Blytheville City Councilman R.L. Jones is encouraging the public to attend the first quarterly ward meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, at the Blytheville Public Library.
It's unclear how many council members plan to be present.
Councilwoman Missy Langston and Councilman John Musgraves both said Jones hasn't spoken to them about the ward meeting.
|Jones acknowledged he hasn't contacted other council members. However, he said even if he is the only one there, he plans to have the ward meeting.||Langston pointed out she is accessible and constituents can contact her easily via phone call, text and email or in person.|
But she didn't rule out attending if all the council members believe it is a good place to get input.
Musgraves said council members would be well served to discuss a time and date for events like ward meetings, to gauge how each feel about them and determine if they can be there. He noted he will be out of town that day. Musgraves added he is working on another meet-and-greet for February, similar to the one held last year. Musgraves said the meet-and-greets allow one-on-one interaction with constituents and they could be done quarterly. Musgraves noted he hasn't spoken to all the council members about the meet-and-greet, but plans to.
Meanwhile, Jones started the ward meetings in the mid-1990s and they continued through 2010, then stopped when he left office at the end of that year. Now that he has returned to the City Council, he is bringing back the event.
Jones believes the ward meetings were effective in the past. Some meetings, only a handful of citizens showed at Arkansas Northeast College -- the previous venue -- while other meetings drew bigger crowds when there were hot-button issues. Jones claims in the beginning they had crowds of 200. Some of the topics over the years were recycling, poverty-reduction plans (the Emerging Communities Initiative) and sales taxes. They usually had speakers like the police and fire chiefs, code enforcement officials, the mayor and Council members.
"We were able to do a lot of good things (in the ward meetings)," Jones said.
Jones said the ward meetings gave citizens a forum, and allowed the city to explain why it needed sales taxes like those for the police and fire departments, infrastructure and parks and recreation.
He noted the infrastructure tax was critical because there weren't enough street funds to meet the needs. Jones said closing open-faced ditches was a big concern at the time.
He noted a study in the 1990s showed the city needed $33.8 million in street repairs, money it didn't have.
"Mayor Joe Gude said he didn't think the tax would pass," Jones noted, though the infrastructure tax did pass and in 2012 it collected $853,856.51, according to the Statement of Revenue and Expenditures. "The infrastructure tax is paying off right now."
The report also says, last year, the Parks and Recreation tax generated $1,746,302.34 ($1.1 million was excess funds from the bond and two months of the tax); and the police and fire tax brought in $89,719.14 and $549,995.94, respectively, for the departments.
"They are not benefiting just one person, they are benefiting the whole city...," Jones said of the taxes. "The whole thing is a win-win all the way around because of the people taxing themselves."