Discussion at Monday’s City Council meeting centered around golf carts, fences and ethics as the council debated once again the lingering golf cart issue, heard about fence variations and was briefed on its own ethics issues.
The ethics issue arose when several council members indicated they would recuse themselves from voting on certain issues because they believed they had a conflict of interest.
City Attorney JaNan Davis explained that under Arkansas law, a non-vote, or recusal for any reason, is considered a "No" vote and counted as such.
She explained that most of the issues discussed were personal issues and not conflicts of interest.
Davis noted the council members constituents probably expected their representatives to vote in the constituents best interests and that’s why they elected them.
The use of golf carts on Maumelle streets has been the subject of debate for several months as the original ordinance which would have allowed golf cart usage on any Maumelle street rather than the confining use now allowed - on any street adjacent to a golf course provided the use is to and from the home to the links.
On its third reading that proposal from alderman Burch Johnson was amended to require operators to have liability insurance before operating on city streets. Since it was a substantial change in the original ordinance, the matter was back on first reading Monday night where it was amended again by a unanimous vote after Alderman Caleb Norris moved to amend the language to read "operator."
Other aldermen noted operators of the golf carts would be required to be at least 16 years of age, have liability insurance, headlights and tail lights.
Johnson said he thought having a liability umbrella policy would suffice to provide insurance but others questioned that. Johnson then said , "I’m going to at least get liability insurance[on the golf cart].
Alderman Preston Lewis asked if the city could issue registration of golf carts.
Davis said yes, they could but "It would be quite an undertaking."
Alderman Ken Saunders said, "I still think we’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken."
He suggested requiring turn signals, brake lights, seat belts and a rear view mirror. Saunders suggested that if the city was going to treat a golf cart as an automobile then it should have the same requirements.
Alderwoman Jan Hogue piped in, "Let’s ban motorcycles and four wheelers."
She then told Saunders, "We’re not going to agree, we’ll have this discussion outside the City Council."
Watson said the state passed a law to allow city’s to do this."(regulate golf carts.)
Johnson said, "We got together 24 years ago to allow golf carts to be used in Maumelle."
He said he didn’t think anyone would buy a golf cart to take to the grocery store. He also noted they’re being driven home at night after dinner at the country club but Watson reminded him the current ordinance prohibited golf carts usage after sundown.
Johnson asked, "You mean they can’t drive home?"
Saunders said he’d like to see the number cited for driving at night.
"Do we really have an issue her?" he asked.
Maumelle police chief Sam Williams told the council no citations had been written in Maumelle for operating a golf cart at night or for driving anywhere else.
Gib Carpenter told the council that the whole country club (Maumelle Country Club) would have gotten a ticket last Halloween when carts were used to go to a Halloween party.
He said members do drive golf carts to other places than just to the course and home.
"We do drive at night," he said. "The police has taken a more practical approach."
Carpenter also said his club members just want to be able to drive in their neighborhoods, not drive to Kroger.
"They don’t need turn signals," he said. "And they won’t go fast enough to speed."
In other business another ordinance impacting storm and drainage facilities inspection passed without opposition.
When the discussion turned towards not voting on issues, Davis told the council if they planned on not voting they should refrain from participating in the discussion.
"You cannot abstain" if you’ve been involved in the discussion, she said. She suggested council members announce their plans before and not participate in any discussion.
She also noted that it was "assumed you have a personal interest in every issue that comes before the council."
She added, "personally held beliefs shouldn’t disqualify you" from voting.
Watson said the discussion wasn’t planned but he was glad it was discussed.
A new ordinance was read the first time which would allow nursing homes to be built under the current planning and zoning laws. The one nursing home in the city is located in a Planned Commercial development zone.
The ordinance would allow nursing homes in Commercial C-2 ans C-1 zoning as a conditional use.
Another new ordinance would allow a health education facility also as a conditional use in a commercial zoning area.
The discussion took off again regarding another new ordinance on fence construction. Watson said the measure was designed to address concerns that would help people understand the requirements.
Changes include requiring fences to have an "orderly appearance" rather than be "structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing."
Watson said at one time the city allowed fences to be 16-feet tall which created problems and when they changed the fences were often reduced but the tall poles stayed in place.
Code Enforcement director Jim Mosley showed a slide presentation where fences varied from one section to another and often had the finished side turned toward the home rather than out as required by current ordinance.
This hodgepodge became "an enforcement nightmare," he said.
Most of the problems are on the city’s north side, Mosley said where the homes are smaller and the residents income is less.
Maumelle builder Jeff Fuller asked council members to support allowing the creation of a Maumelle Property Owners Multi-Purpose Improvement District No. 15 in the Montmartre Project near the softball fields east of Maumelle.
Fuller said while "bad apples" misused improvement districts in the past, these would be used to help offset the cost of infrastructure and would amount to no more that $35 to $50 a month on $200K homes built on $50K lots.
He said there was no difference between this concept and a homeowners association. It will be used if approved on Country Club of Arkansas Phase 21, he said.
Normally the district would last only 25 - 30 years unless its refinanced. It amounts to amount $7-8K per lot, he said.
Alderman Steve Mosley said he started dealing with an improvement district in 1986 and swore he’d never support another.
These won’t be secret, Fuller said, noting disclosure is required.
Watson noted the Villages of New Bedford are using the same type district and said this would be the 15th district in recent times.
In other business Hogue, a real estate agent made fast work of voicing a motion to approve the planning commissions recommendations to OK the preliminary development plan for Villages at New Bedford Phase 2. It was approved without opposition.