Commission struggles with remedies
Special meeting focuses on bylaws, inconsistencies as some members apologize for recent issues
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