March 22, 2007 – Emergency Meeting Called by Alamo Supporters on City Council Violated Open Meeting Law

Texarkana Gazette
March 22, 2007

Fouke mayor resets City Councils meeting for tonight

Staff photo by Jim Williamson Miller County Deputy Phillip Hardemon, left, taps on the arm of Sherry Potts during a verbal exchange outside the Fouke City Hall Wednesday night with Fouke City Councilman T. O. Hardin. The councilman, right, argued about her right to attend the public meeting. Hardin had called the Miller County Sheriffs Department to complain about Potts and asked to have her removed from city hall. The officer told the crowd to ‘disperse’ and no one was arrested.

FOUKE, Ark. Mayor Terry Purvis canceled a called meeting of the Fouke City Council Wednesday night because it violated the Arkansas Open Meeting Law. Purvis declined to call the meeting to order after a letter of protest was presented by a reporter with the Texarkana Gazette. The letter started a verbal exchange between three council members and the mayor. The letter was presented to City Attorney Rod LaGrone who read it and then presented it to Purvis. The mayor read the letter out loud to the council and an overflow audience who had heard about the called meeting by word-of-mouth. Verbal exchanges started between Purvis and council members [Alamo Supporters] T.O. Hardin, Cody Williams and Ben Edwards. Purvis said he was unable to contact some of the other council members until nearly 5 p.m. Wednesday. Hardin accused Purvis of failing in his duties as mayor to notify the other council members and the news media in time.

Purvis said he wasnt notified about the three council members wanting a called meeting until ‘three minutes until 4 p.m. The meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. The Arkansas Open Meeting Law requires a minimum of two hours. The Gazette was not notified until nearly 4:30 p.m. when the reporter called City Hall.

Some of the other council members were not notified until after 5 p.m. Council Member Lenten Clements called the request by the three council members a ‘set up deal so the public wouldnt know about the called meeting. The council members requesting the meeting were Hardin, Williams and Betty Upton.

After Wednesdays meeting was cancelled, Purvis called for a special council meeting at 7 p.m. today at City Hall. The delay would keep the council from violating the open meetings act, said LaGrone. Hardin told the Gazette reporter the three council members wanted answers about a letter sent from an attorney representing Alamo Ministries and about the recent burglary of City Hall in which $332 in cash reportedly was stolen. The letter, reportedly prepared by New York attorney Eric M. Lieberman, was dated Feb. 28, 2007.

Hardin said the council had no notification about the letter urging the council to ‘abandon your efforts, undertaken in concert with certain private individuals some of whom do not live in Fouke, to build or open a road or roads through the properties owned by members of the Alamo Congregation. The letter threatened legal actions against the City of Fouke.

‘The history of this mater clearly demonstrates these efforts have been motivated by a sectarian purpose … to impose sufficient burdens on the church and its congregation so as to induce them to leave Fouke entirely’ the letter stated.

‘The councils exclusive focus on a road through the Alamo properties, to the exclusion of any other roads, properties or traffic situations in the city, is further proof of the anti-Alamo Ministries motivation, purpose and expected effect of your actions and proposed actions’ said the Lieberman letter. ‘Such actions are in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government authorities from undertaking actions based upon such a sectarian purpose. It also violates the federal Religious Land Use Act. The letter referred to previous legal actions against other communities and indicated the lawyer would ‘protect its legal and constitutional rights vigorously.

Before Purvis refused to call the meeting into session, he read out loud the letter from the Gazette signed by city editor Christy Busby.

‘The Texarkana Gazette believes tonights meeting is in violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. As a result, if the meeting is conducted tonight, we will be filing a complaint with the appropriate authorizes tomorrow (Thursday). ‘We believe this meeting is in violation of the law because: The Gazette was not notified by city officials two hours prior to the 6 p.m. planned meeting time. The law clearly states the media must receive notification two hours before an emergency meeting takes place.

  • When the Gazette called at 4:30 p.m. to inquire if a meeting was planned, Mayor Purvis was still trying to ensure he had a quorum for the meeting called by three council members. Additionally city officials did not make the initial contact to notify the media, a requirement of the law.
  • Gazette officials also had to ask the purpose of the meeting instead of that information being offered by city officials, which is a requirement of law. This is information needed to determine whether an emergency exists.
  • Additionally, the matter of missing city funds, which are funded by taxpayer money, is of public interest. Residents who may have wanted to attend were not given timely notification and with many families attending worship services on Wednesday, surely the matter could have waited 24 hours.
  • ‘Because these actions violate the spirit and intent of the law, we respectfully request you reconvene at another time when the proper notification has been given to the media and the public.’

    As of 5:40 p.m., Miller County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Charles Black was contacted by the Gazette outlining our reasoning and our concerns. While Black was not familiar with the law, he is aware we intend to file a formal complaint if the meeting is held. When Purvis declined to call the meeting to order, those in attendance applauded the decision.

    Hardin became angry at some of the audience and singled out Sherry Potts. He called her a troublemaker and complained, saying she lived in Texarkana and had no reason to attend. Potts said she owned property in Fouke. Potts and Hardin called each other ‘liars’ during the verbal exchange.

    Hardin said he was going to have Potts removed from the meeting. Potts told him to ‘go ahead. Hardin then called the Miller County Sheriffs Office and asked for a deputy because the woman was causing a disturbance and needed to be removed from the building.

    Kristen Potts, 16, the daughter of Sherry Potts, videotaped the verbal exchange. Miller County Deputy Phillip Hardemon arrived and talked to Potts and Hardin. No one was arrested and Hardemon ordered the crowd to disperse. Additional verbal exchanges occurred outside the city hall and a total of four deputies and the city marshall arrived and waited outside the city hall until the crowds left the building and parking lots.

    In: 2000-2007

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