Question of expanding City Council arises
The Pea Ridge City Council is comprised of four members each of whom lives within one of the four wards of the city. When the last census came in, city officials discussed adding another ward and another council member.
City resident Boyd McNiel, who ran for mayor in 2006, requested to be on the agenda for the August City Council meeting, said his subject was “additional council members.”
McNiel addressed the council about several issues, including the budget, but on the council population, said: “Does law supercede common judgment? Consider adding more wards, specially with people who will not just stamp it ‘yes.’”
“This council doesn’t do that,” Mayor Jackie Crabtree replied.
Crabtree said that several years ago, when the city considered adding council members, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission drew lines for wards attempting to divide the city population equally.
“You have to represet the population equally,” the mayor explained, saying that at that time the “lines went all over the place. It just wasn’t the right thing to do at that time.”
Crabtree said gerrymandering — designing wards to favor a particular candidate, class or official — must be avoided. He said drawing wards is not a costly process and the city already pays the Regional Planning Commission. He said the city has not had a problem getting the council members together for meetings.
As to doubling the size of the council, having two council members per ward, Crabtree said, “You mean like Bentonville? I don’t know.” Crabtree has served Pea Ridge for 23 years and served as the president of the Arkansas Municipal League in 2013-14.
The city is now divided into four wards with the lines drawn north south on Curtis Avenue and east west along Slack Street (Arkansas Highway 72) and Lee Town Road.
According to Arkansas Code 14-43-312, cities of the first class with less than 50,000 residents shall elect two aldermen from each ward for a term of two years. There are provisions for fouryear terms and for alternating the terms for aldermen within each ward resulting in staggered terms with one alderman elected from each ward every two years.
According to the Arkansas Municipal League guidebook for mayor and council members, the duties of the aldermen/council members are:
• Enacts ordinances and bylaws concerning municipal affairs that are consistent with state law in order to promote the health, safety and welfare of the public, (ACA §§ 14-55-102; 14-43-602).
• Has the management and control of the city finances and all real and personal property belonging to the city (ACA § 1443-502).
• Adopts a budget by ordinance or resolution for operation of the city or town by Feb. 1 of each year. (ACA § 14-58-202).
• Sets the procedures by ordinance for making purchases that do not exceed the sum of $20,000 in cities of the first class, except as provided in ACA § 14-58-104. Councils in second class cities
and in towns may set procedures for making purchases, except as provided in section 14-58-104. (ACA § 14-58-303(b)).
• Sets the time and place for regular city council meetings (ACA § 14-43501). All meetings should be open to the public in accord with the state Freedom of Information Act (ACA § 25-19-106).
• May override the mayor’s appointment and removal of department heads by a two-thirds vote of the total membership (ACA § 14-42-110).
• May override the mayor’s veto by a two-thirds vote (ACA § 14-43-504; § 1444-107; § 14-45-105).
• Calls for a special election in cities of the first class to fill the vacancy of the unexpired mayor’s term of office, if the unexpired term is for more than one (1) year. (ACA § 14-43401(b)).
• May fill, by appointment in cities of the first class, the vacancy to the office of mayor if the expired term is less than one (1) year (ACA § 14-43-401(b)(1)).
• In a city of the second class or an incorporated town the city council shall fill a vacancy in the mayor’s office for the unexpired term by either a majority vote of the aldermen or a special election (ACA § 1444-106); (ACA § 14-45-103).
• Sets the salaries of the mayor, council and other municipal officials. Salaries of officials may be increased, but not decreased, during the term of office, except that the official receiving the salary may request a decrease. (ACA § 14-42-113).
• Either establishes a city fire department or, by ordinance, enters into a contract or interlocal agreement for city fire protection with an existing fire department certified by the Arkansas Fire Protection Services Board. The council may promulgate rules to govern a city fire department. (ACA § 14-53-101).
• Establishes a city police department and organizes it under the general superintendence of the mayor. (ACA § 14-52-101). Directs by ordinance the number of subordinate number of officers to be appointed. (ACA § 14-52-201).
• Sets the rates for city utilities and establishes fees for city services.
• Enacts ordinances establishing sales taxes and referring same to the voters.
• Takes actions leading to annexation of territory to the city.
• Establishes and certifies to the county clerk the amount of property taxes to be levied within the city or town prior to the regular meeting of the quorum court in November of each year. (ACA § 26-73-202; 1414-904).
• May establish (and abolish) various commissions to manage and operate such services as parks, utilities, an airport, advertising and promotion, planning and others, as provided by state law.