Marked Tree City Council to choose next mayor

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Marked Tree City Council held a special meeting Tuesday night to decide whether or not to have a special election to choose someone to fill the remainder of Mary Ann Arnold's term as mayor.

City Attorney Jobi Teague explained to the council that the main issue in deciding how to choose the next mayor lies in deciding when Arnold vacated her office. If it is counted from the day she died, Dec. 21, then there would have still been over a year left in her term, and one statute would require a special election. If it is counted from when the council voted to vacate her office on Jan. 15, then there is less than a year left in her term, and another statute says the council could appoint someone.

Teague said the situation is unclear "because the situation we find ourselves in is an issue that has never come up in Arkansas law before." Teague said that while the council can choose between having a special election or picking an alderman or citizen to be mayor, he believed the more conservative approach was to have a special election. Teague also presented an email from Municipal League Staff Attorney Lanny Richmond that said holding a special election was the more conservative option. Teague said if they did not hold a special election, then potentially anyone in town who felt disenfranchised could bring a lawsuit against the city. Comparing that situation to the cost of a special election, Teague said, "If a fleet of lawyers came in, the legal bill would astronomical."

Several council members presented their opinions on the matter. Cleo Johnson said they should have a special election since they had one when Arnold ran to finish Wayne Nichols' term. Jason Gilbert said that since Arnold appointed Steve Craig to fill in as mayor pro tempore, and her letter to the council sounded like she believed it was temporary and would be coming back, he believed that meant the office was not vacated until the council vacated it in January. "There's no right answer," Teague said.

Johnson also asked if anyone besides City Clerk Pam Wright was in the room when Arnold appointed Craig, and Wright said Arnold had her call in Police Chief Michael Matlock, Fire Chief Jamie McCrary, and Public Works Director Wayne Hendrix to act as witnesses.

Cleo Johnson made a motion to pass a resolution calling for a special election to fill the position of mayor, but the motion died for lack of a second. Mack Rhoads expressed his opinion that there should be a special election, though he did not second Johnson's motion. After the motion failed, Craig asked that the meeting be adjourned and said, "Next meeting, we'll decide who will sit in this chair."

Wright said they will run an ad in the newspaper informing the public that the position is available and that anyone interested in becoming mayor should notify city hall. At the next council meeting, Feb. 12 at 6 p.m., the city council will hear from those interested and will choose the next mayor.

According to PCDT archives, when the previous mayor, Wayne Nichols, died in 2013, he resigned from his position on April 29 and died May 5. There was still over a year and a half left in his term. On May 13, the council heard from three citizens interested in becoming mayor pro tempore until a special election could be held in August. Those where Alderman Michael Scott, former mayor Dixon Chandler, and Mary Ann Arnold. The council chose Scott, who had no intention of running in the special election, as mayor pro tempore. The election was held on Aug. 12, and a run-off was held on Sept. 3 between Arnold and Chandler, which Arnold won. Arnold was then re-elected in 2014.

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