The Arkansas Municipal League kicked off its winter conference Wednesday in Fort Smith, bringing city officials together to discuss how to resolve conflicts among their staffs, city councils or boards of directors and their communities.
In three separate sessions, panels of city leaders from all over Arkansas answered questions about how they would handle certain situations where there is conflict, which speaker Phil Kaplan, an attorney at Williams & Anderson PLC in Little Rock, called "as certain as death and taxes."
Rogers Mayor Greg Hines, Blytheville Mayor James Sanders and Hope City Manager Catharine Cook discussed how they go about resolving conflicts with department heads they supervise and the chain of command.
"I'm pretty hands off," Hines said. "I hire the smartest person I can find, certainly smarter than me — let them do the job. I let them make decisions that I think are probably mistakes or make hiring decisions that I think are probably mistakes and sometimes they turn out to be and sometimes they don't, but my job is to support them."
Hines added that if he has to delve into problems or personnel issues below the department head level, that is a problem because that means that the department head is not delivering.
During the session dedicated to resolving conflicts withing the community, De Queen Mayor Billy Ray McKelvy, Forrest City Mayor Larry Bryant and Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan were asked what they would do if a large local businesses announced plans to expand and add 250 low-skill, minimum wage jobs and a subsequent rezoning request came through for a mobile home park where those employees will likely live. In this scenario, residents are concerned about an influx of low-income workers and a new mobile home park in city limits.
McKelvey said he would ask residents specifically what their concerns are and what they suggest the city do and try to come up with solutions.
"Sometimes it helps to slow it down and take a little time and not get in too big of a hurry," McKelvey said. "If in fact, you're going to have an angry crowd at a council meeting and there's no way to avoid that, I would probably prepare the council for what they might be in for at the next council meeting, at least give them a heads up that there might be some opposition."
Jordan said he would not be excited to have a business come in that is not going to pay people decent wages.
"As a mayor, the first thing I would do is ask the person that is establishing the business why they're putting in a business that pays substandard wages to people and why are we putting people in what could be considered substandard housing," Jordan said. "To me, it doesn't make any difference if they are immigrant workers or where they come from. They should be paid at least a decent living wage and instead of us looking at paying people less and putting them in not as good of housing as other people — I think is wrong — I think because you begin to centralize all your poverty in one place and I don't think we need to do that."
The winter conference will continue through Friday. On today's agenda are a session on Arkansas' economy at 8:45 a.m., a session on urgent issues affecting municipalities such as the 2020 census at 10:30 a.m. and a session on trending legal matters and issues of interests including panhandling, sexual harassment, concealed weapons and opioid litigation at 2 p.m.