by Max Brantley
Civic bulldog Kathy Wells has sent a lengthy memo to members of the Coalition of Greater Little Rock Neighborhoods decrying the secretive way City Director Dean Kumpuris engineered a deal with his old family friends in the Granite Mountain quarry business to annex more of the neighborhood for more mining.
Trust me, Kumpuris said, this is a good deal to which all affected parties agree. And so it will go over the years as the wealthy miners blast and mine and nibble ever more of the land and peace and quiet from the Granite Mountain neighborhod.
Hell, maybe it is a good deal. Audubon Arkansas has signed on, but we don't know what all is involved in their horse trading either. We do know that the city director who represents the ward that will be affected, Erma Hendrix, was pointedly excluded from the discussion. I get it. The bumptious Hendrix isn't a collaborative sort. But it's an outrage, regardless, that she wasn't informed of the particulars of the deal. Nor was the public as the Board quickly and quietly put it on the agenda last week for rubberstamping this week.
It is no way for a city government looking for more of our tax money to act. "Trust us. Our deals are good for you. No need for you to know what they are." It's Chamber of Commerce/downtown businessman-knows-best government. It has always been so. Preservation of at-large board seats guarantees its continuance. It's time for mayor-council and more democratic governance in this city.
Wells' memo follows:
To CGLRN from Pres. Kathy Wells:
The LR Board of Directors will consider a proposed land swap at Granite Mtn. at its Jun. 7 business session. See item below. The text of the resolution is on the city website, under Board agendas, at www.littlerock.org.
To authorize an exchange of property between the City of Little Rock, Arkansas, and McGeorge Contractors; to authorize any necessary amendment to a lease agreement between the City and Audubon Arkansas for property leased to it for a nature center; and for other purposes. Staff recommends approval.
This way this action came to the agenda breaks the Do Right rule of Good Government, and only worsens mistrust of City Hall and its leadership.
Those attending the May 31st Agenda session of the LR Board witnessed Dir. Dean Kumpuris add this to the agenda, riding roughshod over Dir. Erma Hendrix of Ward 1, whose ward covers Granite Mtn. She has won no allies among fellow Board members, clearly, since all let this pass in silence.
Mayor Mark Stodola, who presided, also held his tongue.
That does not excuse Kumpuris, an at-large director, and his colleague, Dir. Joan Adcock, another at-large director he credited with working on the deal alongside him. She remained silent during the episode, which came at the end of the 30-minute session.
See for yourselves on the broadcast of the meeting on Channel 11 provided by the city. Later, you may bring up the meeting video posted on the city website, but these lag behind — this meeting is not yet posted.
When Hendrix confronted Kumpuris, he conceded he had not included her in the negotiations to settle a dispute ongoing for the past five years or more. All parties now agreed to a swap, Kumpuris said, and acceptance by the Board was a formality he desired for next week.
Audubon Arkansas and the Granite Mtn. NA are sending letters in support of the deal, he added. The land in question has unique rocks, plants and wildlife, which is why Audubon operates its nature center there. The granite has been commercially quarried for generations, and more stone has been sought for quarrying. Residents have objected, saying blasting would be nearer their homes, and damage them, as has occurred in the past. Approval by the LR Parks & Recreation Commission was added as a condition for any land swap, in the last negotiations months ago.
Kumpuris did not engage Hendrix in her complaints.
A frustrated Hendrix demanded to know what City Mgr. Bruce Moore knew about these meetings, and he said he was sure all had been involved, including residents and city parks officials, and he was expecting the paperwork shortly. He knew an agreement had been reached, but no details, Moore said. So, a week before a vote is due, city staff is ignorant of the deal, and provides no information to directors.
A voice vote put the item on the agenda for next week. Hendrix dissented; one or two more joined her, but in a voice vote, identities were unclear.
Clearly, the majority ran right over any semblance of respect for the ward director.
Nobody is right all the time, or wrong, but government cannot function successfully when some are shut out of the process. This is one example.
Why would Ward 1 voters support more taxes for a majority that discounts their delegate completely?
The director has a duty to work with the rest, as well. That’s broken down spectacularly here.
In any case, such a public shut-out shows contempt for an elected official, and that is Bad Government.
Conflict Resolution workshops are needed for the LR Board.
At-large directors are supposed to take the broad view, in the theory of their place in city services. Clearly, they are also a way around ward directors who are not taking desired actions. That relations are so bad among directors this action can be taken, as it was May 31st, shows major troubles at City Hall.
Was this action for the benefit of the quarry owner alone? How does the public benefit? What appeals were made, and what concessions were agreed upon? There’s no place in the current process for these questions to be debated. Those support letters are not on view at the website posting for the LR Board Agenda.
There was no report from Kumpuris on how he satisfied concerned parties. Just Because He Said It Made It So. Rubber-stamping that assertion is Bad Government.
LR might achieve a balance of powers another way - if the Board formed committees, to which categories of business were assigned, giving the public access to more than a single director to conduct whatever business is requested. For one director to block a request for city action is Bad Government, yet this happens too often. The rest go along, with rare exceptions. A Director is not an absolute ruler, and should not be allowed to act that way.
A committee structure provides a chance to settle issues another place. The convention that the Board members agree in public has stifled formal sessions that are televised, and true debate almost never occurs. Bad-tempered exchanges do break out occasionally, when a director becomes emotional. That tarnishes the leadership ability of City Hall as well.
A bonus would be directors better informed about the items upon which they are voting. Too often, items arrive the weekend before the vote, little enough advance notice. No meaningful discussion occurs, in the effort to get through that night’s business session.
The public must be nimble to learn of an action item, and procure the documents on the item in time to comment. There’s no time to slow the train down, unless there’s a big outcry.