Sunday, August 10, 2008

Truth Is the First Casualty

Ambition is a strange creature that can corrode character when mixed with too much pride. The theater critic Kenneth Tynan observed, "It is the nature of ambition to make men liars and cheats, to hide the truth in their breasts, and show, like jugglers, another thing in their mouths." Could our city government be afflicted with such a malady? Will our citizens accept invented excuses or demand honest answers?

Recent events in Fayetteville city government have had a bit of theater mixed with fiction. When Ward Three Alderman Bobby Ferrell presented a Resolution calling for the administration to submit a balanced budget for a change, one that kept expenditures in line with tax revenues, it passed 5-3. Mayor Coody disputed the policy, wanting to use reserve funds to make up for excess spending, and Aldermen Robert Rhoads, Adella Gray, and Brenda Thiel voted against the balanced budget resolution.

“Exactly what would we do without?” Coody asked Ferrell. In arguing for more prudent management of city funds and accountability, Ferrell replied, "I don’t think spending $460,000 on the Square is hypercritical." Coody then threw one of his familiar fits of resentment when called on obligating almost half a million dollars in city funds with no idea where the money would be found in this year's tight budget and no previous discussion of it with the Council. According to the Northwest Arkansas Times, Mayor Coody said the million dollar square renovation was "essential" and went on a rant "about people who fell on cracked sidewalks and broke bones."

Really? People have fallen on the cracked sidewalks around the
Fayetteville Square and broken bones? There must be some record of that, so Dan Coody should back up his fantastic self-justification with some evidence from newspaper reports, medical records, 9-1-1 calls for an ambulance, or the city's liability insurance payments. Broken bones, indeed. Broken trust is more like it.

Then there was the alleged massive surge of outraged citizen complaints about political campaign signs that might violate city code. Dan Coody pulled another flip-flop on his November pledge that he would not seek reelection, announcing on July 10 that political ambition had obviated the need to keep his word. At that time, Coody did not have any campaign propaganda or yard signs, but two of his opponents had already secured locations throughout the city for numerous campaign signs.

The very week after The Coody announced, we were told and expected to believe that the Mayor's Planning Division and Fayetteville Police Department's Community Resources Division had received numerous complaints from citizens regarding the proliferation of election campaign signs being placed throughout the city. The administration declared, beginning July 21, Community Resource Officers had been directed to remove unapproved signs closer than 10 feet to the street, more than one small sign in a supporter's yard, or larger than a standard real estate sign. Steve Clark and Lioneld Jordan got the message.

Okay, not counting complaints from Coody and his campaign staff, just exactly how many citizens filed complaints "regarding the proliferation of election campaign signs being placed throughout the city?" The Mayor's Planning Division issued a press release on July 18 saying they received "numerous" citizen complaints. How many? From whom? Can the mayor's staff produce them? Let's see them.

And the Fayetteville Police Department should also have records of all of those citizen complaints about sign code violations by political yard signs, so let's see those, too. We want copies that are date stamped, specify which signs were in violation, and the name of the citizen filing the complaint. That is, if they exist at all.

Perhaps the Mayor's Office can also give us a report about how many city employee hours were wasted and how many gallons of gas were burned to enlarge the city's carbon footprint in search of those offending yard signs for his opponents?

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