The separation of powers between North Little Rock’s executive and legislative branches came to the forefront of a major discussion Monday night when the council convened in for its first June meeting.
Alderman Linda Robinson, who presided over the meeting due to the absence of Mayor Joe Smith, said council members need to discuss the possibility of passing legislation to make sure aldermen do not need the permission of the mayor to spend drainage funds designated for use in specific wards.
Prior to the discussion, a letter was brought to the meeting from Robinson and Alderman Maurice Taylor, who said the issue of what branch of government will control how drainage funds are spent needs to be addressed.
"Mayor in the past the process for an alderman to disperse funds from the wards’ ‘drainage funds’ required the two signatures of the presiding alderman," wrote Robinson and Taylor, who both represent Ward 2. "It appears this process has changed, we feel this issue needs to be discussed with council and the current policy presented to the council and staff."
Robinson said the issue of who controls the expenditure of ward drainage funds had always been led by ward aldermen.
Not all aldermen agreed with the contention of Robinson and Taylor.
"Has the policy changed?" asked Alderman Murry Witcher, who has served on the council for about 24 years. "What the difference may be is the funding sources and where you want to spend those funds."
Witcher said two aldermen are required to sign off on how ward sewer funds are spent.
Robinson said the City Council approves an annual budget of about $60 million but that number doesn’t include the annual cost of the city’s Electric Department.
"When money is given to various department heads, the department heads do not have to go through the mayor’s office to spend what has been allocated to them," Robinson said. "To us, it seems quite unfair since we are the governing body and approve everyone’s budget that we should have to go through the mayor’s office to spend money. We don’t think it is right."
Robinson said one way to spend money without mayoral approval is to get the council to sponsor a resolution.
"We just never had to do this before," Robinson said. "How are we going to resolve this?"
Witcher said ward drainage funds are subject to state bidding codes as well as city ordinances.
Alderman Charlie Hight said he has been on the council for 14 years and said he hasn’t had to go through the mayor’s office to spend drainage funds.
"And some of those projects were worth a lot of money," Hight said.
Alderman Debi Ross said she has never known anyone who had to go through the mayor’s office to spend ward drainage funds.
Danny Bradley, chief of staff for Mayor Joe Smith, said he believes the issue of the Ward 2 drainage expenditure Robinson was referring to was more of a misunderstanding.
"It wasn’t a matter of getting permission from me or the mayor, but a matter of process to make sure the expenditure was done in a legal manner," Bradley said.
City Attorney Jason Carter said the council does not need the permission of the mayor to spend drainage funds.
Carter suggested that the council change the name of the drainage funds because they are used for purposes other than just drainage issues.