Shortly into Monday night’s City Council meeting Mayor Mike Watson’s proposed new ordinance to crack down on door-to-door-solicitors looked like it was on a fast track to becoming law that night until three aldermen applied the brakes.
Watson and Maumelle police chief Sam Williams both cited an April 6 incident with solicitors as the reason a change was needed.
During that incident the solicitors and a driver for them challenged Maumelle’s law enforcement officers verbally at first and then it became physical with the people involved fighting officers and resisting arrest, according to the police report.
Residents had complained the solicitors were pushy, rude and threatening. When police went to investigate it became a free-for-all with officers calling in backup policemen to help arrest and control the three.
Williams said the driver was "smoking marijuana and fought with officers who arrested him." He also said the man had a criminal record but didn’t need a solicitor’s permit because he was only driving the solicitors around.
Adding drivers and supervisors to the requirements they needed a permit was the major impact of the change in the ordinance.
Williams told the council that the city was just entering into the busy time for the solicitors with longer hours of sunshine and schools turning out for the summer.
He said swarms of students usually come from western states and most are dropped off here to solicit without getting a permit.
Williams noted they’d had examples in prior years of alleged solicitors scouting out homes to burglarize.
"That’s why we run a background check," Watson said. He said city clerk Joshua Clausen stays on top of this situation and won’t issue a permit if someone has a criminal background involving violent behavior or convictions for offenses involving theft or possession of stolen goods.
"A vast majority of the solicitors we encounter don’t even have a driver’s license," Williams said. Some may have a state ID from another state, he said.
Watson said he’s all for giving deserving people a second chance but when it involves crimes related to burglary they draw the line because of the number of burglaries Maumelle experiences already.
Alderman Preston Lewis moved to suspend the rules and to place the bill on both its second and third reading that night for immediate passage.
Alderman Caleb Norris objected because he promised when elected he wouldn’t support waving rules to rush something through.
Alderman Steve Mosley said he’d told constituents they’d have a chance at the second or third meeting to voice any concerns.
The motion to suspend the rules garnered five votes with three voting against it — Norris, Anderson and Mosley.
Watson noted it takes six votes or a super majority to suspend the rules, so the motion for immediate consideration failed.
He said the proposed ordinance will remain on the agenda.
That same five to three vote is more than enough to pass the bill should everyone vote the same way again.
The third and final vote is scheduled for the first week in June.
Watson said that almost every city in the area has a similar solicitor permit requirement but that Maumelle has been more vigilant in enforcing the law than anyone else.
Williams said he was convinced the ordinance is a deterrent to crime because it requires solicitors to go through the background check and prohibits them from coming to town and going door to door just to see who is at home and being able to scout out potential targets.
In other business the council heard from an Entergy district manager Ron Harris about the recent electric outages. He said it was a combination of factors that led to the most recent outages.
Several aldermen asked if new transmission lines weren’t planned to be installed that would make outages less frequent.
Harris said the $1.5 million project to upgrade t he Morgan substation with new lines is complete but it was also compromised by a series of unfortunate factors during the last outage.
But while he was there alderman Burch Johnson asked about replacing street lights in Maumelle noting several lights have been out for years and some parts of the city are especially dark.
Harris said it was a combination of issues. The old street lights in Maumelle are mercury vapor lights which are outdated and have inherent problems — like slow to turn on and getting dimmer as they age.
But another issue is that homeowners have landscaped their yards and covered up important boxes at the base of the lights which cause them to not operate or to operate improperly, he said.
The plan is to shift all Maumelle street lights to the new lights with the black posts similar to those on Country Club Parkway, Harris said. But they are expensive and Entergy is replacing the old ones as they wear out. The new lights are high pressure sodium lights he said and glow brighter with an orange tint. Before long everything will switch to LED lighting which is much better but it’ll take some time, he said.
Harvey Durham was appointed to the Maumelle Civil Service Commission after a vote by the council. The position was advertised bu Durham was the only applicant, Watson said.
And the council confirmed Mayor Watson’s appointment of John Shram to another term on the Maumelle Public Facilities Board. The current board made the recommendation to the mayor.
The council approved two resolutions to spend money on improving drainage within the city. The money had been appropriated in prior years but was unspent and placed in a n escrow account, Watson explained. He said the city would solicit bids on the three major projects. They involve work on replacing drainage pipes under Odom Boulevard near the Lake Willastein spillway, correcting ditch erosion on Maumelle Valley Drive and repairing sink holes on Barber Street.
Watson cautioned residents to not be alarmed over sink holes because these are nothing like those you see on the news with cars and homes being swallowed up. Instead these are about three-feet wide at the most and are caused by drainage pipes separating and dirt falling into the pipes. The main reason is that in early construction joints were encased by a concrete cover that is simply wearing out over time, he said.
Another issue that eventually will have to be addressed, Johnson said is Victoria Circle drainage. Watson said the street was put in without a drain and because of its low elevation it will require a pump to push the water uphill to drain the area.
Both measures were approved without opposition.
Watson briefed the council on the Waste Management interest in handling the city’s recycling and garbage business. He said the company wouldn’t give him a firm price on handling the business because they know it will eventually go out for bids if the city decides to farm that service out and they want to remain competitive.
He said he’d also received inquiries from another large sanitation firm he couldn’t name with an interest in the business.
City public works director Robert Cogdell, who was in the audience told the council he definitely wanted to give the sanitation business to an outside vendor. After alderman Steve Mosley said the city does such a good job, Cogdell would probably oppose the change.
Watson said, "Mr. Cogdell would love to get rid of the solid waste business."
Watson said when asked that the city would continue to bill residents for the services and pay the company selected to handle it.
There will be a six-month lag for the outside company to take over the sanitation business once its approved, Watson said.
In response to questions from aldermen if the city would like to handle the expanded recycling program itself, Watson explained that the actual recycling center, called a MURF, for Multi-Use Recycling Center is very costly, time consuming and needs regulatory approval that would make it almost impossible for the city to construct one. He said Waste Management hauled material to Dallas before they could get the only one in Arkansas approved.