Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gould Council bans citizens group

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2011 at 9:48 AM

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I'd heard recently about civic turmoil in Gould, to most people a blur on the highway with about 1,300 residents between Pine Bluff and Dumas in Lincoln County.

But it's really gotten crazy. The City Council, unhappy about a civic betterment group, the Gould Citizens Advisory Council, apparently has adopted an ordinance "disallowing" the organization from existing and further declaring "no new organization" can be formed in Gould without council approval. Shades of the bad old days when Southern politicians tried to root out the NAACP and similar dangerous organizations. According to the PR source who provided documents on the dispute, the mayor vetoed the ordinance, but the council overrode the veto.

It goes without saying that the Constitution takes a dim group of governments that "disallow" an organization's existence.

This bears some more followup, which we hope to do. But, in the meanwhile, following is a news release that rounds up the controversy from the civic group's point of view. It includes missed tax payments, a leaky sewer system, a fight over a community building donated by a bank and lots of government discord.

City of Gould Threatened by City Council Action

(Gould, ARK, July 13, 2011) — Members of the Gould Citizens Advisory Council (GCAC) believe the City of Gould is under threat. Last night Gould City Council members voted four to one to override the veto of an unconstitutional City ordinance passed June 28 that disallows the Gould Citizens Advisory Council from existing within the city limits of Gould and another that requires all organizations to get city permission before using facilities for their meetings.

“The Gould City Council has banned our group from meeting or existing within the city and declared it an emergency to stop the people from voicing their opinion and holding the public officials accountable for their actions,” said Curtis Mangrum, GCAC Chair. “We believe that action is in direct conflict with that the right of citizens to assemble in their communities as protected by the U.S Constitution’s First Amendment and Arkansas Constitution, Article 2, Section 4.”

For many years, Gould citizens believed their elected officials practiced good government and made the right decisions for the whole community, according to Mangrum. However, because of a sizable IRS debt, bankruptcy and many years of legal problems for the City, Gould citizens felt it was time to get more involved.

GCAC has been a force for positive change in Gould for the past eight years. It is a grassroots organization made up of citizens who want the City of Gould to thrive through unity and progress. The organization was formed to ensure that citizens provide a voice in the decision- making process at all levels of government and hold their public officials accountable. Working together, GCAC members:

* Identified and helped elect candidates who wanted to move the city forward.
* Sponsored City Council retreats to develop a strategic planning process for Gould.
* Preserved the Gould School District archives when it was consolidated and made sure Gould’s trophies were displayed at the students’ new school.
* Identified abandoned housing and submitted a list to City officials for action.
* Sponsored a youth summit attended by 50 young citizens.
* Produced a documentary on the history of Gould.
* Hosted citywide cleanup campaigns.
* Helped raise $11,000 earlier this summer through the Gould Tax Relief Fund to keep the IRS from seizing and liquidating City property.

Last year Simmons Bank donated its building to the City of Gould in partnership with GCAC to be used as a Community Resource Center. Programs planned include a computer lab, workforce center, youth cultural activities and Neighborhood Watch. In addition, the Public Library, Tobacco Coalition and a quilting club would be housed in the building.

In other action last night, the City Council members voted four to one to evict GCAC from the Resource Center and stated they would change the locks on the doors. Their justification is that the City cannot afford to pay the utilities.

“The problem with this explanation is that they did not have a prior discussion with the tenants of the building to try to make an honest effort to work with them,” said Norvell Dixon, GCAC Vice-Chair. “This same group raised $11,000 to pay back taxes for the City, surely they could raise enough money to pay the utilities for the building. This is just an excuse to stifle the voice of the people.”

The City Council also argued that the group would not release the lease and the deed. The City Council has not officially requested a copy of the lease and deed from the group. “In addition, it is our understanding that the City has a copy of these documents and this should be taken up with the Mayor, not the tenants,” Dixon said.

GCAC is also concerned about three City Council members voting against accepting an $800,000 grant to repair the city’s leaking sewer system at a June City Council meeting. “We don’t understand why our City Council members would vote to disallow this money to come into our city to help replace and upgrade our sewer system. We are worried about City Council actions like this,” said Dixon. “Gould is my home and I want it to be a forward-moving city. The council’s actions seem to be having the opposite effect.”

GCAC supports the right of the citizens to participate in government through peaceful, organized assembly of concerned citizens. Dixon said GCAC members want to work with public officials who practice good government by making decisions based on analysis, citizen input and sound fiscal management. “We want public officials who are working constructively to solve our city’s problems and build a better future for our children,” he said.

“GCAC will continue to fight for the rights of the citizens to assemble, provide input into our government and insist that our public officials do the right thing for the whole community — not just for a chosen few,” said Mangrum.

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