City’s lack of trans­parency leaves cit­i­zens in the dark

The Sentinel-Record - - VIEWPOINTS -

The Sen­tinel-Record vig­or­ously ob­jects to the lack of trans­parency shown by the Hot Springs Board of Di­rec­tors Tues­day night when it hired, or pro­moted, de­pend­ing on your point of view, Bill Bur­rough as the new city man­ager.

This crit­i­cism is not di­rectly aimed at Bur­rough, who was in­terim city man­ager; his qual­i­fi­ca­tions or lack thereof were not de­bated in a pub­lic fo­rum, as they should have been Tues­day night, and will not be de­bated here.

No, these ob­jec­tions come from the shroud of se­crecy sur­round­ing Tues­day night’s ac­tion.

Specif­i­cally, we ob­ject to the process be­cause:

• The board of di­rec­tors failed to state on its pub­lic agenda that it would be con­sid­er­ing hir­ing or pro­mot­ing, de­pend­ing on your viewpoint, Bur­rough. The agenda sim­ply stated it would be per­form­ing an an­nual re­view of Bur­rough and the city at­tor­ney. It is also wor­thy of note that the city at­tor­ney, Brian Al­bright, re­ceived a $5,000 “bonus” from the board, also with­out in­put from the pub­lic.

• The board of di­rec­tors failed to re­lease Bur­rough’s em­ploy­ment con­tract prior to Tues­day’s meet­ing.

The agree­ment was not in­cluded in the reg­u­lar board of di­rec­tors packet; the news­pa­per did not re­ceive a copy of the con­tract un­til re­quest­ing one the fol­low­ing day.

Even if the board makes the ar­gu­ment that the de­tails of the con­tract needed to be worked out in the two-hour ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion it held Tues­day, a copy of the con­tract could have been dis­trib­uted to the pub­lic at the meet­ing prior to the con­tract be­ing voted upon. For­tu­nately, the Leg­is­la­ture, which has gut­ted Arkansas’ Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act over the years, has not taken away the re­quire­ment that pub­lic of­fi­cials must re­con­vene and vote in pub­lic on ac­tions de­bated in se­cret in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sions.

Con­sid­er­ing the board’s track record on em­ploy­ment con­tracts with city man­agers, it should be a given that the pub­lic would be given an ad­vance copy of the agree­ment, so that it can ex­er­cise its right, as cit­i­zens, to serve as a check and bal­ance on elected of­fi­cials who have shown poor judg­ment in this area in the past.

As a re­minder, the city board paid the for­mer city man­ager, David Frasher, $223,312 in sev­er­ance af­ter it re­quested his res­ig­na­tion in June. Bur­rough can be ter­mi­nated for cause at any time and with­out ad­vance no­tice, whereas Frasher’s agree­ment re­quired giv­ing him 45 days’ no­tice.

“We felt that was nec­es­sary to in­su­late the city and cit­i­zens of Hot Springs from pay­ing a sev­er­ance pack­age for what would be con­sid­ered a for-cause act,” McCabe told a re­porter on Wed­nes­day. “Res­i­dents ex­pressed con­cerns at what we had done with the pre­vi­ous city man­ager. Cer­tainly, all the can­di­dates run­ning for city board po­si­tions were sen­si­tive to those con­cerns.”

Ap­par­ently, they didn’t feel it was nec­es­sary to voice those sen­ti­ments on Tues­day, which brings us to the fi­nal point:

• No pub­lic in­put what­so­ever was sought on the hir­ing de­ci­sion on Tues­day.

This lack of pub­lic in­volve­ment is sim­ply un­ac­cept­able, given the city of­fi­cials’ track record with the pre­vi­ous city man­ager. Say­ing “res­i­dents ex­pressed con­cerns” re­gard­ing the pre­vi­ous city man­ager is putting it mildly.

Our pub­lic of­fi­cials might re­call the pub­lic’s re­ac­tion af­ter they con­vened an ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion in Oc­to­ber 2017 to dis­cuss the $46,737 in gen­eral fund trans­fers Frasher ap­proved to re­model the ad­min­is­tra­tive suite at City Hall and pur­chase new of­fice fur­ni­ture.

Af­ter meet­ing be­hind closed doors, the board took no ac­tion but adopted a res­o­lu­tion the fol­low­ing month that lim­ited the city man­ager’s au­thor­ity on bud­get trans­fers re­lated to City Hall — a con­straint the new city man­ager must now ac­cept.

We’re will­ing to give the new city man­ager the ben­e­fit of a doubt; Bur­rough has cer­tainly done an ad­mirable job of keep­ing the city’s ship on course over the past few months.

But the elected city of­fi­cials need to show more re­gard for the cit­i­zens they rep­re­sent be­fore mak­ing such hir­ing de­ci­sions in the fu­ture.

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