Com­mis­sion strug­gles with reme­dies

Spe­cial meet­ing fo­cuses on by­laws, in­con­sis­ten­cies as some mem­bers apol­o­gize for re­cent is­sues

Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Karl Richter

The Texarkana, Ark., Ad­ver­tis­ing and Pro­mo­tion Com­mis­sion strug­gled Thurs­day to de­ter­mine what reme­dies are avail­able for past in­con­sis­ten­cies in its prac­tices, as two mem­bers apol­o­gized to the lo­cal women who in re­cent weeks have brought those is­sues to light and a third raised the specter of a law­suit.

In a nearly two-hour spe­cial meet­ing re­quested by com­mis­sion at­tor­ney Josh Pot­ter, mem­bers en­gaged in a free­wheel­ing dis­cus­sion of re­cent com­plaints about their fail­ure to com­ply with their own by­laws, as well as how to pro­ceed in the fu­ture.

Com­mis­sioner Joyce Den­ning­ton re­peat­edly ex­pressed con­cern about whether the com­mis­sion could de­fend it­self against a hy­po­thet­i­cal law­suit, though Pot­ter said the writ­ten com­plaints de­liv­ered to city and state of­fi­cials bear no real le­gal sig­nif­i­cance.

The con­tro­versy arises from a Sept. 11 meet­ing dur­ing which the com­mis­sion re­fused to vote on whether Gath­er­ing of Au­thors, a lo­cal lit­er­ary and char­ity event, could be given A&P funds in ad­di­tion to those it was awarded in Oc­to­ber 2016. The com­mis­sion dis­trib­utes rev­enues from the city's 3 per­cent ho­tel and 2 per­cent restau­rant taxes to sup­port the city's tourism and hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­tries.

Dur­ing that meet­ing, com­mis­sion Chair­man Buddy Allen brought up the com­mis­sion's by­laws, which state that the com­mis­sion can al­low a vote for fund­ing be­yond the Oc­to­ber meet­ing only if “all mem­bers vote to ap­prove fund­ing.”

Ac­cord­ing to the meet­ing's min­utes, “Com­mis­sioner (Joyce) Den­ning­ton asked Mr. Pot­ter if this could be a unan­i­mous vote by all mem­bers present or all mem­bers of the com­mis­sion. Mr. Pot­ter con­firmed it is to be unan­i­mous by all mem­bers of the com­mis­sion. Be­cause all com­mis­sion­ers were not present, fund­ing could not be voted on at this time.”

Gath­er­ing of Au­thors or­ga­niz­ers Tammy Thomp­son and Amanda Bow­ers re­sponded with two writ­ten com­plaints, the first de­liv­ered to the Arkansas At­tor­ney Gen­eral and the sec­ond to lo­cal of­fi­cials in­clud­ing City Man­ager Kenny Haskin. They al­leged that other re­cip­i­ents had been funded un­der a dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the by­laws, cit­ing ex­am­ples dat­ing back to July 2016 in which the com­mis­sion awarded funds with­out a unan­i­mous vote of the full com­mis­sion.

On Thurs­day, com­mis­sion­ers ac­knowl­edged the in­con­sis­ten­cies but kept re­turn­ing to the same ques­tion—What can be done about it now?—and an­swer: Clar­ify the by­laws and fol­low them more strictly in the fu­ture.

One amend­ment to the by­laws has al­ready been pro­posed and will be voted on at the com­mis­sion's next reg­u­lar meet­ing, which takes place next week. The change would make clear that the com­mis­sion will hear no one's re­quests for fund­ing in ad­di­tion to any awarded them in Oc­to­ber, only “ini­tial” fund­ing when cir­cum­stances be­yond the ap­pli­cants con­trol make an Oc­to­ber re­quest im­pos­si­ble.

“My per­sonal opin­ion is what's done is done. I don't be­lieve it was in­ten­tional or a ma­li­cious in­tent in any way, shape or form. We have made the amend­ment to try and right this from this mo­ment for­ward. We all agree it was a mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the by­laws. … But my point is we're try­ing to fix it. We're ad­dress­ing it,” Com­mis­sioner Linda Teeters said.

Com­mis­sioner Tim John­son went fur­ther, at one point turn­ing to Thomp­son and Bow­ers, who were in at­ten­dance, and apol­o­giz­ing to them.

“I apol­o­gize to you (Bow­ers) for not say­ing any­thing. Miss Thomp­son, I apol­o­gize that you've not been treated as fairly as you feel that per­haps you should have. It's dif­fi­cult to sit up here as a com­mis­sion and deal with the pub­lic. We can't say any­thing back. … We are judged by the pub­lic, and we can't say any­thing. But the pub­lic can say what­ever they want to say. … We sit here and we act mute, but we hear what you have to say and we lis­ten to it and we hurt just like ev­ery­one else. We try our best to be good ste­wards, and to be ac­cused of any­thing else is not true,” John­son said.

Later in the meet­ing, Com­mis­sioner Sandy Varner also ex­pressed re­grets.

“I'm sorry if the com­mis­sion has not fol­lowed the rules. I sin­cerely apol­o­gize,” she said.

City Fi­nance Di­rec­tor TyRhonda Hen­der­son ended the meet­ing by propos­ing a for­mal means for the mat­ter to be put to rest. She asked Thomp­son and Bow­ers to send her an email de­tail­ing what out­come would be sat­is­fac­tory to them. Hen­der­son then would for­ward the re­quest to com­mis­sion­ers to act upon at a fu­ture meet­ing.

“What­ever it is, so there's some kind of for­mal res­o­lu­tion to this is­sue so that they can move for­ward. At this point and time, I think that that's the best way for us to pro­ceed, in­stead of go­ing back and forth,” she said.

The com­mis­sion will next con­vene at a reg­u­lar meet­ing sched­uled for Oct. 19. A spe­cial meet­ing that had been sched­uled for to­day was can­celed.

On Twit­ter: @RealKar­lRichter

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