HomeLocal GovernmentCherokee Village City Council receives OEM Director resignation

Cherokee Village City Council receives OEM Director resignation

The Cherokee Village City Council held their regular meeting Feb. 25, during which David Woods, a former council member and now former director of the Cherokee Village Office of Emergency Management resigned from his position with the city. His resignation was to be delivered as he was on the agenda to speak about statements made about him both personally and professionally in his absence during a prior council meeting, however; he was refused the opportunity to verbally defend himself.

The meeting opened with approval of an amended agenda. Amendments included removing the two properties up for raze and removal and the addition of a third new business item to appoint a commissioner to the city’s Advertising and Promotions Commission (A&P).

Meeting minutes were then approved and multiple correspondences were read. Among them, a thank you letter to the city’s animal control, a letter of thanks from the Tri-County Recycling Center, an update from AT&T about the national suicide hotline and finally, a certificate of recognition stating Cherokee Village had been selected as a Volunteer Community of the Year, as well as, informative letter from EngageAR.

Mayor Russell Stokes stated sales tax revenue was up for the year compared to this time last year. “Sales tax revenue is up.. We don’t have an accurate reflection of how Dollar General is working and the impact of that store’s operations on sales tax. We will probably know more at our April meeting,” Stokes said.

The next agenda item was the annual State of the City address. The overview of the activities and finances of the city was given in the form of a slide presentation and commentary by Stokes for the public to view.

Topics highlighted included: COVID-19 testing; progress on Tohi Trail; upgrades to city hall; an added storm siren; the addition of a Veteran’s Plaza at the North Golf Course; new signage; recognition of city employees for years of service; a lowered ISO rating; FireWise recognition and more.

Stokes also announced the goals for the year 2021 which include: continued improvements to Tohi trail; continued research, growth opportunities and improvements for the city; continued enhancement of services and infrastructure for the city; to foster quality maintenance of residential and commercial property; to maintain fiscal responsibility in city operations; working with other agencies to combat COVID-19 and more. Following the mayor’s report and state of the city address the council moved on to department reports.

Stokes noted the Cherokee Village Animal Control was only able to successfully hold one day of the recent spay and neuter clinic due to the ice and snow, however; he said more clinics would be held in the future.

The council quickly moved through reports pausing to hear a brief update regarding the A&P Commission.  Councilman Rob Smith who also serves on the city’s A&P told the council the Arkansas Pie Festival would be held in a virtual format this year.

Smith also said the annual fireworks display would be discussed at the March A&P meeting.

“In the next 30 days, we’re hoping to make a huge adjustment. Also in this meeting (tonight) will be talking about a new assignment to the committee,” Smith said

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Councilman Jerry Adams also provided an update about Tohi Trail and a grant which has been obtained for expansion of the trail.  “As mayor mentioned, we got a $32,000 grant to extend Tohi Trail. We walked it to get an idea of how it [the expansion] will happen. How it looks on a map compared to walking it are two different things,” Adams said. “We walked it out several times, marked it and used a GPS.”

Adams said changes to the initial proposal were required to be made due to the geography of the property and in some cases the grading.  “We had to make several changes due to the elevation. The adjustments have been made and everything submitted… We’re moving forward and looking forward to getting it accomplished as soon as possible,” Adams said.  He also said the hope was to begin the expansion before summer.

Moving on to old and unfinished business, the council discussed a proposed ordinance, Ordinance 2021-xx, an ordinance to amend zoning code 2017-06A and for other purposes.

The amendments to the ordinance would create boundaries and guidelines for aesthetics of commercial construction and preservation of existing aesthetics along highways 175, 62/412 and 289.

The ordinance was read and a discussion followed. The first issue discussed was verbiage which stated a design review committee would be formed to review applications.

Councilman Adams asked why the verbiage was still in the amendments to the ordinance as it had been sent back to be rewritten previously.

City Inspector, Thomas Swiatkowski approached the podium and said he was not sure why the terminology had been left in the proposed ordinance, however; the committee should be the city’s existing Planning and Zoning Commission.

Swiatkowski said a committee without set rules could lead to the appearance of favoritism or subjective opinions.

Councilman Steve Thompson stated the ordinance was drafted as a result of citizen concern.

“I’m not sure the intent of the commission because I haven’t sat in on the meetings. There’s been a number of citizens who have expressed concern,” Thompson said.

He then asked if Swiatkowski was familiar with a Dollar General store constructed in Southhaven, MS.

“There was a Dollar General built about the same size as the one here in Cherokee Village and the exterior is drastically different,” Thompson said.

Swiatkowski said he was familiar with the store Thompson was referring to, but maintained decisions should not be left up to interpretation by a committee.

After further discussion, the council opted to table the ordinance temporarily and Stokes offered for members of the council and others to meet and discuss the ordinance to make changes to be presented in March.

Council woman Pamela Rowland then asked the city’s attorney, John Abele if meetings of that nature would need to be public as it had the potential to be multiple council members meeting to discuss and issue, they would vote on.

Abele said a working meeting would be sufficient and open to the public.

Councilman Eddie Ishmael also stated he had concerns with one portion of verbiage which would remove the option to keep business plans quiet before one was ready to announce.

Councilman Chuck Kristopeit said he felt a new committee was not needed, but better verbiage was.

The discussion was drawn to a close by Stokes who said a meeting date to discuss the issue further would be set at a later time.

The council then moved on to new business beginning with equipment purchases for the street department.

Street Superintendent John Kyllo spoke to the council about the need for two pieces of equipment which would allow his department to operate more effectively. A skid steer loader and an additional dump truck

After a brief discussion, the council agreed it would be acceptable for Kyllo to obtain bids and present them during the March meeting.

The next item of business was to be a presentation by David Woods.

“I see we’re here again. I wasn’t at the January meeting but through FOIA I was able to get a copy of the December and January meetings. I was told I was raked over the coals pretty good in January, and I wasn’t even on the agenda. So I’m here one more time, to clarify everything that has been said about me and all of it can be verified and looked into. I gave each of you a handout. Due to the time constraint I’m going to be brief,” Woods said.

Stokes stopped Woods at this time stating it was a personnel issue and should be discussed in executive session. “I would suggest this be placed on an executive session item for the next meeting,” Stokes said.

Woods asked why this was not the case during the previous meeting.  “Why wasn’t it put on executive session last meeting when Steve [Thompson] raked me over the coals” Woods asked?

Stokes said he couldn’t answer the question but after reading the paperwork he had been presented with by Woods, the issue should be discussed in executive session.

He then asked Abele for his thoughts. “That is appropriate because As Director of OEM you are technically an employee of the city so that would qualify as a city employee matter,” Abele said.

Woods asked if he was now being recognized as an employee of the city at which time Abele said he had seen a document showing where Woods had signed paperwork with the city, but noted the status was somewhat unclear.

“You work for the city in some regard although you don’t get paid,” Abele said.

Woods said he had spoken to the municipal league and was told since he was a department head, had signed with the city and had a budget he was an employee.

“If I can continue to explain everything that is going on I will resign tonight from OEM,” Woods said.

Abele then asked if Woods was resigning.

Woods stated it was part of the letter he had submitted to the council and to Abele.

“What I wanted to do was to clarify the embellishments, wrong statements against me at the last council meeting and to tell the council what was going on; all the truths like I did last time. I can’t really believe we’re here again except I was attacked again in January and at this point I can no longer stay with Cherokee, but I also want to discuss the search and rescue that was attacked by Councilman Thompson and I want to clarify some things with that,” Woods said.  Woods said he had not yet resigned because he was listed on the agenda for OEM and wanted to speak to the council before he was no longer in that position.

“If they want to go into private session, I’ll be happy to go into private session and talk to them,” Woods said.

Abele said Woods would not be allowed in executive session.

“So, when do I get my say?” Woods asked.

“I don’t know,” Abele responded.

Stokes said Woods had provided the council with a written statement containing what he wanted to say.  “Due to this it has now become a personnel issue and needs to be discussed in executive session. That is the path were going to take,” Stokes said.

Councilman Thomas Rupard then motioned for an executive session.

Councilman Adams asked if Woods had resigned, why there was a need for executive session.

Stokes said he felt an executive session was the appropriate venue for the discussion to take place.

Abele then asked Woods if he had resigned. Woods said it was included in the letter, but hadn’t formally resigned until he was able to address the council. Abele stated if it was in the letter, then it was a resignation.  “If Mr. Woods has resigned then that is the end of it,” Abele said.

Kristopeit then addressed the council. “Mayor, I understand where he is coming from. He feels he was wronged. We’re not going to go into executive session, we’re just going to accept his resignation, but he doesn’t have the opportunity to clarify the things that were said about him,” Kristopeit said.

Another council member noted it was in the letter, but Kristopeit said that was only to the council.  “To us, but the public doesn’t see this letter,” Kristopeit said.

Thompson then said during his time in Cherokee Village both as a resident and as a councilmember, he had never heard an employee discussion in a public meeting,” Thompson said.

He was then reminded he had discussed Woods during the January meeting.

“Until I saw these documents here, I wasn’t aware there was an employee relationship with Mr. Woods. He’s always described himself as a volunteer and the title of OEM Director was granted to him by this council as a request fulfilled in order to apply for grants, but I was unaware there was any employee relationship. This is the first time I’ve seen this document,” Thompson said. “We’ve had other employee situations in the city and they’ve always been discussed in executive session.”

Councilman Carr Hill pointed out the resignation was not the only issue discussed in the letter submitted by Woods. “I see in the letter it mentions search and rescue, and I feel like part of the reason you want to read this is because it says he requests the council discuss if the city wants the search and rescue to operate in the city,” Hill said.

Woods said search and rescue was separate from OEM.

“If you want to limit your comments to search and rescue. This mayor might reconsider, but you haven’t done anything but try to drag other things to the discussion about personnel. I’ll defer to the mayor and city attorney as to how they want to proceed with someone who has resigned,” Thompson said.

Woods said the issues were separate at which time Stokes stated Woods could approach the podium to speak about search and rescue.

Before Woods reached the podium, Thompson directed a question to Police Chief Rick Crook.

“Before the comments begin, we have a chief employed by the city and my question is very simple. If there is there is a search and rescue to be conducted in the city what agency would the chief call for search and rescue. What individual would the chief call? Can we have that answer before we hear about an alternative organization? Could that be possible?” Thompson said. “There are procedures in this city that have been established…”

Abele interjected suggesting Stokes place the issue on the March agenda to give “everyone time to cool down”.

Rupard then withdrew his motion and all were in agreement the issue could be placed on the following month’s agenda. “Did you resign and now you’re going to go talk to your lawyer? That’s what I object to. Did you read this before you handed it out?” Rupard asked.

At this time, Abele suggested the council adjourn and a motion was made to that effect.

Before receiving a second, Councilwoman Rowland asked to make a statement for the record, “…I don’t think it’s fair that council allowed in two previous meetings December and January for the things that were said in open public about Mr. Woods. We allowed that and it went on and now we don’t allow him to defend himself in public,” Rowland said

Stokes then closed the discussion and the council moved to the final order of business to add Sharon McCullar to be added to the A&P Commission, with public comments being held until the March meeting, the council adjourned.

The Cherokee Village City Council meets the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

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Lauren Siebert
Lauren Siebert
Lauren is a an award-winning journalist who decided after 10 years of newspaper experience to venture out. Hallmark Times was born.
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