SILOAM SPRINGS -- Residents packed City Hall on March 21 for a chance to comment during the Board of Directors meeting.
Topics included the status of library books pulled from library shelves, the city's political climate and petitions to recall Directors David Allen and Lesa Rissler.
Several residents commented on library books that were pulled from the shelves due to content some people deemed as obscene. Kent Wyatt spoke about how people had spoken at the previous board meeting about being passionate about books, something Wyatt said he is also passionate about.
"I'm a reader and a writer, and I love good books," Wyatt said. "But it worries me that people hold them more sacred than kids sometimes."
The next person to speak was Gene Linzey, who said he worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M., for 23 years. Linzey said while he was at the laboratory he and his colleagues were in search of truth. Linzey said what is in the books in question was not truth but instead brainwashing.
"They're not trying to give them truth related to nature," Linzey said. "What we find in those books is not natural; it's unnatural. And I request that we here in this town teach about the truth of nature on all levels."
Chainey Macak spoke in defense of the books saying they are being put on trial by some members of the community and that it's important to protect the rights of all members of the community and the rights of parents to choose what's right for their families.
"It is important for all members of the community, and we need to protect those that are marginalized, including the LGBTQ," Macak said. "These books in particular have been found to be objectionable before because discrimination against the LGBTQ is nothing new."
Macak went on to say the books have never been found to be harmful or offensive in any court of law.
A few residents spoke about the political climate in Siloam Springs. Tim Estes said he was there in part because he serves as president of the board of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce. Estes said there is no premium on divisiveness in the world.
"Just as weeds grow exponentially faster than vegetables," Estes said, "so negativism and division can drive a wedge quickly between otherwise mostly agreeable people before goodness gets out of the ground."
He said people who are thinking of moving to Siloam Springs and corporations that are looking at bringing jobs to the city are watching.
"So we can talk about our schools, our hospitals, our parks, all we want to," Estes said. "But if we fail to treat one another with high levels of dignity and respect and divide into camps and panel petitions for further division, we can kiss many of these people and their ensuing opportunities goodbye."
Robin Waits, the owner of Heart of the Home, spoke about how there was little notice given to the March 13 special meeting to select a screening committee for a new city administrator.
Waits asked why the meeting was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. when everyone was at work. She asked that the directors amend the rules to have special meetings at times when people can attend them and to give the public 24 hours notice so people can plan to attend.
"There are so many of us here because we're upset because we aren't getting answers from you all," Waits said. "And when you don't let us attend, then even more answers or more questions come up that we want answers to."
Waits asked why directors Allen, Betsy Blair, Rissler and Ken Wiles voted against tabling the issue until the city board meeting on March 21.
Casey Letellier said during his turn to speak about having fond memories of city board meetings that were pretty boring where there was very little politics at the meetings.
"It feels like a great deal of sneaking around," Letellier said. "Firing our super competent city administrator with no cause at great taxpayer expense, calling the meeting to hire his replacement at a time when no working people can actually be there."
Letellier, who owns Ivory Bill's Brewing Co., said he has petitions available to recall Allen and Rissler.
"If we're going to have a functional city," Letellier said, "there has to be consequences for the activities that happen here in this board."
Matt Feyerabend said the community was shocked, furious and troubled when Patterson was terminated. People only knew that Patterson was terminated without cause, which will cost the city $180,000, and asked if the four directors were planning this in advance.
Feyerabend then called into question Rissler's qualifications to serve as city director because she doesn't live within city limits.
"If this is true, it would mean she is not legally a qualified elector for Arkansas Code § 14-48-110," Feyerabend said.
Rissler's property actually straddles the city limits of Siloam Springs. Part of Rissler's property where her driveway sits is within city limits while other parcels of her property are in Benton County.
According to the Benton County Election Commission, when establishing voter eligibility, the commission uses the driveway of the voter. With Rissler's driveway being within city limits, she is qualified to vote in the city.
In an interview, Feyerabend offered a response to Allen's previous comments that, "I would like to say I was shocked when Matt posted a huge 'Defund the Police' sign in the window of his Pure Joy ice cream store in downtown Siloam Springs."
Feyerabend denied ever having such a sign in his business' window. He added Allen has been saying that since 2020 "despite being corrected repeatedly."
Several directors commented on the issues as part of their director's reports.
Ward 1 Director Mindy Hunt began by saying she appreciated that resident came to express their opinions during the meeting.
"I do agree with the sentiment that this has been stressful and that we need to continue moving forward," Hunt said. "But I can't say with 100% certainty that I know the truth of everything. I know it was stated in the executive session, but in my opinion, none of the things shared were fireable offenses."
Wiles echoed Hunt's sentiments about having the public attend the meeting and commenting. Wiles addressed comments that the board does not listen to the citizens, saying that it is entirely false.
"For every one that commented to me about the disapproval of what happened, I have been contacted with comments of approval for what has happened," Wiles said.
Wiles also called to stop personal attacks. Wiles encouraged people to do their research and ask questions before passing judgement.
Blair began by saying her agenda is to work on drainage and streets as well as other things she campaigned on. Blair said if anyone is having drainage issues to email the board and let them know.
Blair also said there are two sides to every story.
"There are a lot of other citizens who feel very differently and have very different stories to tell and employees who have very different stories to tell," Blair said.
Blair spoke about Patterson's contract saying she had never seen one where if the person left through resignation, termination or death, they would receive six months salary and full benefits.
Blair called it a waste of money and also said that she voted for termination with cause.
At-Large Director Reid Carroll began by thanking Interim City Administrator Christina Petriches for her service and said he still believes Patterson did a very fine job as city administrator. Carroll said while there was a legal right to let Patterson go, due process was not followed.
"There was no discipline involved with it," Carroll said. "No suspension. We didn't even say go home for the day. It was just we gave him a good report and then a couple of months later he's gone."
At-Large Director Carol Smiley addressed the citizens who spoke and said she appreciated them speaking no matter what side they were on. Smiley spoke about the community survey, which showed an above average rating for Siloam Springs saying it was not just because of the board but also Patterson.
Allen said he has heard many people speaking on the library books that were pulled from library shelves and said no board member influenced or told Patterson to pull the books.
He said Patterson's actions were his alone and the solution he presented was to have the city board choose all future library book purchases.
Allen said the board did not approve to continue Patterson's employment in December but only voted to give him the same raise everybody else received. Allen said Patterson had a lifetime contract where he could be terminated, resign, retire or the contract ended in death.
Allen said his board amendments at the beginning of the year were just meant to take back board responsibilities that were approved by previous boards to go to Patterson.
Allen also said Rissler never applied for the city administrator position. However, Rissler did apply for the position under her former married name Lesa Brosch, according to a list of candidates for the position in 2014 provided by the human resources department for the city.
Allen also brought up when the Arkansas Municipal League (AML) voted to amend state law to disallow a city administrator to be fired within the first 60 days of new board members.
"Mr. Patterson was on the executive committee of Arkansas Municipal League," Allen said. "The executive committee decides pay raises, et cetera for AML officers. The AML is basically who helps write state law regarding municipalities. So tell me why in that same year there was a state law changed that I believe would have become unconstitutional, would have been declared unconstitutional if it was ever challenged."
Allen said there is a lot that the public is unaware of as well as other board members who do not ask questions, saying they do not research like he does, a comment that drew laughter from the audience.