HEBER SPRINGS — With more public input than typical, the City of Heber Springs held its regular City Council meeting Thursday, July 16. The meeting was held at the Community Center, with seating spaced out in support of social distancing.

Main points of discussion was the appropriate ages for use of the aquatic center, and the city government’s response to the mask requirements. Gov. Asa Hutchinson had signed an executive order for mask wear earlier that day.

The council reviewed lowering the age permitted to allow sign-in to the Community Center, centered on lowering it from 18 to either 14 or 16.

Councilwoman Ali Sugg suggested at least 16, as “If they’re old enough to drive they should be allowed to sign in.”

Facility staff pointed out that opening access would require additional staff of two to three additional part-time workers. Shortly after this a voice from the gallery shouted “It’s not family-friendly, it’s a senior center” about the city’s aquatic center.

City of Heber Springs Mayor Jimmy Clark said this was not the case.

“It’s not a senior center,” he said.

The problem was in previous events where young people were unescorted there was a constant problem with “chasing them out of” restricted areas, Clark said, hence the need for additional staff, hence expense, if additional young people were in the building.

Clark was in agreement with a pilot program on lowering the age.

“I’m in agreement with Ali [Sugg] we need to exercise some sort of test here,” Clark said.

Again a voice from the gallery complaining about the “no splashing or jumping” rule at the pool, and young people not being allowed to use the racquetball courts.

This led to a discussion about, if lower ages were permitted unescorted, trouble-makers, those who would not follow the rules, would have to be removed from the center.

The council passed allowing younger people to sign themselves and family members in on a trial basis.

Masks were the final item of discussion during the night, and what quickly became a raucous discussion within the gallery.

The topic was opened by Clark, who said in light of the governor’s executive order signed earlier that day, the city had “torn up” any ordinance on masks under consideration. This was greeted with applause by the gallery.

Several in the gallery asked the city council members, including the mayor, to do more in response to the governor’s order. In one case this included city government voicing a formal protest about the governor’s order. (That the protest would be a letter to the governor or some other form was confused, as several were speaking on this point.)

Clark, at one point, said his office was not going to fight the State of Arkansas on the mask order.

“I can’t control the Health Department – the CDC,” Clark said.

This was greeted by several shouts of “No!” from the gallery.

Several in the gallery stood up and spoke about liberty.

Clark, ultimately said “This is not a public hearing” as members of the gallery spoke over each other regarding the mask issue and their concerns about freedom. Clark then called for a motion to adjourn, which was made and passed.

In other council matters:

The council is asking for letters of concern about SuddenLink internet service to be turned in to the Mayor’s office. Councilman Paul Muse told the council that some area communities were also having problems with SuddenLink service and had taken the issue to the state’s attorney general. Clark said he was scheduled for a conference call with SuddenLink to discuss issues.

Mary David with the Humane Society presented to the council that the previous month’s presentation by a citizen about feral cats was “not true.” She expressed disappointment that Hernandez was not there (due to health issues) as she wanted to speak to his charges directly. The society continues its program of TNR (trap-neuter-return) with a great deal of success, David said.

The council voted in favor of the city leasing a new grapple truck to replace a current truck which had become a maintenance expense due to hydraulic system failures.

A discussion about the city’s forthcoming nuisance ordinance was held, which Zoning head Doug Perry said was needed to address enforcement at abandoned properties.

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