The Hackett City Council met in regular session on Thursday evening, February 25 at 6 p.m. Several residents were in attendance at the city’s fire center.
Council members present were Louis Kirkendall, Allison Null, Mike Opolka, Michelle Stayton, and Kevin Stiles. Also present Mayor Trini Harper, Recorder Pat Black, and City Attorney Mike Hamby.
After calling the meeting to order, a guest speaker from the group “Make Hackett Great Again” addressed the council.
“Mayor, council members, and citizens we will present our case for ‘Make Hackett Great Again’ and would appreciate your indulgence…,” stated spokesman Dane Goodwin. “We are not here to remove council members…we have no vendettas, we only wish to move Hackett forward with the proper leadership…” Goodwin expressed the group’s concerns, which included “a hostile work environment created by the mayor,” and strained relationships with the county elected. “She has not only alienated the community but put them at great risk by her determination to rule with an iron hand…She hired an inept chief of police, who not only failed to do his job, but succeeded in running off the only good officers we had…Actions only went downhill from there.” Goodwin referred to the actions of the former chief as “a derelict of his duties by refusing to respond to an emergency call from the school, which could have resulted in devastating circumstances.“
The mayor and council listened, some with their heads lowered, as Goodwin continued to outline the group’s concerns. “He (the former chief) was in the position way too long…She would not listen to anyone in regards to his inability...We found a more than qualified replacement, who would have made the Hackett Police Department one of the best around. But during his interview, she (the mayor) had to exert herself once again…He walked out and resigned before he even started.” He added that because of her actions “the town is suffering…with no police force, drug deals are happening right under our noses…Property is being vandalized and crime is everywhere. Even a recent murder in our town may have been prevented by a police presence. If it were not for our great sheriff and his department, no telling what we would be dealing with.”
Goodwin levied claims that the mayor used her authority to target residents with whom she had personal vendettas. “She is hardly ever at work,” Goodwin continued, alleging that while at work, “she is under the influence of prescription drugs…She cannot get out into the community without a town employee driving her back and forth to work…We are sensitive to her medical issues, but it is hindering her ability to perform her mayoral duties.”
The recent water crisis was also brought up. “…We may have had water sooner had the water department checked vacant houses that had water pipes busted and water flowing out the doors. A citizen caught the problem and shut the water off on two residences. No telling how much water was wasted.”
Goodwin went on, claiming the mayor has not delivered on her campaign promises, particularly in regards to the culverts and drainage system. “The sewer system is in shambles, causing excrement, personal hygiene, and other products to float into people’s yards during a hard rain.”
The spokesman then turned to the council for answers. “This mayor will not return phone calls, listen to her constituents, and blocks them from contacting her. The city council is not taking control of the situation. I might add that…they must…make themselves available to their constituents during normal hours with their personal contact information, including phone numbers.” He added that the lack of communication and correspondence is problematic, and transparency is needed.
Goodwin concluded by asking for the resignation of the mayor, or alternatively, that the council remove her and appoint a temporary mayor until the next election. “These actions have weighed heavy on all of us, but we cannot allow this town to suffer…”
Following his speech, the mayor asked for any further comments before moving on. Neither the council nor mayor issued an immediate response.
In the next items of business, the council heard city services reports from Fire Chief Jeffery Reaves, Street Superintendent Billy Garner, and Water Superintendent Darren Edwards. Edwards and Alderman Stiles discussed issues and protocols followed during the recent water crisis.
In items of new business, a record in the minutes that Ricci Pyle was terminated from his position as police chief on Monday, February 1. The position of chief and part-time officer is currently being advertised. The council then voted unanimously to approve the building permit issued to JMATT, Ronny Blake for 813 Black Creek Lane/Lot 27.
Next, the council discussed the playground equipment for the park. The equipment bid totaled $14,966.00 which included installation with a Northwest Arkansas-based company. Stiles made the motion to approve the purchase of the playground equipment pending it’s the correct color.
In the last item of new business, the approval of Resolution 2021-01. The council voted unanimously to apply for a grant that would provide the fire department with new SCBA’s.
The city attorney then addressed the council and recommended they consider the adoption of a new ordinance that would increase the 3/4″ and 5/8″ hookup fees. “We talked about increasing that because our costs are increasing,” stated Kirkendall. Kirkendall made the motion to put the ordinance off first reading by title only. An ordinance repealing ordinance 2008-07 and amending ordinance 2002-4 will be brought up again at the next meeting.
Lastly, Mayor Harper advised the council of a $300,000 grant approval from the State Aid Street Committee for an overlay project for streets Plum, Greenwood, Church, and overlay and rehab Timothy Circle.
“I would like to make the motion to go into executive session to discuss personnel…,” stated Stiles. “I guess before we do that…Is there anything you want to say before we move forward?”
“I want to thank the council or whoever is responsible for putting things on the marquee,” shared Bettye Goodwin. “…I did make some calls (to the council.) I just wanted to speak to you about the city. So, do we call council members or do we not call council members? Bettye Goodwin reminded the members of the council that their numbers are public record and that she had contacted the courthouse in an attempt to reach out to them. “It would be nice to know which district you represent…,” stated Dane Goodwin. “There are some real issues in their (constituents) minds. Now, would a lot of that be alleviated if they knew more with the transparency of what was going on within the town? My personal opinion, yes. I know you do the best job you can, you may not know everything, but you do need to be more transparent.” The spokesman referred to a petition of signatures circulating to remove the mayor by special election but claimed it to be null and void as it is outside of the regular election cycle. “If at that point and time…if someone wants to run against her, if she doesn’t want to resign or you don’t want to take her out, that’s your privilege. We had enough signatures, which goes to tell me that there’s a lot of animosity within the town…Make Hackett Great Again wants to make the town a better place. We appreciate the job you are doing, there are just things that need to change…”
Harper responded that she would like to see those in attendance come back to meetings. Todd Johnson inquired of an opening on the council, and how long it had been vacated. “How long do you have to fill that position?” Hamby responded, “until somebody comes up and wants to do it.” Kirkendall added that he had talked to several people in that ward. Johnson asked if they would mind if he posted the vacancy. Opolka stated that he had just found someone who may be interested. “We don’t have to post that,” Opolka added. “But we are talking about communication, and a lot of people didn’t know there was a seat open,” Johnson replied. Stiles interjected stating that “when I ran, no one told me. I just went to the courthouse and did it…”
“Honestly, we could all communicate better, I agree. But, we do need you guys at the meetings. We need to hear from you,” added Opolka. “We encourage this kind of interaction.” Kirkendall concluded by stating “we represent the City of Hackett, not just our district.”
Bettye Goodwin inquired about the status of the proposed annex. Mayor Harper responded that she had sent out 50-60 letters and had received five of those back. “That annexation, and this is just me personally talking, is going to be a hard thing to pass,” stated Kirkendall. “What could the city of Hackett offer you more than what you got now?” Johnson, an area resident responded, nothing. “The only time we’re going to really be able to push it is when Greenwood comes this way,” Kirkendall surmised. “Then you are going to say take me in Hackett.”
Stiles asked if anyone else had anything to say. With no further response, those in attendance exited the meeting.