Three mayors facing rare recall action

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)




Residents in several Arkansas towns are exercising a seldom-used arm of democracy that allows them to hold recall elections for local officials.

Alexander, Bauxite and Cotton Plant will hold such elections for their respective mayors on Nov. 6.

Efforts are also under way to collect signatures for an election to recall Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs. But such efforts are not always successful. An attempt to get a recall election on a Little Rock city director in 2007 and 2008 failed because petitioners couldn’t gather enough signatures.

Recall elections – whether against a governor, state legislator or municipal official – are rare.

“It is unusual because you are essentially putting it on the ballot a second time,” said Art English, a University of Arkansas at Little Rock political science professor. “As a consequence, when you recall someone, you are invalidating the previous vote, not giving the person an opportunity to serve out their full term.” Alexander Mayor Paul Mitchell faces a recall election after the city’s former top official turned in more than 259 signatures to the Saline County clerk’s office last week.

Alexander, which has 2,900 residents, is mostly in Saline County but has a portion in Pulaski County.

Former Mayor Shirley Johnson, who signed the recall petition and aided the recall process, said Mitchell has been ineffective as mayor in the 18 months he has served.

“He is never in his office,” Johnson said. “And the only thing he did was put up streetlights, but they weren’t in the right part of town. They should be in the neighborhoods where drug dealers are, so they can be lit up and seen when they are selling drugs.” Mitchell said he welcomed the recall process and wasn’t bothered by it.

“This is a great tool for any city and its citizens,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s a good part of our democracy, and I have no problems with it.” Mitchell said he felt confident that people in his community would vote to keep him in office.

But if they don’t, “I will abide by their wishes, of course,” the mayor said. “I feel like this recall is personal, and it has nothing to do with the way I have been running the city, and that’s unfortunate. It’s just a distraction.” Mitchell has been in office since January 2010.

Also in Saline County, voters in Bauxite will decide the future of Mayor Johnny Mc-Mahan in November as the top elected official of the 487-resident town. Former Bauxite City Council member Debbi Purifoy turned in more than 100 signatures to the Saline County clerk’s office late last month seeking his recall.

Purifoy cited what she said was McMahan’s lack of attention to a request she made to City Hall for files related to the city’s tax problems as one of the reasons for leading the recall effort.

McMahan, who took office in January 2011, has said he plans an “aggressive” campaign against the recall. He also said he thinks many residents will side with him, not Purifoy.

In the Woodruff County community of Cotton Plant in northeast Arkansas, Mayor Ronnie Conley is also facing a recall election. The county clerk’s office in Augusta confirmed that more than 100 signatures on the recall petition had been certified.

William Shelton, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Cotton Plant, which organized the recall effort, said Conley hasn’t addressed city issues.

Further, Shelton contended, “the mayor promised to bring businesses and jobs to Cotton Plant, and there are no jobs here.” Conley fiercely denies claims that he has been ineffective during his six years as mayor.

Conley cited some $3 million in grants Cotton Plant has received during his tenure, allowing for the purchase of a new police car, as well as the hiring of new police officers, along with more than $250,000 to fund a food bank.

“That’s change,” Conley said. “I understand the propaganda when it comes down to politics, but the changes that have been done here in Cotton Plant speak for themselves.” Conley rebutted claims that the city hasn’t generated more jobs. He said the town – which has about 650 residents – has attracted 10 jobs just recently in the health-care industry.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, recalls began in the United States in Los Angeles in 1903. Each state’s law is different – some require at least a year before an elected official can face a recall; others allow recalls at any time.

There have been three gubernatorial recall elections in U.S. history, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Earlier this year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall attempt.

In 2003, California voters successfully recalled Gov. Gray Davis. California voters have initiated 32 gubernatorial recall attempts since 1911. The 2003 recall of Davis was the first to appear on the ballot in that state.

Voters in North Dakota recalled three people from office in 1921: the governor, attorney general and commissioner of agriculture.

Recall efforts against state legislators and at the municipal level are slightly more common, but still unusual, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Arkansas they include a recall of a Caddo Valley recorder-treasurer – who is responsible for signing legal documents, banking and signing checks, as well as presiding over meetings if the mayor cannot attend. Voters removed the recorder-treasurer in an election in 2010.

Mark Hayes, an attorney with the Arkansas Municipal League, said there is no set reason for why communities rally behind a recall election because “each situation is so unique.”




Copyright 2012 Little Rock Newspapers, Inc.