City’s lack of transparency leaves citizens in the dark
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.