August 2007 – Accusations Open City Council Meeting

Texarkana Gazette
August 2007
by Jim Williamson

Accusations open city council meeting

FOUKE, Ark.—Allegations and denials opened the Fouke City Council meeting Thursday regarding a leaflet distributed in the town last week criticizing the Tony Alamo Ministries. Fouke Mayor Terry Purvis opened the discussion about the leaflet, stating the City of Fouke had nothing to do with circulating it. The Citizens For A Better Community Inc. denied any involvement with the “negative literature.” And, council Member Ben Edwards read a letter from the ministries saying the Alamo Ministries had contacted New York attorney Eric Lieberman, asking him to review the leaflet’s contents.

The letter Edwards read during the meeting stated the leaflet was “even more preposterous and unconstitutional” than previous leaflets distributed in Fouke. The leaflet had three pieces and included a drawing of a “site plan study” for a motel and apartments. Handwritten underneath the drawing was statement “Alamo’s dream for Fouke already halfway there!” The second part of the leaflet urged citizens to attend the Thursday night council meeting saying, “Your council members think you are so ignorant you don’t know what is going on in your town.”

The third piece of the leaflet questions people residing at the Alamo Ministries’ property. “If you want Fouke to remain the safe place it has always been. Where you know your neighbors and they welcome you to their homes, then the building of Alamo Ministries must stop. There are ordinances that need passed to limit their structures. They already have 25 or more living quarters to their compound! Your attention to the city council’s voting practices is needed. This can be done legally. With the area’s support they cannot dictate to Fouke,” states the leaflet. Ann Fowler, chairman of the Citizens For A Better Community Inc. sent a letter to Purvis, which was read out loud by Wanda Harris, city recorder at the council meeting.

The letter states “some believe our organization was responsible for the negative literature which was distributed within the city Aug. 8.” “We want to set the record straight. This was not the work of our organization. If individual members were involved, they were acting on their own without the knowledge of the officers and board of directors. The Citizens For A Better Community Inc. is involved in positive projects to improve our community,” said Fowler. Lieberman’s letter states the allegations “violate a federal civil rights law enacted to protect churches from exactly this sort of ordinance.”

“It is called the Federal Religious Land Use Act, and it prohibits towns and cities from suing their zoning or eminent domain powers to restrict the land use of churches and their members. It provides for a variety of remedies, including injunctions, which are enforceable by powers of contempt, damages, and the attorneys’ fees and expenses of the church in bringing a lawsuit,” states the letter. “The leafletters statement about ‘being good neighbors’ is ridiculous. It is the pot calling the kettle black. The church and its members just wish to be left alone. They do not want to bring lawsuits, which ultimately would cost the city huge legal bills, both for itself and for the church’s lawyers. It is the troublemakers who refuse to be good neighbors, and once again use demagoguery to try to stir up religious bigotry … ” states the letter. Purvis said the city had “nothing to do with it.”

“The city will remain neutral and not get the city in trouble. I don’t want anything misconstrued as far as the city is concerned,” said Purvis. Council member T. O. Hardin complained about the leaflets and statements issued on an Internet blog about Fouke. “I’m pretty sure who is putting the lies and trash on the Internet. They’re going to need a good lawyer. They’re hiding behind the computer,” said Hardin.

Council member Cody Williams also complained about the remarks in the leaflet and over the Internet. “I understand bad mouthing me. I’m on the council. But why the remarks about my family. It’s totally unnecessary to attack families. I don’t mind coming at me, but leave my daughter and wife alone,” said Williams. Council member Philip McFerrin also joined Hardin and Williams asking for the Internet attacks to “leave my kids out of it.” He also described the Internet attacks as “voter intimidation.”
Another echoed the sentiment. “If you are looking for dirt on me, come to me. I have nothing to hide. Come and ask me,” said council member Betty Upton. Briefly after the discussion, a member of the audience, Bill Chandler stood up and said, “Y’all are all crazy down here,” then folded up his lawn chair and walked out of the meeting.

The discussions continued and McFerrin turned to a couple of members of the audience, and in a louder voice, said he was defending his ward. Near the end of the meeting Sherry Potts complained about McFerrin’s remarks and the loudness of his voice directed to the two members of the audience. McFerrin apologized.

Fouke city attorney Rod LaGrone told the council if members believe they’ve become targets of terroristic threatening, he could “initiate steps” to investigate.

In: 2000-2007

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