• First in a series
In addition to 11-year veteran Doug Ladner, three additional aldermen are leaving the council. We asked all three to take a look back and Alderman Jamie Stell was the first who responded so his comments are included here. Other replies will be in subsequent newspapers.
Stell was first appointed to the council when Alderman Mark Leverett resigned to run for a judgeship in Little Rock which he won and subsequently moved his family to Little Rock.
Stell is a retired Merril Lynch executive who served in New York, Memphis, on the west coast and in Little Rock. He and his wife Michelle chose Maumelle as their home when he first moved here and they’ve chosen to stay here.
During his time on the council he was one of the most outspoken members and frequently sponsored legislation and took a lead role that Ladner had often taken in the past.
Ladner and Stell became close friends and Ladner said he was pleased to see Stell take a leadership role.
Although he’s often been mentioned as a candidate for other offices, Stell himself has downplayed any interest and after his announced retirement when asked said, "I am old enough to know to never say never but with age comes the wisdom to know when enough is enough. For now I will focus on my golf game and enjoy life with my friends and my beautiful bride."
Looking back, we asked Stell what he thought was the most significant item of legislation you’ve passed during your time on the City Council?
"There are a number of things of which I am proud, but I would have to say the Strategic Plan Ordinance. It took me the better part of 3 to 4 years to get it to the floor with a reasonable expectation of passing and as you know it did unanimously," Stell said.
What laws did you sponsor or co-sponsor that stand out?
Stell replied, "There were a number of ordinances I sponsored and many which I submitted or proposed that for whatever reason came out as Mayor sponsored. Off the top of my head a few would be:
• Strategic Plan
• The Ordinance dealing with 10-year-old’s driving Mopeds on our busiest streets.
• The current Ordinance 811 establishing a permanent citizen/council salary review committee for elected officials.
• Ordinance 810 making the City Attorney position full time effective January 1, 2015.
• Certainly one of my first major issues was with the attempt to overdevelop the Peninsula. Now that was a fight.
• While it wasn’t an Ordinance I did a great deal of work on improving how we review the budget process. Frankly after much internal debate on my part the 2011 Budget had for the first time a City-Wide Revenue & Expenditures Summary, a City-Wide Expense Account Detail summary and overall staffing/increases. My rationale behind this was to ensure that any citizen could look at the budget and get a simple view of City-Wide revenues and expenses. Heretofore one had to pull out a calculator and try to figure out the total revenues and expenditures from several areas. It was difficult for the council who reviewed it closely, so I can imagine how difficult it was for the average citizen."
"Also this year I pointed out a consistency we had in over budgeting expenses versus what we were actually spending each year. We looked great at year end each year, but who knows what we might have been able to accomplish had a tighter budgeting process been in place. As a result every Director was requested to go back and look at their last three-year trend resulting in a new budget with around $230,000 less budgeted request and greatly assisting in our ability to balance this year’s budget. You will note the process I used to point this out (three-year amounts and three-year averages) is now used throughout the entire 2013 budget," Stell said.
Stell also added, "Let me point out very clearly that at no time did I or anyone else think that anything inappropriate was being done. Unfortunately, like most of government we were budgeting the way it had always been done picking up a few bad habits and appearing to budget based on the previous year rather than looking for trends. There are probably more that we can do to improve but they have made an excellent start."
Stell was asked if there was any law you regret not passing?
"I regret several things but I would have to boil it down to one I regret not passing and another I regret not being able to stop the passage.
Not Passing: The ordinance to restrict children from driving Mopeds on major roads. The thought that a 10-year-old could drive a Moped on Odom Boulevard or Country Club Parkway or several of our major streets and roads seemed unbelievable. Us adults are bad enough, but letting children on these little motorized vehicles on the same roads as cars and trucks and whatever seemed insane. I failed on the Council floor to stop this but I am told as a result of this effort our State Representative [Rep. Ed Garner] picked up the cause and was able to get the state law changed that required a child to be at least 14 to drive a moped on the road. Still too young, but a lot better."
"Tried to stop Passage: There was a noble but ill advised ordinance to reduce the community service fee. It meant only $24 a year to the effected citizens but it meant tens of thousands (actually around $160,000 the first year alone) to the city. Having a corporate background in budgeting I put together stats that showed that within a very few years that even with the fee in place the cities expense needs would exceed it’s revenues. For reasons which still amaze me I failed in my efforts and the ordinance passed. I should point out I was wrong. Instead of a few years we were short revenues the very next year. Sometimes what seems like a noble cause on top is a time bomb below. We have had to scrounge every year since."
I know the Council positions are very time demanding. Do you have any suggestions on improving that situation or making better use of council members time?
Stell replied, "Actually I think on average we don’t do enough. Anyone can set around and swap e-mails, but each council member should attend ribbon cuttings, commission meetings such as both Planning Commission meetings, Facilities Board meetings (although I can understand a lack of interest there), Maumelle Water Management board meetings; well you get the point. I’ve tried to make all of these and I admit it is time consuming but that’s why we get the big bucks. Also we should be much more involved in the city government. I’m not saying the day-to-day stuff but many cities larger and smaller have committees dealing with finances, police, fire and so forth. Should we do all those things, I don’t know, but I do know when talking with our peers from other cities around the state and country we seemed somewhat inactive as a council. So why didn’t I try, well I did and got so much grief I gave up, but that’s just an excuse, I should have kept trying.
I know that some work and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t change the need."
Do you have any suggestions on how the council can improve it’s representation of its constituents?
"I think I covered that above," Stell said.
"One more thing though. It would be nice if we could do a scientific, demographic, professional poll each time an issue came up. That way we would have a fairly good idea, give or take the margin of error, what the majority of our constituents felt on a particular issue. The problem with that however is two-fold; First, it is our duty to represent the needs of all the people, not just the majority and secondly, our real job is to represent the ‘best interest’ of the people which may or may not be what the majority think at the time. This is where we had better do our homework and be darn sure of what we speak.
But this is all for naught because we can’t do these polls and furthermore that is why our forefathers formed a Republic and not a Democracy. There is not one council member that has less then around 2,500 households so a phone call or e-mails here and there are of little help. To me those that vote based on the squeaky wheel or is an e-mail poll taker, are useless. Do your homework on the subject, yes, give your best shot to try and get ‘balanced’ (pros and cons) feedback from your constituents and then take and explain your position and make your vote. People may not always agree with you but they will more then likely respect you and equally if not more important trust you."
How can the City Council get more Maumelle residents involved in the process?
"The good news is we have several citizens who show up on a regular basis. The bad news is compared to other cities, larger and smaller that I have visited or lived in, as a city our participation is not that good. I would like to think we do such a great job that they don’t see the need, but my guess is it’s just a matter of time and priorities. I don’t think putting our meetings on the Web or whatever will have the desired effect, but I have come to the conclusion we should give it a shot. I think people want to know, so making it a little bit easier can’t hurt. Maybe seeing a few of our comedy routines will cause more physical participation," Stell said.
What do you see as the most pressing need for Maumelle this next year?
"First a strategic plan but that is being addressed. But that aside, we have an extremely weak record in economic development. I have followed Maumelle politics since we moved here some 8 years ago and have been on the council 5 years and I don’t have a clue what our economic development plan is. What’s more concerning is that I’m not sure we have one. Oh, we do things, place ads, attend meetings, but there should be an extensive plan put together by the Chamber, City, Citizens and possibly with input from the Facilities Board (I bet 95% of our citizens didn’t even know we had a Facilities Board). They should be having regular meetings making plans working out strategies. Maybe they are, but if they are it’s the best kept secret in Maumelle. As for the city efforts it is plain to see what we are doing is not having the desired results. Oh, we have had our one or two successes, Dillard’s although we all know this was done way above our pay grade, a day care, fast food, a storage unit, a couple of small things in the industrial and so forth and we appreciate all of the new investors in our city but where are the sit down restaurants, the shops, the things that make our free time a little better, a little more convenient, a little easier. There is an old saying ‘the definition of a fool is when one keeps doing the same thing over and over, yet expects different results.’ Well I’m certainly not calling anyone a fool, but maybe there is a lesson to be learned. It’s time for a change in practice, process, maybe people or possibly all three, but it is time for a change, because what we are doing does not appear to be working. In all fairness the council certainly hasn’t addressed this issue as it should either."