Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mayor's Radio Show Draws Council's Fury

Note: The Inside Scoop is aired each Saturday Morning at 11:30 a.m. and Saturday night at 11:05 p.m. on KJIW FM 94.5 and www.lordradio.com


Mayor's radio show draws council's fury

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 — Some Helena-West Helena City Council members want the mayor to stop badmouthing them on his Saturday morning radio show.

In a move aimed at reining him in, they asked the state attorney general whether the council could legally bar the mayor from using excerpts from the recordings of council meetings unless he gets their permission.

He has used excerpts to buttress his remarks on the show, remarks that sometimes disparage council members, they said, or call attention to things they said but which they hoped would never be trumpeted about.

Mayor James Valley said he understands their frustration.

But the fact that some council members aren't comfortable with how he depicts them won't stop his long-running political commentary show, he said.

"Our program is not one that's cushy-feely," he acknowledged. "It is direct, but it is truthful. I understand where they might have a problem with the way they are characterized sometimes."

Some council members said they also are concerned that he's using the recordings for political campaign purposes.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's July 2 response to their query told them that the state's Freedom of Information Act is the law, and the council has to live with it. That law requires governmental bodies to have public meetings and gives citizens, including mayors, access to public records, including the official recordings of the meetings.

McDaniel cited Arkansas Code Annotated 25-19-101 through 25-19-110.

"There is no requirement that a citizen consult the city's governing body to obtain permission to listen to or play the public records," the attorney general said.

When Helena and West Helena merged in 2006, Valley asked local media to broadcast council meetings.

Elijah Mondy, 63, owns several area radio stations including KJIW-FM, 94.5, in Helena-West Helena. The council's twice-a-month meetings are broadcast on the station after they happen.

Video footage of council meetings is also shown on the local public access channel.

"In the previous city there was a concern that there is too much going on that the people don't know about," Mondy said. "I'm donating the time; that's free of charge. It's my civic duty."

The city purchased equipment and pays Mondy's son, a radio station employee, to record the meetings, Mondy said. The broadcast of the meetings starts at 10:05 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month.

"A lot of people tune in out of curiosity," Mondy said. "And they don't like what they are hearing."

Most aldermen said they want the meetings to be broadcast.

"Not only do we want, but we encourage it," Ward 1 Alderman Bruce Hudson said. "You can't get people to the meeting."

In January 2009, council members questioned whether the meetings needed to be broadcast at all, but the public backlash caused them to back down, Mondy said.

Hudson said the council has a problem with how the mayor uses excerpts without giving context and specifically to embarrass aldermen.

Valley hosts and pays for a Saturday morning show called Inside Scoop, which provides commentary on what is happening in local government. It airs at 11:30 a.m. on KJIW.

He said he occasionally uses material from the meetings to explain policy to his listeners.

He provides context for the quotes, he said, but "it's their words, their voice. They don't want people to see or hear how their government officials are conducting their business."

The show's purpose is to empower citizens, Valley said.

"I don't like it to be about Bruce Hudson," Valley said. "It's supposed to be about the policy or the specific program, but sometimes it's about Bruce Hudson."

Valley had a show even before the cities consolidated and before he became mayor.

"The general aim of the program is good; we've been on the air for six or seven years doing the same thing," Valley said. "The last City Council never once complained." Hudson argues that the shows have delved into what type of underwear aldermen wear and encouraging citizens not to shop at businesses owned by council members.

When the council discussed prohibiting young men from letting their pants sag, Hudson said during the meeting that he prefers to wear thong-type underwear, Valley said.

The excerpt has been rebroadcast repeatedly to show how aldermen waste taxpayer time, Valley said.

"The people are entitled to see or hear your deliberations," Valley said.

Hudson said the clips are used to embarrass council members, not to make a point on policy.

"They take excerpts ... completely out of context to smear the image of City Council members," Hudson said.

Hudson said the question asked of the attorney general is not really what the council wanted to know.

And what is it they wanted to know?

Whether the show can "take excerpts ... and use them for campaigning without the express permission of the city council?" Hudson said.

Valley is not a council member, though he is allowed to vote to break a tie. And, he said, he has not announced whether he will run for reelection in November.

Hudson said Valley uses the show as a way to drum up support for his administration. He said Valley is acting as if he is running for re-election.

Valley said he wouldn't care if the council members used the recordings for campaigning.

"They already have the audio and the video and they are free to do whatever they choose with it," Valley said

But, Hudson said the council members don't have access to copies of the audio recording, and they feel that if the mayor can use that they should be allowed to as well. He said if the recordings are public record then any citizens should have access.

"If it exists in the city, the citizens and the city council are not aware of that," Hudson said. "It's our audio history; we want to keep and have possession of it."

The Helena-West Helena city clerk said she puts audio and video copies of the meetings in the City Council members' mailboxes every week. Some aldermen, including Hudson, disputed that.

"No, I don't get anything," Ward 2 Alderman Joe St.

Columbia, said. "We should get a copy of it as well. If he [Valley] gets a copy of it, we should get a copy of it."

Others said piles of CDs have been accumulating since aldermen asked the radio station employee to make them copies during a meeting at least two months ago. Mondy said the council decided to pay his employee $7 per copy, which is the same amount paid to the person who records the video footage. The city pays the two people making the recordings $35 an hour.

"They're certainly available," Ward 5 Alderman Don Etherly said. "In fact, I asked them to stop providing them to me because they were just stacking up."

Etherly is co-host of Inside Scoop along with Valley and Andrew Bagley, a political science instructor from the Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas.

The aldermen confirmed they receive DVD copies of the recorded meetings.

Valley said the city clerk keeps several copies of the audio and video recordings available for public use.

"The city clerk typically gets them and puts them in their mailbox; now whether they pick them up and what they do with them, I don't know," Valley said.

This article was published today at 5:32 a.m.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 07/11/2010



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Honorable James F. Valley
MAYOR - Helena West Helena
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