Editor’s note: As 2011 draws to a close, Seark Today has selected the top 10 regional stories of the year. The criteria used to select these stories were impact, widespread interest, and/or prominence of those involved.
Historically a hotbed of political dissent, the tiny town of Gould in Lincoln County remained in the regional, state and national news throughout 2011.
Even the New York Times covered the small farming community’s woes, which include political infighting, negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service to settle the town’s $300,000 tax debt, a physical attack on Mayor Earnest Nash Jr. and subsequent arrest of a councilwoman’s brothers for the attack, and most recently, the resignation of the city’s recorder-treasurer and the mayor’s refusal to allow the city council to appoint a replacement.
The unpaid taxes and how to settle the debt led to frequent clashes among the mayor, the city council, and the Gould Citizens Advisory Council, of which Mayor Nash is a member. Those clashes — and a perception by the city council that the citizens’ group is seeking too much influence — led to the city council’s ban on new organizations and a pair of other controversial measures.
In July, the city council adopted an ordinance making it illegal to form any kind of group or organization without its permission. That came on the heels of the council overriding the mayor’s veto of two other controversial measures. One required that the citizens advisory council cease to exist and the other made it illegal for the mayor to meet with “any organization in any location” either “inside or outside Gould city limits” without the city council’s permission.
“I’ve seen some humdingers, but never any ordinance like this,” Mark Hayes, general counsel for the Arkansas Municipal League, told the New York Times in July.
The same month, Nash said he was attacked with a gun near a Gould service station following months of harassment and threats. Nash says he was hit with the weapon by a relative of a Gould City Council member in the presence of other council members.
During a Fox 16 News interview with Nash about the attack, Gould City Councilwoman Sonya Farley showed up and confronted Nash. The confrontation was captured on video tape by the Little Rock news station.
State Police subsequently arrested Don Smith, 37, and DeCarlos Smith, 34, both of Gould in connection with the attack on the mayor. The men are the brothers of Gould City Councilwoman Rosieanna Smith.
The city got a bit of good news in November when Nash announced that the city and the Internal Revenue Service had reached a deal on the city’s nearly $300,000 tax liability, most of which is for unpaid payroll taxes. The IRS determined that the city of 800 is unable to pay the taxes and agreed to give the city some breathing room.
While the IRS will no longer be seeking payments on the back taxes owed, interest and penalties will continue to accrue. If timely payments on current and future taxes are not made, Gould will once again be responsible for the back taxes that the city owes. If Gould stays on track with its payments, all of the debt will be forgiven completely.
Gould was back in the news again in December when the city recorder-treasurer resigned because she was “afraid” of the mayor; and the mayor refused to allow the city council to fill the vacant position.
The former recorder-treasurer, Mary Prewitt, told the Pine Bluff Commercial that she found the office in a “royal mess” with unreconciled bank statements and bank deposits that had never been entered in municipal records.
Prewitt, who was appointed to fill an unexpired term on February 9, said the mayor had served as recorder-treasurer before being elected mayor and assuming office on January 1. Prior to January 2011, Nash had served as both recorder-treasurer and acting mayor.
After Prewitt’s resignation, the Gould City Council voted to appoint Pam Barley Gibson to fill the position but Nash would not accept Gibson’s appointment and had the locks changed on the recorder-treasurer’s office. He is also alleged to have threatened to have Gibson arrested if she tried to show up for work.
One Lincoln County resident told Seark Today that the mayor and city council are trying to destroy each other. “The mayor is the right arm of the city (government) and the council is the left arm and they’re trying to strangle each other,” he said.