courts decide this issue or the parties find acceptable common ground, we will continue to keep you updated on this matter.

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