Council passes ordinance requiring notice on construction meetings

The revision of key wording led to the passage Monday of an ordinance by the Pine Bluff City Council that requires the mayor’s office to notify each alderman of upcoming construction project staff meetings.

The law went into immediate effect because the council also approved an emergency clause.

Ward 1 Alderman Thelma Walker sponsored the measure in response to what she said was not knowing about a July 1 meeting of the bond project task force — when construction of a new animal shelter was discussed — until she read about it in the paper the next day.

“I had the press calling me for comment about something that I didn’t even know had happened,” Walker said during the discussion period prior to the vote. “This ordinance is necessary to ensure that every council member is aware of all upcoming city meetings where construction or renovation of city facilities is discussed.”

The text of the ordinance states that the mayor’s office is required to provide each member of the city council with reasonable advance notice of all meetings or conferences that concern the construction or renovation of city facilities and the expenditure of city funds for such a purpose.

The measure also prohibits the expenditure of funds for city construction and renovation projects unless the funds are already appropriated or authorized by the city council.

“I heard that in that meeting a downsizing of the animal shelter plan was discussed because of a funding shortfall,” Walker said. “Now I know the voters approved $1 million for the shelter.”

In the July 1 task force meeting, project architect Fred Reed said that the initial plans had been drawn up in anticipation of additional funding sources becoming available from partnerships and fundraising efforts, but with the failure of those sources to materialize, the plans would have to be redrawn to accommodate a $1.1 million budget.

Ward 2 Alderman Wayne Easterly said Monday that the ban on spending outlined in the ordinance was not necessary because it is already the case that no city funds can be spent without council approval.

Before the final vote, Easterly also said that the way the ordinance was written, it would require all council members to attend all of the meetings held to discuss city construction projects.

“Everyone is not required to be there,” Walker said. “We all just need to be notified in advance and can decide whether to go or not.”

Easterly persisted.

“When you put the word ‘shall’ into legislation it means that they must attend; no ifs, and or buts about it,” Easterly said.

Walker agreed that the word “shall” should be changed to “may.”

The ordinance received the support of every council member except for Easterly and Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett.