City employee's 'good deed' reveals outdated ordinance

The Conway City Council will be considering whether city employees can do off-the-clock business for the city.

 

The situation came up recently when the city had a pest problem and a Conway Fire Department member, who does business in pest control also, fixed it — for free except for the nominal cost of the chemicals he used. Of course this wasn’t a problem, but it did start discussion in city hall about employees undertaking off-the-clock work for the city when Tyler Winningham, the city’s finance officer, had questions about the legality of reimbursing the fire department member for the chemicals.

 

On Tuesday night the council discussed an ordinance that would hopefully replace the city’s existing employee/city work ordinance, which City Attorney Mike Murphy characterized as allowing “city employees to do business with the city just like everybody else.” This ordinance is probably at odds with state law, Murphy said, and probably was when it was enacted in 1987. State law (A.C.A. § 14-42-107) requires a city to have in place an ordinance that lays out the extent of involvement a city employee can have with the goings-on of the city’s business.

 

So, the city council will be meeting in committee over the next few weeks to draft an ordinance in compliance with state law. On Tuesday there was discussion about whether the city would always require open bidding on jobs when a city employee is “applying” for the job, even if the employee is willing to do it for free or at the employee’s out-of-pocket cost. Also, councilman Mark Ledbetter’s suggestion that members of the council never be allowed to work on city jobs seemed well-received, with all members present nodding in approval. Ledbetter also said that city employees “pitching in” to do jobs for free or at nominal costs “have saved the city a lot of money,” and cited an example of fire department members who installed flooring in a city building at their cost.

 

It’s also likely that in addition to the “main” ordinance, any approval of a city employee doing work for the city outside their departmental duties would require an additional ordinance stating that the job was going to a city employee and why.

 

The council tabled a proposed ordinance written by Murphy for further consideration. Murphy’s ordinance included several blank provisions for the council to hash out.

 

In other business, the council also held in committee a proposal to change the city’s sign ordinance as it relates to billboards along I-40 within the city limits. One of the 33 current billboards blew over recently, and as the sign ordinance is currently written its owner can apply to have another one put up. Mayor Tab Townsell proposed that the city change the ordinance to basically mean that when one of the billboards is removed or destroyed by a storm or normal wear-and-tear, it’s gone. The city has done a lot of planning to “clean up” the I-40 corridor, Townsell said, with decorative concrete planned for a future overpass and other things to make the city more attractive to people passing through. Townsell said that his position is that letting the billboards phase themselves out will also help make the city more attractive. However, as Ledbetter pointed out, most of the new billboards are held up by steel structures, so it might be a while before attrition starts to make a dent in the billboard population.

 

The council also approved spending $177,000 from the airport-specific Loan Proceeds account, which is funded by a loan to the city of about $6 million that is expected to be paid off when the developer of the Central Landing shopping center at the existing airport closes on the real estate purchase. The $177,000 will be spent on flooring, wall coverings and furniture at the main terminal building at the new Cantrell Field site in the Lollie Bottoms. The city is buying high-quality furniture for the airport, Townsell said, because cross-country pilots have “a lot of options” for refueling and rest stops, and it makes sense for Conway’s airport to gain a reputation as a high-quality place to visit because more pilots will buy their meals and aviation fuel here.

 

Also, about $2,100 in Townsell’s travel expenses related to his involvement in the state municipal league and league of cities was reimbursed by those groups.

 

Conditional use permits to allow for a new childcare business at 705 Donaghey Ave. and an expansion of religious activity zoning at 620 and 622 Center Street for a Robinson and Center Church of Christ expansion were approved.

 

Pick-It Construction, the lowest of seven bidders, was chosen to build the new airport’s community hangar, a 100x100-foot hangar where pilots passing through can hangar their aircraft for the night, for about $650,000.

 

In an item not on the agenda but which was brought up for consideration due to the timing of airport construction, the council also voted to amend the corporate hangar lease agreement to require construction to begin within 90 days of the lease.

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