The El Dorado City Council is expected to hear updates on several ongoing city projects during a meeting at 10 a.m. today in the Council Chamber of City Hall.
The meeting will be first the council has held since agreeing in August to change its monthly meeting schedule and structure for the former El Dorado Water and Public Works Board.
Moving forward, the council will convene a regular meeting each month and hold a second meeting to focus on water and public works projects.
By meeting as a council, rather than a board, council members will be able to conduct city business in accordance with state laws -- an issue they have skirted since forming the EWPWB in early 2021.
The board was created nearly two months after the city council adopted an ordinance placing the director of public works, Robert Edmonds, and the El Dorado Water Utilities under its direct supervision.
The city and EWU budgets are maintained separately.
Council members said the purpose of the EWPWB was to keep them abreast of city projects that fall under a vast public works umbrella, which includes streets, sanitation, parks, recycling, animal control and the Water Advisory Board.
The five-member WAB oversees water, wastewater and administrative operations and serves as a liaison -- in an advisory capacity -- between the EWU and Director Public Works.
The EWPWB scheduled its meetings on the second Wednesday of the month to follow WAB meetings, which were previously held the second Monday of the month but have been changed to the second Tuesday of the month.
In the two-plus years since the EWPWB was created, Council Member Willie McGhee has maintained that the situation has muddied the waters for how the city council conducts business.
McGhee has said the council has blurred lines by taking action and making decisions about city business during EWPWB meetings.
Further complicating matters, the council voted in October of 2021 to scale back its regular meetings from twice per month to once per month.
The topics were broached again at the beginning of the year.
During a regular city council meeting in January, Council Member Frank Hash made a motion to restore the council's second regular monthly meeting and the start time of 5:30 p.m.
When the council agreed to meet once per month, the start time was changed to 5 p.m.
"We need to give people time to get here and I think we need more than one opportunity (per month) to help guide this city back on good, steady, business footing," Hash said at the time.
The motion died due to the lack of a second.
The council OK'd a request by Hash to relocate the EWPWB meetings from the El Dorado Municipal Auditorium to the Council Chamber of City Hall.
McGhee later reiterated an ask he had made in vain since the EWPWB was formed: that the city attorney attend the board meetings to ensure that city business is conducted properly.
"Who's held accountable?"
Just as council members were preparing to vote on a matter pertaining to a public works project during an EWPWB meeting on May 10, City Attorney Robert Rushing stepped in.
Rushing, who had taken office Jan. 1, advised council members that they could not vote on a $42,000 bid to build a new workshop/storage shed for Lions Club Municipal Golf Course because they had convened as a board, rather than a city council.
"A motion made today is a motion of a committee, so it would be simply to request from the council, approval of some official action," Rushing said.
"Why are we not the council today and we will be tomorrow night?" Council Member Vance Williamson asked, referring to a regular meeting that was scheduled for May 11.
"Because this is not a regularly scheduled council meeting and it's not a 'special called meeting,'" Rushing replied.
Williamson pressed, saying that the group acts "as the council and the water board."
Rushing again explained that while the council maintains both roles, the EWPWB "is not a meeting of the governing body."
He referred to an Arkansas Attorney General's opinion that determined that a "committee meeting of the whole is not a meeting of the governing body."
City officials agreed then to research the matter further and had an opportunity to put that research to work during an EWPWB in August when McGhee expressed frustration that he had not been able to meet with Mayor Paul Choate to come up with a plan for the city to make amends to a local business owner for a long-running issue.
Choate was out of town at the time and could not attend the board meeting. McGhee noted that city officials had discussed the issue during EWPWB meetings.
"When we put something in the minutes and because we did so much business as a council under this water utilities board, it's really kind of messed up when it's something we asked to be done and we want done and then it (doesn't) get done," McGhee said.
"Who's accountable for that? Is it the mayor or is it us ... when it's supposed to happen through the mayor's office," he continued.
Referring to the discussion in May, Williamson offered a recommendation.
"I think the best way to do this, to fix the problem and to fix what you're talking about would be to start calling this meeting a called council meeting to deal with special water and utility issues alone," Williamson said, adding that he had spoken with Rushing about the matter.
He also suggested that Choate preside over the meeting and Council Member Judy Ward stay on as meeting coordinator.
McGhee noted the timing of the EWPWB meetings, saying they sometimes follow regular city council meetings.
"If we make any decisions at this meeting, legally, we have to wait a whole month until the next city council meeting, unless we call a special meeting," he said. "Why should we do that when all we have to do is adjust the dates to make sure that this meeting is before the city council meeting?"
After further discussion, council members agreed to convene their water and public works-oriented meetings at 10 a.m. on the second Wednesday that follows regular council meetings.
The schedule for the remainder of the year is Oct. 25, Nov. 22 and Dec. 27.
In addition to hearing updates on water and public works projects today, the council is also expected to follow up with a Finance Committee meeting to begin 2024 budget talks, starting with the El Dorado Fire Department.