Animal rule anger drives Director-elect recall threat

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

Cheryl Gilmore, an advocate for new animal control laws in Fort Smith, has said she will work to recall Fort Smith City Director-elect Keith Lau as soon as the law allows because of Lau’s comments during a Dec. 18 Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting.

Lau told The City Wire that Gilmore’s planned recall is a reflection of the divisive environment that now surrounds city politics.

Gilmore said in an e-mail that Lau was “overhead speaking with other directors that come January 2013 when he takes office, he will get rid of this problem and issue.”

THE AMENDMENT ISSUE
The “problem and issues” involves a last-minute change by City Director Philip Merry Jr., that amended an animal control ordinance proposed by the Animal Services Advisory Board (ASAB). The Fort Smith Board has discussed animal control rules for more about two years, with several proposals put forth and rejected.

Merry's amendment, pushed during a Dec. 18 Board meeting, calls for a $100 fine plus court costs for a first offense with the fine waived if the pet owner opts for spay-and-neuter. The second offense would result in a $200 fine plus court costs. Should the pet owner choose spay-and-neuter at that time, the fine would be reduced to $50 plus court costs.

The amendment passed by a 4-3 votes, but without a five-vote plurality, required a second and third reading. The second reading was held Friday, and the third is planned for Dec. 27.

Gilmore is the former chair of the ASAB. She resigned July 18 after fallout from a lengthy and sarcastic e-mail she sent to Fort Smith Director Kevin Settle. Settle and Gilmore were part of a frank discussion during a July 9 study session. Gilmore’s e-mail was followed by a letter from ASAB vice-chair Nichole Morgan in which she was "deeply sorry" for the "uncalled for behavior" and "an excessively immature and petty reaction" from Gilmore.

NEW BOARD REVIEW?
Lau said in an interview with The City Wire during a break in the Dec. 18 meeting that he wants to revisit the amendment when a new Board is constituted in January. It’s possible that new Board members Lau and Director-elect Mike Lorenz will not support the amendment, meaning that it could be overturned within weeks of being approved.

"I thought the Animal Services committee brought a good ordinance and the detail about the fees in going back at the eleventh hour with a new motion which is very complex, one that’s penalizing first-time infractions, is really something that needed to be discussed in more detail," Lau said Dec. 18.

Gilmore’s ire is directed at Lau’s desire to reconsider the amendment, and because of that, on the day Lau is sworn in, Gilmore plans to “release a press release saying that I am calling for the recall of Lau after the six month requirement based on his behavior” at the Dec. 18 meeting.

Gilmore noted in her e-mail: “His lack of professionalism, lack of knowledge on the subject matter and blatent (sic) disregard for the santity (sic) of the current board of directors is apalling (sic). He was speaking loudly and publically (sic) and many citizens overheard this conversation.”

RECALL RULES
In the e-mail, Gilmore said she would need only 237 signatures of valid voters to initiate the recall. The law Gilmore cited appears to come straight from the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and does not completely match Arkansas’ recall law. The law Gilmore cited requires 35% of ballots cast in the most recent primary for the position.

However, Arkansas’ law states: “When petitions requesting the removal of any such officer, signed by qualified electors equal in number to thirty-five percent (35%) of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for that office at the preceding general municipal election at which the office was on the ballot, are filed with the city clerk, the clerk shall determine the sufficiency of the petitions within ten (10) days from the date of the filing;” (See complete listing of applicable Arkansas law at the end of this story.)

Because there has been a string of special elections for the Ward 1 seat to which Lau was elected, the last general election for the seat was in 1996, and Gilmore will need 2,048 valid signatures from “qualified” Fort Smith voters, according to information provided by Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack. A qualified voter can be from any Fort Smith ward.

LAU STATEMENT
Lau issued the following statement to The City Wire about Gilmore’s recall plans.
“The fact  a citizen is calling for my recall based on hearsay, before I have even taken office is very concerning and  demonstrates the almost impossible political environment in which we live.

“I ran and was elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility, less micromanagement and not serving special interest groups. All of my comments during the December 18th board meeting were based on those three simple principles. If Ms. Gilmore feels my comments in any way deviated from my platform or if she promotes idealogies (sic) based on other principles, which better represent a leadership model for the citizens,  then I welcome a recall. Let the citizens of Fort Smith vote their beliefs.”

RECALL LAW APPLICABLE TO FORT SMITH

14-48-114.  Removal of mayor or directors.

(a) Any person holding the office of mayor and any person holding the office of member of the board of directors of any city organized under the provisions of this chapter shall be subject to removal from the office by the electors qualified to vote for a successor of the incumbent.


(b) The procedure to effect the removal of a person holding the office shall be as follows:


(1) When petitions requesting the removal of any such officer, signed by qualified electors equal in number to thirty-five percent (35%) of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for that office at the preceding general municipal election at which the office was on the ballot, are filed with the city clerk, the clerk shall determine the sufficiency of the petitions within ten (10) days from the date of the filing;



(2) If the petitions are deemed sufficient, the clerk shall certify them to the county board of election commissioners;



(3) The county board of election commissioners shall issue a proclamation in accordance with § 7-11-201 et seq., calling a special election on the question and shall fix a date for holding it not more than ninety (90) days from the date of the certification of the petitions by the clerk.



(4) At the election, the question shall be submitted to the electors in substantially the following form:

“FOR the removal of (name of officer) …………………………. from the office of  (Mayor) (Director)

AGAINST the removal of (name of officer) …………………………… from the
office of (Mayor) (Director) ; and



(5)  (A) If a majority of the qualified electors voting on the question at the election shall vote for the removal of the officer, a vacancy shall exist in the office.


(B) If a majority of the qualified electors voting on the question at the election shall vote against the removal of the officer, the officer shall continue to serve during the term for which elected.

(c) No recall petition shall be filed against any officer until he or she shall have held his or her office for at least six (6) months.

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