In a much anticipated Circuit Court of Phillips County ruling, Judge E. Dion Wilson invalidated city efforts to repeal an ordinance passed by 62% of the local voters that reapportions the city council into three wards and ordered the city to immediately implement the people's will.
In a much anticipated Circuit Court of Phillips County ruling, Judge E. Dion Wilson invalidated city efforts to repeal an ordinance passed by 62% of the local voters that reapportions the city council into three wards and ordered the city to immediately implement the people’s will.
Judge Wilson called the actions of the city council of Helena-West Helena, in this case, “dilatory” and “self-serving.”
Judge Wilson’s order declared the city’s repeal of the people’s restructuring of city government illegal for two reasons.
First, the court found that the emergency clause attached to the ordinance did not conform to the requirements of the law. Judge Wilson wrote, “The Court finds that reasonable minds would not disagree that the facts stated in the Emergency Clause did not state an emergency. The Emergency Clause was clearly for self-serving interests of the existing City Council to preserve the status quo, and not for the preservation of the peace, health or safety of the public.” The court went on to cite multiple examples of case law and noted that four aldermen testified at the trial and none were able to articulate a real emergency for passing the ordinance. Judge Wilson concluded the section by writing, “To uphold the Emergency Clause under these circumstances would truly serve to abolish the will of ‘We The People.’"
Second, the court invalidated the ordinance because city officials did not meet the requirements of state law to publish an ordinance in order for it to become effective.
Initially, the city did not publish the ordinance in the newspaper as required by ACA 14-55-206. Eight months later and after being sued, the city published the ordinance. Judge Wilson wrote, “A.C.A. $14-55-206 does not give a time frame in which an ordinance has to be published in a newspaper in a municipality. However, it is completely unreasonable for this Court to make a determination that purposeful, dilatory conduct for failure to comply with A.C.A.Ş14-55-206 in any way gives the people of the City of Helena-West Helena a timely notice of ordinances that affects them as citizens. Therefore, this Court declares that the failure of the City of Helena-West Helena to timely and reasonably publish Ordinance 37-2016 as required by A.C.A.S14-55-206 requires that this Court declare the Ordinance invalid and of no consequence.
There is no case law or statute that excuses the City of Helena-West Helena from timely publishing an ordinance with an emergency clause or without an emergency clause to the public. No legitimate government purpose can be served by purposefully delaying publication of ordinances when there is a known duty for same.”
Local Attorney James F. Valley, who represented three plaintiffs on behalf of the citizens of the entire city, called Judge Wilson’s ruling a victory for democracy and the rule of law. He said, “Judge Wilson’s ruling affirms the rights of citizens to initiate legislation under the Arkansas Constitution and insures that city officials cannot ignore the law when trying to thwart the will of the citizens.”
Judge Wilson concluded by ordering the city to immediately implement the three-ward ordinance with all deliberate speed since it is in effect for the current election cycle. He wrote, “That Initiated Ordinance 1-2016 is declared valid and shall be implemented by the defendant, City of Helena-West Helena, with all deliberate speed.”
Valley concluded by saying that the repudiation of city officials could not have been more thorough. He said, “Judge Wilson’s ruling shows that ours is a government of the people, not of tyrants, just as the Founders of this great nation intended. He has declared that the rights of the people in Helena-West Helena still matter and that the occupants of office at City Hall that fought the forces of democracy and sought to impose their will without regard for the law through legislation, executive action, and legal maneuverings, are not above the law.”