Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Willis Vetoes May Be Incomplete and Invalid; Councilmen Say Their Budget Is In Effect

HELENA-WEST HELENA- Helena-West Helena City Councilman Marvin Jarrett dropped a bombshell on Mayor Arnell Willis Tuesday night, contending that Willis had not met the statutory requirements to execute a veto which means the budget passed by the City Council in February is in effect.

Jarrett read the statute to Willis, who appeared shocked and amazed as he listened.  Alderman Don Etherly, who Willis called the "Dean" of the City Council, then outlined slowly and methodically for the audience why Willis had not properly vetoed any of the items he had vetoed this year.

Etherly and Jarrett pointed out that the statute requires the Mayor to notify the City Clerk within five days of his intent to veto.  Then the Mayor is required to lay the veto in writing on the table at the next council meeting and give the council an opportunity for an override vote.  Willis never laid his vetoes on the table.  Consequently, all council measures passed up to this point should be in effect as law of the city.

When told that means the city really does have a budget Willis said, "I vetoed that."

If the council's interpretation of state statute is correct, then none of Willis's vetoes were completed and all council actions are city law, including the budget and employee reinstatements.

It appears the council is correct based on this opinion of the Attorney General.

Here is an excerpt:

A.C.A. § 14-43-504(e) (Supp. 2009) (emphasis added).

The emphasized statutory language is unambiguous and therefore must be interpreted just as it reads. E.g., Leathers v. Cotton, 332 Ark. 49, 961 S.W.2d 49 (1998). According to the statute, the mayor must 1) file with the city clerk, before the next regular council meeting, a written statement of his reasons for the veto and 2) present the statement to the council at that meeting. See also Op. Att’y Gen. Nos. 99-077 and 97-343 (addressing several questions related to the city council’s authority to override a veto).

The statute does not explicitly address the effect of a mayor’s failure to follow these procedures. Clearly, however, these two contingencies must occur before the city council can act to override the veto pursuant to subsection 14-43-504(e)(2)(B). Accord Op. 97-077 (observing that “the law requires the override to take place after a mayor’s statement of reasons for the veto are presented to the council, and that presentation is required to take place at the next regular meeting of the council.”) This leads me to surmise that a veto is likely ineffective if the mayor fails to follow the requisite procedures. To conclude otherwise would effectively deny the council its authority to pass the ordinance over the veto. The language of subsection (e)(2)(B) may also indirectly support this conclusion wherein it provides that “[n]o such ordinance … vetoed by the mayor shall have any force or validity unless, after the written statement is laid before it, the council shall … pass it over the veto.” (Emphasis added). This arguably suggests by negative implication that an ordinance will have force and validity if the prerequisite written statement is not presented.

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