Fayetteville council extends mayor’s power to regulate gatherings

Tuesday’s City Council meeting was held virtually using the Zoom app with Mayor Jordan and several city staff seated at least six feet apart inside the council chambers and all eight City Council members participating remotely.

Fayetteville Government Channel

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan on Tuesday was given an extension of his temporary powers to limit or prohibit public gatherings in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The City Council voted 7-1 to extend the mayor’s authority through June 2. The original measure was set to expire on April 29.

Council Member Kyle Smith cast the only vote against the extension, but said it was not due to any lack of confidence in the mayor. He said there should be more oversight of the mayor’s authority after walking on a proposal that would’ve required the full council to review any directives put into place by the mayor during the pandemic.

“I have absolutely the most respect for Mayor Jordan,” said Smith. “In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone I would rather have leading Fayetteville through a crisis than him.”

But, he said, the council has a responsibility in the message it sends to future councils and mayors on how to handle emergency situations and temporary extraordinary powers.

Smith’s proposal was to continue allowing Jordan to issue emergency directives during the pandemic, but would automatically add an agenda item to the council’s next regular meeting to either approve or reject any new policies put into place by the mayor.

Jordan has issued several directives since the council granted his authority, including restrictions on how some businesses can operate, limiting occupancy in some places, and allowing virtual public meetings.

Some members of the council, including Ward 1’s Sonia Gutierrez, said they were hesitant to do anything that could potentially slow down the process of enacting public health-related emergency directives.

Council member Sloan Scroggin was the first to reject the idea outright.

“Lioneld has been in office for longer than I’ve been in Fayetteville,” said Scroggin. “I have complete trust in him and I really don’t think we need this.”

Council member Sarah Marsh said she also has full faith in the mayor, but said she’d like to help to set a precedent for any future administrations.

Council member Sarah Bunch asked whether the amendment would really set any precedents since the core of the issue was a temporary ordinance. She said she doesn’t think the council would want to reject any of Jordan’s directives, but even if they did, they already have the power to do so.

Council member Kinion agreed, and said the ordinance was built specifically for the current administration, so there’s no reason to set any precedent.

Smith said he knew it would not set any actual legal precedent, but the measure could provide some guidance for future councils.

Council member Turk said there are already existing mechanisms to walk back directives set by the mayor. She said she appreciates Smith’s intention, but said it’s not necessary in this particular situation.

The council ultimately rejected the proposal with only Smith and Marsh voting in favor.

Jordan said if the outbreak somehow subsides before June 2 and social distancing is no longer needed, he’s happy to roll back any temporary policies before the June 2 expiration.

“But with some of the numbers we saw today, it could go on for a while,” he said. “And I don’t know how long that will be.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday announced 304 new cases had been reported since Monday, along with one additional death, bringing the toll to 43. Of those new cases, 262 were from the Cummins Unit prison. As of Wednesday morning, the state Department of Health had reported 2,262 total cases in Arkansas since the outbreak began.