In separate opinion pieces appearing in the Hope Star this week, two prominent Hope citizens and advocates, Blake Montgomery and Mike Malek, offer their opposing views and questions regarding the proposed change of governance for the City of Hope.
In separate opinion pieces appearing in the Hope Star this week, two prominent Hope citizens and advocates, Blake Montgomery and Mike Malek, offer their opposing views and questions regarding the proposed change of governance for the City of Hope. The opinions offered reflect the views of the individual writers only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Hope Star, its staff or corporate ownership.
I recently came across a Facebook post which posed an important question. Why would anyone vote to change our city government? This is my “why.”
First of all, Hope has a “city manager” form of government. Four cities out of 501 in Arkansas have this form of government. There are a handful of cities in Arkansas which are “city-administrator” governments, which are close but not quite the same.
The rest are “mayor-council” governments, this includes Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, Conway, El Dorado, Jonesboro and many others. There are several differences between city manager and mayor-council governments, the largest of which being that the full-time paid leader of the city is either a hired city manager or an elected Mayor.
I, along with a group of concerned citizens, filed a petition in March calling for an election to change our city government from an unelected city manager to an elected mayor. This election is set for July 10 with registered city voters voting at the Fair Park on that day.
Why am I going to vote for change?
Because insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
Because we have been in the passenger seat of a car headed down the same dead-end road for over 20 years and we aren’t getting anywhere. We keep coming up short. Our city leaders refuse to acknowledge that we could be doing better, or that what they’re doing is wrong. On our group’s Facebook page, Citizens for Change Hope, Arkansas, I have written several posts talking about the specific ways we could be doing better, with information and data taken from state and federal government reports.
In summary, we are losing on some major economic issues:
• INCOME: Hempstead County residents make less money for their cost of living than any other county in Southwest Arkansas (this is called regional price parity or “purchasing power”), this means our disposable income lags behind Lafayette County, Howard County, Pike County, and Nevada County;
• JOBS: Only 44 percent of the people in Hempstead County have jobs or are looking for jobs, compared to the national average of 62 percent, that means that we have an additional 16 percent, that’s 4,000 people, who do not have a job and are not looking for a job;
• POPULATION: In 1998, the population of Hempstead County was 23,244, the current census estimates for 2018? 21,861. In 20 years, our population has shrunk 6 percent.
How could we have let this happen? Because the same people stay in power and we somehow expect things to change. The same people in our city government who choose to overlook our lack of jobs, lack of income, and population shrinkage. This is why we need a new city government, because our government is broken.
Consider this, have you ever voted for Mayor Steve Montgomery? Have you ever voted for City Manager Catherine Cook? Have you ever voted for any city official? How do these people get the positions they have? Our democracy rules by the consent of the governed, when did we give these people our consent?
With a lack of jobs, a lack of income, and population shrinkage, you would think that our city leaders would acknowledge these problems and correct them. Instead, our city leaders don’t talk about how we could be doing better. Vice-Mayor Don Still talked about how Hope has “maintained” and how proud he is that we have accomplished that.
Maintenance is not growth. We deserve growth. We deserve improvement. Also, I don’t call lagging behind every Lafayette and Nevada Counties in income, an extra 4,000 unemployed people, and a shrinking population, maintenance. I call that decay.
I am voting for Change on July 10, because I refuse to continue doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I want something to change in Hope; I want more jobs in Hope; I want income growth in Hope; I want population growth in Hope; and I am going to use the greatest weapon in my arsenal to make that change, I’m going to vote for it.
Recently City Director Mark Ross brought a petition from a group of Hope citizens to the Hope Board of Directors. The petition asks that the city government be changed from a city manager/council form to a mayor/council form. That election will be on Tuesday, July 10.
Since filing the petition, no reliable information has been forthcoming to the general public that would inform the public of how the change in government would actually benefit Hope. Insomuch as there are many potentially harmful consequences of changing government, it seems reasonable to ask that the following questions be answered as soon as possible:
• Will there be a job description for the Hope mayor position?
• Should there be minimum qualifications for a mayor?
• What will be the total compensation package and what who will prepare and negotiate the contract?
• What will be the cost of the required re-districting of the city into six precincts from its present seven precincts?
• Does redistricting have to be approved by the State?
• What will be the cost of a special election for mayor and six new directors?
• Will all current city employees who have satisfactory performance reviews be totally protected?
• All cities of 10,000+ who have a mayor form of government also have any number of administrative professionals to assist in in technical administrative matters that a mayor would unable to handle professionally. Hope’s city manager now handles those areas. If Hope moves to mayoral city government, what additional administrative positions will be required for Hope and at what cost?
• What would be the total cost of salaries and benefits for a mayor, the needed administrative assistants, and six new directors who presently serve without pay but who will subsequently be paid?
• Will a new City Attorney be appointed by the Mayor or by the Board of Directors?
• Would the city manager be retained for a period of time to assist in the transition?
• Will the Mayor have veto power on issues brought before the city board of directors?
• A “Citizens for change” Facebook page has reported on such subjects as “regional price parity index,” questioned “citizen community involvement,” criticized specific people in city government, reported on “Labor force participation rates,” implied that Bentonville and Fayetteville are successful because they have a mayor; blamed Hempstead County Economic Development Corp. for workers being unreliable and unable to pass a drug test – but still NO discussion of the pros and cons of mayor and city manager styles of city governance. What are the specific reasons why having a mayor will improve Hope?
Changing city government at any time creates a certain chaos, but when so many positive things have happened and are continuing to happen under the present form of city government, absolute and certain long term benefits should be clearly enumerated for the general public. If these reasons are not truly compelling, then voters should vote “NO To Change.”
Citizens are invited to visit Facebook page “Citizens of Hope for Responsible Government” to read previous discussions of this issue. These questions will be duplicated there and all visitor posts welcomed without blocking if the posts are free of personal attacks on specific persons.