A resolution challenging the state’s COVID-19 pandemic emergency declaration and ensuing emergency directives is set to go before the Harrison City Council at Thursday night’s meeting
City Council member Chris Head proposed the resolution to the Resources and Policy Committee earlier this month.
In part, the resolution states that the city “supports and strongly encourages an end to the inconsistent, harmful, and damaging directives and policies against the citizens, schools, and businesses of the City of Harrison Arkansas. We now implore the Governor of the State of Arkansas to restore a Representative Government of the people, by the people, and for the people by ending the practice of perpetually extending the state of emergency without direct legislative involvement and returning governing authority back to local and state elected officials.”
Head told the Daily Times earlier this month that the resolution was based on a resolution to be presented to the Jonesboro City Council.
Jonesboro Alderman Bobby Long sponsored the resolution. The basic text of the resolution in Harrison mirrors the Jonesboro proposal.
When it was announced in Jonesboro, it drew a number of comments from the public, many of them opposing the resolution.
“I am all for personal freedoms and personal responsibilities but there comes a point when the government has to step in and enforce what is best for everyone,” one citizen wrote in an email comment.
Long responded to the comment, writing, “We as a council were poised to enact what we felt was right for our city.”
Michael Downing, chief of staff for the city of Jonesboro, said the resolution was presented to the Jonesboro council’s Public Safety Committee at a meeting Tuesday evening.
Downing told the Daily Times that a motion to adopt the resolution didn’t receive a second, so it didn’t move forward.
Craighead County, where Jonesboro is located, was listed in the top four counties with the most COVID-19 positive diagnoses released by the Health Department on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Craighead County was listed as No. 2 for positive cases with 53.
When the resolution was presented to Resources and Policy Committee earlier this month, Head was joined by council members Heath Kirkpatrick and Wayne Cone to move it to the full council. Council members Mitch Magness and Joel Williams voted against moving it forward.
Committee chairman Bill Boswell said he wanted to hear opinions of state legislators from the area regarding the resolution.
State Sen. Scott Flippo (R-Bull Shoals) told the Daily Times that he was in Little Rock for budget hearings Wednesday, although those hearings were postponed after three legislators tested positive for the coronavirus.
Flippo said he plans to attend the council meeting remotely unless he can get matters wrapped in Little Rock, at which time he could attend in person as would be his preference.
McNair said Monday that he might be able to attend the meeting virtually as well.
But state Rep./Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan (R-Jonesboro) said Tuesday that he plans to attend the meeting in person.
Sullivan was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against state Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero challenging the state’s mask mandate and other coronavirus restrictions. The suit asked the court to rule that the Health Department’s directives issued since the pandemic began are invalid because they require legislative approval.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen dismissed the suit earlier this month and ruled that directives issued by Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s administration are within his authority under state law and legislative rules.
Sullivan said he plans to appeal that ruling to the state Supreme Court. He said the continuance of the emergency declaration, if not checked, could be passed on from governor to governor and give them unnecessary powers, including raising taxes.
Other legislators say the emergency declaration power should likely be addressed during the General Assembly session that begins in January.
On Monday, Hutchinson told the Daily Times that the emergency authority was granted to him by the Legislature to manage the pandemic.
He said he looks forward to the next legislative session, but the emergency orders have caused positive changes.
“Without the emergency order you couldn’t get the credit that you need through virtual education,” Hutchinson said. “You could not do the distance medical treatment, the telemedicine, without the emergency order. So, the very important things that we’ve done were in order to manage the pandemic, but also to help people to get through it.”
Other items on the agenda for Thursday include:
• The first reading of an ordinance to dissolve the Harrison Parks and Recreation Commission and absorb the system into the city as a formal department.
• Representatives of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to report progress on a proposal to remove the weir on Lake Harrison and let it revert to free-flowing Crooked Creek again.
• Reading of an ordinance to ban the noise made by engine compression brakes in the city.
• Discussion of an option to purchase solar power for the city.
• The 2021 budget.
The meeting is set to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall.
The agenda for the meeting said face masks will be required to enter City Hall and health screening will be done. There will only be seats in the gallery for eight to 10 people to attend in person. Once the safe capacity has been reached, no one else will be allowed in City Hall.
However, the meeting will be livestreamed on Facebook, so people who can’t attend in person will be encouraged to watch online.
The public will be able to comment via Facebook live chat or by calling (870) 741-3644. The city clerk will take your call, so please state your name and topic you wish to address. At the appropriate time the clerk will put you live with the council. If you call and get a busy signal, please try again later, the agenda said.