HOT SPRINGS BOARD OF DIRECTORS REJECTS PUBLIC FUNDING FOR WASHINGTON D.C. TRIP

As most of the locals who at one time visited this “news blog” have been gone for some time, this effort is mostly cathartic.

That was a different blog with the same name.  It had a more expensive template (this one is free) and looked a bit like a newspaper.

It was mostly about local news and commentary.

The effort was devoted towards giving Hot Springs residents another news source besides the sole, slanted paper one that exists.

I have been “sent” elsewhere and the new blog is something that is done in spare time.  The subject matter, posted much less frequently, is of great interest to me.

All of that “said,” I have not lost interest in the events that are happening here in Hot Springs.

It was about 18 months ago that I attended a Hot Springs Board of Directors meeting.  Only a handful of folks were in the room.  At that meeting, local representatives of the 6 districts in the Spa City, along with the mayor, voted 7-0 to approve two bond companies for loans to the tune of approximately $200,000,000.   The money was to be spent, as needed, for a new water treatment plant and upgrades to the waste water facilities.

As I drove home that evening, I wondered how a town of less than 40 thousand was going to pay for such an amount.

What really upset me was the local paper that was printed the following day.

Only a handful of people knew of the city’s intention to spend such a sum, because the local paper didn’t bother to report it.   The headline about the meeting (I can still remember that it was on the extreme lower left of the front page) said something about how the directors had raised fines an extra 15 or so dollars.

The story continued onto one of the back pages where the summary of the meeting barely mentioned the multimillion dollar issue. The problem I saw there: no specifics about the project were mentioned and no dollar figure was stated. “Capital improvements” was, I believe, the reason the paper printed for the bond company approvals.

This lack of transparency by the local paper and the seeming opinion by the city directors that the pockets of the taxpayers had no bottom was the reason the “Wings of the Wind” made its debut in late July of 2009.

Besides covering local news, the news blog did a report on every high school marching band in the county during the marching season that fall.  There were interviews with citizens, features on local events, and continuing commentary on the efforts the city was making to sell its high-priced water project to the people.

I attended every public hearing on the proposed water project.   The city hasn’t spent even ¼ of the money the directors approved bond money for on the day I was there for the 7-0 vote.  Much of the spent money has been on waste water fixes that the government required.

Most of the reason the city didn’t go ahead with its plans has nothing to do with public backlash, in my opinion.  It has everything to do with the fact that the Health Department will not approve the poor plans on which our city has spent so much money (millions).

Most of the people still don’t know the full story.  The residents of Hot Springs aren’t aware that their water bills will increase annually and forever starting in the next few years.  This increase was approved by the Board of Directors.

Even some of the Board members who voted for the increase had no idea what they were voting for.  At least that’s what they told me when I asked them.  The increases were hidden in something that was well disguised by “someone.”

All of this makes what happened last night a good sign.  The Hot Springs Board of Directors, and citizens who were allowed to speak on the issue, spent a good 45 minutes discussing whether or not $10,000 of taxpayer money should be spent on sending 5 Board members to Washington. D.C.

Forty-five minutes was near the average time for an entire meeting during Mr. Bush’s tenure as mayor.

In the end, it was a new director, Karen Garcia, who made the amendment that no public monies be spent on the trip.  I applaud the 5 members who voted for the amended ordinance.  The two directors who voted against not spending money on travel were Mr. McCabe (Dist. 4) and Mrs. Jones (Dist. 2).

I agree with those citizens who got up to speak against the expenditure.  I was watching the meeting on T.V., but I know each of those who approached the lectern.

I appreciate Diane Silverman for making the statement that we must wean ourselves off of funding from government sources.

I appreciate Mark Toth for stating that federal funding could be garnered by approaching the folks who represent us in Washington.  He noted that Mike Ross’s office here in Hot Springs is easily accessible.

Mr. Toth explained that he understood fully the possibility of gaining available federal funds by approaching the right sources.  He felt, as I do, that trip expenditures send the wrong message to an already strapped public, and that any available funds could be accessed locally by the talented folks in positions to request them.

I appreciate Bob Driggers’ efforts to keep the board within budget restraints.  I would also like to applaud Mr. Driggers for his perseverance in putting fire to the feet of our public officials who have been so loose in the past with the public purse.  Some people don’t like Mr. Driggers demeanor when he is at the lectern before the City Board.  It is not an easy thing he does. He is only fighting for what is right and proper.

graft: the use of dishonest or illegal means to gain money or property by somebody in a position of power or in elected office.

I have had the opportunity to spend time with Mr. Driggers in another setting.  When he is not dealing with apparent graft, he is a very pleasant fellow.

I appreciate Brian White’s work to make our city a better place.  Although he was on the other side on this issue, his comments were made with the best of intentions.

I appreciate Peggy Maruthur for another unwavering stand on an issue that takes the little guy into consideration.  You have waited a long time to see a day like this one, Ms. Maruthur, and I thank you for your public service.

I appreciate Cynthia Keheley’s removal of a “second” to the original amendment of Ms. Garcia, so that a final amendment could be made.

I appreciate Mr. Daniel’s willingness to pay his own way to Washington.  He is a man that I helped campaign against a few years back.  His vote was another encouraging item.

I appreciate our new mayor, Ruth Carney.

I have been hard on Mr. McCabe in a news article, still found on a popular local website, that originally appeared in the Wings of the Wind news blog in 2009.

His comment about this “being a bad day for Hot Springs” because we won’t spend money on travel, I think, lacks understanding.

I must admit here that I really didn’t like the tactics (expensive and misleading newspaper ads that his opponent couldn’t and wouldn’t match) that Mr. McCabe used to retain his seat in the last election.

That has nothing to do with my assessment of his statements on this issue.

I believe his intentions were good.  His take on the vote was that it would discourage anyone without means (money) from attempting to be a Board member.

I understand Mr. McCabe’s concerns.

I have recently spent more than a few hours trying to help get a new mayor elected.  I understand, not fully, how much money it takes to win the seat of a city director.  Anyone running for local public office will end up spending more than they will ever get back (or at least that’s the way we’re hoping things are from now on).

It does take someone like Mr. McCabe, who can afford not to be reimbursed, to win a seat at the table and be able to take long distance trips at his/her own expense during difficult economic times.

There is something wrong with Mr. McCabe’s statement, however.

Anyone wanting to be a City Director because of the travel benefits shouldn’t bother to run for office.

In a difficult fiscal environment, a person of little means could represent their constituents well without having to take trips to Washington D.C.

There is something else that is odd about Mr. McCabe’s remarks.  He spent thousands of dollars on newspaper ads in an attempt to represent the folks in district 4.  Yet, he will not spend money on a trip to the nation’s Capitol to represent them.  He must, therefore, think it is unproductive to make such a trip.

Yet, he is concerned that a person of little means wouldn’t be able to make the same  trip.

It is not logical.

So…our directors have made the first of many difficult decisions that will need to be made in the near future.  Some would consider this decision small potatoes. I contend that it is not.  It is a symbol that there is an awareness that we are now living in a different world and that changes must be made.

I was as surprised by the outcome as I had been with the proposal.

I have been asked, by more than one source, to return to the original Wings of the Wind format.  I would love to do it.  However, I have been “sent” into another arena, one that I think I’ll be involved in for a long time.

The need for such a news source still exists and I hope that someone takes up the cause.

I think someone could make a living at it if they did a good job.

After last night’s deliberations, I am more satisfied than I have been, thus far, with our city officials since I have been watching (less than a decade).  I continue to be interested in stories like this one, and may have to vent from time to time.

 

What better place to do just that?

Chris Reimers

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8 Responses to HOT SPRINGS BOARD OF DIRECTORS REJECTS PUBLIC FUNDING FOR WASHINGTON D.C. TRIP

  1. Pearl says:

    Reading this, I can sure see why folks would want you back reporting on local issues.

    However, you gotta go where you’re sent, and stay put until told otherwise, right? 😉

  2. Chuck Lilly says:

    Good day Chris!

    You write and extremely well and I would guess far better educated than I. However, I would like to take issue with your opinion of Director McCabes comments at last nights Directors meeting regarding a $5,000 expenditure for travel of a few Directors to attend the conference in Washington DC. I believe as the Mayor noted it is difficult to put a price on education and with the new Directors, I feel $5,000 in this instance would be a good investment. I feel that the City has a responsibility to finance travel and out of pocket expenses of the Directors for conducting the business of the city. It is great and commendable that some Directors can and do finance all their own trips and expenses while conducting city business however, I believe we the taxpayers have the responsibility to compensate the Directors fairly. I suspect the Directors have the right and in practice attend to their own agenda rather than City business since they are paying and the City is not. The $5,000 in question is a drop in the bucket compared to the many much more expensive expenditures the Directors rule on every month where money could be saved. I am a conservative and support a strong fiscal responsibility policy however, Diane Silverman and the Garland County TEA Party leadership do not speak for me. They represent a form of “No Common Sense” watchdogs and do not represent the majority of the TEA Party nor Hot Springs voters. I may on occasion find myself on the same side with you and Ms. Silverman however, I pray that common sense prevails whatever the issue.
    I believe the Directors are already intimidated by The TEA Party’s leader Ms. Silverman. They should not be, my experience is she only represents a small percentage of the TEA Party members!!! As Chaney was to Bush, she is the “Bull Dog” for a few TEA Party members. Thanks for this venue to express my opinion and hopefully we will find ourselves on the same side on most issues. None the less, Thanks!

    • Chris says:

      Hi Mr. Lilly,

      I appreciate your comments.

      I may be less educated than you think and I appreciate your compliment.

      And I would never criticize anyone only because they were less educated than I. Mr. Spurgeon took no college classes and he could whip my brain with both hands tied behind his back.

      I understand your position and I agree with your “drop in the bucket” comment.

      I would not have been very upset if the city had stayed within the original budget planning (the $5,000).

      I do think, however, that a good message was sent by our representatives. It told me that they are serious about cutting spending at a time when much of that will need to be done in the near future.

      I agree with our Mayor that it is difficult to put a price on education. It is also difficult to put a price on credibility. The misuse of past travel funds combined with items like the jail tax with no sunset clause, the unneeded new City Hall plan, and a number of other issues, has placed a stain on the people’s trust of city officials.

      The Mayor also said that this administration would have to pay a price for the mistakes made by past ones. I think she is correct. Those mistakes caused a 45 minute discussion that should have taken five.

      I think the vote to keep travel expenses as low as possible, for now at least, will help restore credibility to City Hall.

      You feel that the City has a responsibility to finance travel and out of pocket expenses of the Directors for conducting the business of the city.

      I would agree with you if we had the money to spend. We don’t. The main upcoming expenditure will be the jail. The people can’t afford it easily, but the city will almost surely be asking for a tax increase soon. If a good jail plan is put forth, I think the people will vote for it in spite of the budget crunch.

      I think this vote was a “good will” gesture towards the people of Hot Springs. “We will not spend your tax dollars without consideration” is, I hope, the message they hoped to send. This gesture has been a long time coming and I hope it creates a place from which to start anew.

      I am not always in agreement with Ms. Silverman but I agree with her that we need to wean ourselves off of funding from the outside. We need to learn to be self-sufficient.

      My main agreement with the TEA party is its emphasis on the Constitution. I am not a member of the Garland County Tea Party although I do receive their emails. I agree with them that we must stop the spending spree.

      I hope you are incorrect that the directors are being intimidated by Ms. Silverman. If they are, we are in serious trouble. The things they should be intimidated by are the fiscal situation and the crime problems we face. They should be focused on these and not on Ms. Silverman.

      I’m glad you expressed yourself here. Please feel free to do so at any time.

      God’s blessings,

      Chris Reimers

  3. Chuck Lilly says:

    If you are waiting on moderation of my response, you’ll have an eternity to wait.

    Sincerely

    Chuck Lilly

    • Chris says:

      Mr. Lilly,

      I don’t understand this comment. If you think I am too slow in answering, I didn’t get home until after the evening T.V. news programs today. That’s just the way it is sometimes. I try and answer all comments as soon as I see them.

      God’s blessings,

      Chris Reimers

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