A petition to recall Monticello Mayor Zack Tucker is one of 16 separate petitions being circulated by a group called Monticello Citizens for Better Government.
The group is collecting signatures to have a mayor recall and 15 proposed ordinances placed on the November 8 General Election ballot in Monticello.
Patricia Mays, a Drew County resident who has a pending lawsuit against the city and was a 2014 candidate for the District 10 seat in the Arkansas Legislature, appears to be the spokesperson for the group. She presented the 16 petitions in a powerpoint presentation Saturday at a public forum at the Monticello Branch Library.
Although there is no requirement to provide a reason for a recall, Mays in her presentation cited 22 grievances against Tucker. Those grievances range from complaints about his hiring practices and expenditures to the manner in which his name appeared on the ballot in the 2014 mayoral election and his treatment of city employees and aldermen.
“His behavior indicates that he believes himself to be a ruler of Monticello rather than an elected public servant; that he can do whatever he wants because he is the mayor,” Mays said.
Tucker, who is halfway through the second year of his 4-year term, says the claims are either unfounded or are strictly opinion.
“I think it is clear that this is a personal attack and simply by reviewing the facts you’ll find that a lot of the claims are either not founded or just strictly opinion and I don’t think are anything warranting recall of an elected official,” he said.
Mays said 605 signatures are needed to get the question on the ballot. That number is equal to 25 percent of the number of votes cast in the city’s previous mayoral election.
The language in the statute guiding recall elections says it must be 25 percent of the “qualified electors.”
The statute does not define qualified electors. Is it 25 percent of the votes cast in the last mayoral election? Or, is it 25 percent of the voters eligible to vote in a Monticello mayoral election? The city had 4,846 registered voters in June 2014.
The Arkansas Legislature in 2009 passed a law permitting the recall of certain municipal officials. It reads in part:
A person who holds an elected office in a municipality for a term of four years in a mayor-council form of government is subject to removal from the office by the electors qualified to vote for a successor of the incumbent.
The procedure for the removal of a person holding the office is as follows:
When a petition requesting the removal of an officer under this section, signed by a number of qualified electors equal to 25 percent, is filed with the county clerk, the county clerk shall determine the sufficiency of the petition within 10 days from the date of the filing.
A petition shall be filed by noon not more than 105 days nor less than 91 days before the next general election following the election at which the officer was elected. If the petition is deemed sufficient, the county clerk shall certify it to the county board of election commissioners. At the election, the question shall be submitted to the qualified electors in substantially the following form:
FOR the removal of (name of officer) from the office of (name of office)
AGAINST the removal of (name of officer) from the office of (name of office)
If a majority of the qualified electors voting on the question at the election vote for the removal of the officer, a vacancy shall exist in the office. The officer shall vacate the office immediately upon certification of the election.
If a majority of the qualified electors voting on the question at the election vote against the removal of the officer, the officer shall continue to serve during the term for which he or she was elected.
In her presentation at Saturday’s public forum, Mays said Tucker’s name was illegally placed on the ballot in 2014 without a county convention or special election.
On March 12, 2014, just two days after the party’s nominee, Allen Maxwell died, members of the Drew County Democratic Central Committee held a meeting at which 15 members voted. Tucker was selected as the party’s nominee by one vote, 8 to 7.
That selection process, according to Mays, violated state election law and Democratic Party rules which requires either a county convention or special election when a nominee dies or withdraws his or her name. She said the governor must be notified that a vacancy exists and there must be public notification of the convention or special election.
In a similar allegation, Mays said Tucker, as a member of the Drew County Democratic Party Central Committee in 2016, also violated state law and Democratic Party rules in filling a vacancy and party nomination for the Ward 4, Position 2 on the Monticello City Council.
Though he attended the meeting at which he was selected as the Democratic nominee for mayor, Tucker said he was not a member of the committee in 2014 and cannot comment about how the party determined the process in which he was nominated. He was, however, a member of the committee in 2016 when the party selected its nominee for the Ward 4, Position 2 on the Monticello City Council. “We consulted the Arkansas Democratic Party legal counsel and was advised to the process, which was not different than the process used in 2016,” Tucker said in an email response to a series of questions from Seark Today about the effort to have him removed from office.
Arkansas law (14-43-411) requires that party nomination vacancies be filled either by county convention or special primary election. Arkansas Democratic Party Rules (2.03) established that a county convention is the county committee.
At a meeting on May 9, 2016, Drew County Democratic Party Central Committee member Arlene Russell made a motion that the committee delay until June 13 its selection of a nominee for the Ward 4, Position 2 on the Monticello City Council so that the public could be informed prior to any action. Committee member Beverly Burks seconded Russell’s motion, saying it seemed to her that it would only be fair to give prior notice so that anyone interested in seeking the nomination would have the opportunity to attend the meeting. The committee approved Russell’s motion and delayed the vote until June 13, after issuing a number of news releases notifying the public of the meeting and urging anyone interested in the position to attend the meeting.
In his first action as mayor, Mays said, Tucker issued a directive “to stifle public comment during city council meetings.”
Tucker said anyone who wishes to address the Monticello City Council can either request to be placed on the agenda one week in advance of the meeting or request to speak during a public hearing period at the end of the meeting. That format, according to Tucker, “historically” has been used in City Council meetings, but was not formally established in writing until he became mayor.
“This week, I will be issuing a directive which will allow Monticello residents to address the City Council on an agenda item before discussion and voting is held on the respective agenda item,” Tucker said.
He addressed the same issue Monday in an open letter to the Monticello Citizens for Better Government. The letter reads in part:
As one of my first acts in office, I issued the city’s first Open Government Directive. The directive established new principles to help guide city government’s actions intended to commit to transparency, meaningful public participation, and collaborating with the public and other governments.
In addition to providing a city website where meeting agendas, ordinances, etc. are published open to the public a week in advance to meetings, reporting weekly to the public on municipal issues, and requiring for the first time a public forum period at government meetings, one of the measures includes providing an “open door policy” to the mayor’s office.
I have always welcomed Monticellonians to bring their concerns to me about our city and community. In my time as mayor, I have received reports of concerns from citizens in the form of formal letters, emails, and person conversations in the bread aisle of the grocery. I even often answer three to four questions, or concerns, a week received via private Facebook messages.
Citing another reason for having Tucker removed from office, Mays said Tucker illegally awarded an economic development contract to the highest bidder “due to favoritism.” She has filed a lawsuit against the city regarding its actions in that process.
“While I was mayor, the city council rejected all bids, re-advertised for services with more clarification on scope of work, and only MEDC (Monticello Economic Development Commission) submitted Statement of Qualification,” Tucker said. “The city council awarded the economic development contract to the only bidder.”
You can read about the lawsuit and the events leading to it here.
Mays cited Monticello’s summer movie series in McCloy Park and Forest Festival as examples of Tucker’s “frivolous expenditures of tax dollars with no return on investment.”
Tucker, however, says Movies in the Park and the Forest Festival are “quality of life” enhancements. He said “thousands” of residents have enjoyed those programs and five cities have contacted Monticello to inquire about the Movies in the Park program and modeled their programs after Monticello’s program.
Tucker’s support of a voter-defeated event center project on the campus of the University of Arkansas at Monticello also came under fire. Mays said Tucker actively campaigned for a city sales tax to build the facility with no limit on the project cost and illegally referred the event center sales tax proposal to the ballot in a special sales tax election without two-thirds vote of the city council.
Tucker claims the project had a “clearly published budget” of $14,250,000 and three attorneys confirmed the legality of the process. Those attorneys were Michael Moyers, a municipal finance attorney at the Friday Law Firm in Little Rock, the Arkansas Municipal League’s chief legal counsel Mark Hayes and Monticello’s City Attorney Whit Barton.
Tucker said Mays issued a legal opinion around the time of the election citing an Arkansas statute (14-55-301) which refers to “referred initiatives” from a city council requiring a two-thirds vote of the council. However, the ordinance calling for the sales tax election was adopted under a statute (26-75-201) that refers to sales tax/bond elections. Ordinances calling for a sales tax/bond election require a majority vote.
The statute that Mays cited refers to issues that the city council has the authority to adopt without a public election, but chooses to refer the issue to an election. The statute regarding sales tax/bond issues are required by law to be referred to an election therefore would not be considered a referred issue.
The events center tax failed with 69 percent of the voters casting votes against the tax in a December 2015 special election. In the same election, Drew County voters approved a sales tax to expand Drew Memorial Hospital.
In her presentation Saturday, Mays also cited a number of personnel-related issues that she believes warrant Tucker’s removal from office. Those issues include his alleged mistreatment of employees, hiring practices, and the manner in which he gives raises.
Mays said Tucker created city positions and hired friends, then gave those friends large raises a few months later.
“The only new position that has been created since I have been mayor is the parks director position which has not been filled to date,” Tucker said.
Mays also said Tucker created job grades and steps then assigned employees in a biased manner to justify raises he wanted to give.
The pay scale, according to Tucker, was adopted by the Monticello City Council. It was created using a 2012 Arkansas Municipal League statewide salary survey of cities with a population between 10,000 and 20,000. Tucker maintains that job titles rather than individuals were assigned to pay grades.
Another grievance included in Mays’ presentation was an allegation that Tucker directed city employees to do repair work on the private property of selected individuals. In a telephone interview on Monday, Mays cited two examples: the former Drew Theater property and private property on Briarcliff.
Tucker said the city has done no work on the Drew Theater property. It has, however, made repairs on Briarcliff in Vivian Manor.
The Monticello City Council authorized work on the Godfrey Creek Bridge in Vivian Manor after the ditch bank failed near the bridge on Briarcliff due to flooding last spring. The adjacent property owner, according to Tucker, had made “improvements” that failed and threatened the functionality of the bridge.
“Our city engineer recommended the city make improvements to the ditch bank and bridge to protect the integrity of the bridge,” Tucker said. “The project is one of three (namely, Briarcliff Bridge, Oakland Bridge, and Meadowview drainage improvement) approved by City Council under our drainage ordinance adopted last year which authorizes the city to do work on Ten-Mile Creek and Godfrey Creeks.”
Tucker also prevented the city treasurer from performing her duty of oversight and reporting, according to Mays.
“The City Clerk/Treasurer has full access to finances and has worked with the (city) finance director for decades,” Tucker said. “No change has been made.”
Regarding a claim that Tucker gave a friend, the administrative assistant, check-signing authority, Tucker said three city officials — the mayor, the city finance director and the city clerk — are the only signatories on any account. “Feel free to call any local bank,” he said.
Mays also said Tucker lied to the public regarding the ownership of a spec building. Tucker said he doesn’t recall doing that.
The Monticello Economic Development Commission, the city’s economic development contractor, is the owner of a spec building at the Monticello Industrial Park. Loan payments on the spec building are paid by the MEDC through a portion of a city sales tax, part of which is dedicated to economic development.
Tucker also executes personal agendas without voter approval and citizen input, such as the renaming of the McCloy Park swimming pool, and is working with the MEDC in implementing land use restrictions, place-based codes, greenway networks, taking of private property for a landbank and other Agenda 21 principles without voter approval, according to Mays.
Bennie Ryburn, III, who serves on various local boards and commissions, attended the public forum on Saturday. He asked Mays if each of those issues she outlined require voter approval.
“The place-based codes, yes, that should be voted on by voters,” Mays said.
The city in 2006, through the MEDC, commissioned the University of Arkansas Community Design Center to create a comprehensive development plan for the city. The cost of the plan was $75,000, however, the city paid $11,276 which included the cost of Phase I, the cost of 75 books detailing the plan Monticello: Place-Based Planning in the Five Urbanisms of Every American Town, and the fee to present the plan to the public at a community meeting in Monticello.
The plan, which subsequently won a 2008 architecture design award sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects, was unveiled at a Monticello City Council meeting and presented to the public at a July 2007 community meeting.
The plan provides for mixed land uses and compact densities for more walkable neighborhoods, integrates the city’s environmental and urban systems, and enhances connectivity between existing land uses and city sectors – all without zoning, a hot-button issue in Monticello, which is the only city of the first classification in Arkansas with no zoning.
“No one has implemented it,” Ryburn told Mays.
“It’s being implemented,” Mays said. “We’ve already been over it so I’m not going to go over it again.”
“How about renaming the city pool ‘Tim Chase’ pool?” Ryburn asked. “Does that require voter approval?”
“It should have,” Mays said.
“No, that’s not my question,” Ryburn said. “Does it require, by law, voter approval?”
“Not by law,” she said. “The city council didn’t approve it; he just did it unilaterally. He didn’t go to the council with that.”
Mays said Tucker also failed to appoint four tourism business members to the Advertising & Promotion Commission and appointed the same person to the same at-large membership position on the commission.
The commission, which was created under the authority of a state statute and a city ordinance, consists of seven members serving seven-year terms. The seven members consist of three members from hotel/motel industry, one member from the tourism industry, two city council members and one at-large member. Members are appointed by the commission with confirmation by the Monticello City Council.
Glenda Nichols, director of the Monticello-Drew County Chamber of Commerce, is the A&P Commission’s tourism sector member. MEDC director Nita McDaniel, who was reappointed, is the at-large member, and Andy Patel, a local hotel owner, is the chairman of the commission.
Mays said Monday that she doesn’t know how many signatures have been collected on the recall petition.
Details about the group’s other 15 petitions will be covered separately in future reports.