Doubling down

Riff Raff, by Michael Tilley

This continued effort by a few members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors to micromanage city operations is troublesome, puzzling and frustrating.

Let’s recap.

The Fort Smith Board over several months dicked around with a plan approved more than five years ago to fully automate the city’s trash collection service.  At least four members of the board wanted us to believe that a proven and widely-accepted municipal function was somehow a hardship on enough city residents to require tinkering.

Fort Smithian Joel Culberson initiated a referendum to put the automated trash issue on the ballot. His effort was unfortunate in that it was not too far removed from requiring a ballot initiative to provide water and sewer services equally to all city residents.

Culberson’s initiative reached the ballot, and 80% of Fort Smith voters said they wanted automated trash service. 80-fricking-percent.

For those of you who thought this would send a clear message to the Board to knock it off already with the counting-of-paper-clips form of governance, well, think again. Not only are we counting paper clips, but we’re examining the bend and diameter of each clip.

Before we continue, let’s assume that Fort Smith City Directors Philip Merry Jr., and Pam Weber have the most golden of honest intentions – pure beyond any Messianic measures.

Under that assumption, it appears that Philip and Pam have decided to double down on micromanaging.

Philip, knowing that City Directors-elect Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz have little interest in stirring up unnecessary controversy with narrowly-supported animal control measures, attempted to push the aforementioned measures through during an expedited meeting schedule in December. The bottom line is that Philip wanted to push through in 30 days what the community has not been able to come to terms on during a more than 18-month cycle of hearings and task force reports. Philip failed with his effort, but to suggest this was a selfish and irresponsible action is to be kind.

The double downing continues.

Pam called a public meeting – held in a popular, packed and loud restaurant – to discuss city beautification efforts. The meeting, held with minimal public and media notice, did not facilitate public input and proved difficult for the media to cover because of the noise. Other than to show that they can call a meeting where ever and anytime they please, little was accomplished on a subject that is so critical to the city. To suggest this was a selfish and irresponsible action is to be kind.

The double downing continues.

Pam decided she wanted more trees planted in downtown Fort Smith. To do this, she attempted to drag under the bus a respectable Fort Smith-based businessman who is one of best ambassadors this city has. (Unfortunately, this businessman may not be aware that Pam created the conflict that resulted in his discomfort.)

The deal was, this businessman bought too many trees for a federally funded project in downtown Fort Smith. Pam was made aware of the details of how such projects are funded and what may and may not happen with those dollars. But Pam decided her interests were superior to federal requirements and attempted to suggest the city staff was nefarious in its dealings with said businessman and attempted to convince other that the city was overly difficult to deal with. She did this during a 2013 budget meeting that had NOTHING to do with money spent on trees during the 2012 budget cycle.

You may have heard many stories about this issue, but the deal is you can’t go mixing federal funds on one project with another project that doesn’t have a federal approval. The feds don’t care how pure your intentions may be, they don’t allow – and for good reasons – the shuffling of funds at the local level for purposes that may appear similar.

The dissension created by Pam’s request muted more serious considerations necessary for improved oversight of the 2013 budget. To suggest this was a selfish and irresponsible action on Pam’s part is to be kind.

The recent micromanaging efforts of Philip and Pam reflect the actions of public officials who have no appreciation for or no understanding of the basic protocols of municipal governance. Or both.

Either way, Philip and Pam would do the city a great service by refraining or resigning.