City & County

Directors exchange words over Juneteenth holiday

By Joe May
The Southern Standard

Two Arkadelphia city directors exchanged tense words at Tuesday evening’s meeting over a perceived slight that occurred at a meeting in December.
Following the agenda portion of the meeting, Director Keith Crews, the board’s newest member, read a statement in which he reflected on his treatment by another member of the board at the December 21st gathering.  He recounted that the board passed the 2022 budget, which included 12 paid holidays as well as a floating holiday for each worker’s birthday.  
Just before the vote was taken, discussion was brought up about adding in Juneteenth, the nation’s  newest federal holiday.  After some discussion, in which Crews initially opposed the move, the board approved the additional holiday.
“After nearly a month of thought and consideration, I think it appropriate to express my thoughts concerning the addition of Juneteenth as a paid city holiday. I want to make clear that no one has approached me regarding this vote nor has anyone made comments concerning the additional holiday,” Crews said.
“In another two years, the city of Arkadelphia will be faced with a vote on continuing the current sales tax structure of Arkadelphia. For the past three years the city has been financially responsible and has made decisions regarding the operation of the city easily because there is currently adequate room in the budget to be able to do so without a great deal of sacrifice. However, on the horizon lurks two major spending projects that could potentially make the city tighten its belt. One of these is the purchase of a new fire truck for a cool $1 million price tag. The cost of this equipment will be financed over a 5-year period at a monthly cost of approximately $20,000 per month. In addition to this, the city recently bought the old Sav-U-Mor building across the street with the hopes of rebuilding and moving the city police department to that property. The price tag for this project should be more than $1 million. The budget that the city board passed was a balanced budget which means that if there were a surplus, it would be allocated to other city departments as part of their operating budget. The additional budget impact of these two projects will increase the city’s budget by approx. $250,000 starting next year. I believe that it is time that the city board consider the financial impact of a decision before introducing and voting on anything in the future.”

Crews then stated that “during the discussion of the adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday, the question was brought up as to what the facts were concerning holidays, paid holidays and the statistics associated with those holidays. When I did a quick search and found a few stats, I was told by another board member that he didn’t care about stats…[and] that he was only concerned with what was right.”
“Basically, I felt as though I had spoken out of turn, kinda like a child that says something at the dinner table and his daddy gets onto him and tells him to shut up. I can only assume that was not the board member’s intention. If so, it was inappropriate and if not, words regardless of where they come from can be harmful,” Crews continued.
“Looking at the stats in this case were more than appropriate. Before adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday, Arkadelphia already had 13 paid days off for holidays in 2021. Nationally, although we have several recognized holidays, only 11 are paid for by the citizens of this great country. The state of Arkansas, which incidentally was one of the first states to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday in 2008, only pays employees 10 days. Employees in the US receive an average of 7.6 paid holidays, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the category ‘all full-time employees.” Professional and technical employees average 8.5 paid holidays, Arkadelphia now has more paid holidays than any other municipality in Arkansas.”
“On December 21st, I was intimidated. Not by the crowd in attendance but by another board member. When a board member has an idea, an opinion or anything that might add to the conversation or influence a vote, it should be heard. I did the citizens of my Ward a disservice by not speaking my mind that night and I should have stood my ground. I believe that passing a vote which had a financial impact in directly after approving the budget was also inappropriate and shortsighted. As a parent I should have recognized when someone is making decisions like a small child,” Crews stated.
“As a City Director, it is my responsibility to make good decisions. Moving forward I will aim to do exactly what I told the person who approached me to run for the position, make decisions and vote on what I believe versus what someone else wants to hear. I am not here to make individuals happy but to move Arkadelphia forward and do what is best for all of the citizens. If the clock were turned back, I would have voted to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday but unpaid,” he said.
Vice-Mayor Roland Gosey asked then asked Crews if he was the board member referred to in his statement.

“I intentionally did not name anyone because I did not want to single anyone out,” Crews replied.  “But, yes, it was you.”
“Let me apologize to you if I treated you like a child,” Gosey said. “I don’t have children so I don’t know how to talk to children. My position is simply in support of Juneteenth as a paid holiday.”    
“I never sit on this idea and vote for anything that I don’t support,” he continued. “For you to do that and then say you felt intimidated by me, that’s laughable to me. I didn’t mean to intimidate or offend.”
“Next year, you can take the floating holiday off or your can take Juneteenth off, to come back running under the umbrella of intimidation, that was not the case. You could have expressed your vote.  We voted on it and it’s done.  Next year, if you want to do something different, so be it.”
Noting that he had spent “the past 17 years on and off the board,” Gosey stated that the city is “in the best financial shape we’ve ever been in.” He continued to praise the city’s financial security and noted that a vote for a new fire truck in the meeting had been unanimous and then remarked, chuckling, “I guess that’s how we feel. Some of us change our minds after we vote.”
“That’s uncalled for … ” Crews began before being cautioned by Mayor Scott Byrd to allow Gosey to continue speaking.
“You had your time, now this is mine,” Gosey replied.
Continuing to praise the city’s financial security, Gosey said, “I don’t think [City Manager] Gary Brinkley would bring anything to us that we couldn’t pay for.  Anybody that don’t support the fire truck, don’t support public safety. It costs what it costs.”
After Gosey finished speaking, Byrd urged the two directors to “find a way to work out” their disagreements and stated that he had allowed “a lot of close-to-the-line discussion, but I feel it was a good thing to do.”
During the agenda portion of the meeting, the board approved the purchase of a new fire truck.  Fire Chief Jason Hunt told the board that if the purchase was not approved by February 1, the price of the vehicle would increase by $60,000.  
Hunt said officials had visited several other departments and attended numerous trade shows to look at new trucks until they found the one that they felt the local department needed. He said the vehicle would have rescue truck capabilities as well as those of a fire engine.  Once ordered, the truck would take 17 months to build, he said, noting that $200,000 of the price tag would be paid for by Act 833 grant money, while the remainder of the $957,272 price tag would be financed. The old truck would be sold on an Internet auction site.
In the ensuing vote, the tally was unanimous.
In other business, the board:
• Passed a proclamation recognizing Arkansas School Board Month.
• Reappointed Carrie Burt and Lesley Galbraith to the Parks and Rec Committee.
• Approved a $13,319.64 change order for a fence around the Gum Springs water tower.
• Heard the annual Chamber of Commerce/Arkadelphia Alliance report given by Chamber Director Nikki Chandler and afterwards the board agreed to continue the $35,000 annual support for the Alliance.

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