Alexander mayor Paul Mitchell facing recall election
Residents of Alexander will have the opportunity to vote on whether to retain Paul Mitchell as mayor of the city.
A successful petition drive has resulted in the recall question being included on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
"I actually support this completely," Mitchell told The Saline Courier. "I believe in a recall election and holding politicians accountable. This gives the people a chance to make a decision concerning those that represent them."
Saline County Election Coordinator Linda Montalvo told the Courier on Tuesday that 240 signatures of Alexander residents were needed on the petition to recall the mayor. She said that more than 260 signatures were verified and that "it is a good petition."
Mitchell's tenure as mayor, since January of 2011, has been riddled with controversy.
His wife, Genieve Marie Mitchell, was sentenced to two years in a Community Correction Center and received a one-year suspended sentence after she pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of methamphetamine, failure to appear in Benton District Court and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia stemming from two arrests in 2011. That action occurred Jan. 3 in a proceeding conducted by Saline County Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips.
Late in the day on Feb. 25, 2011, Bryant Police Officer Nick Johnston stopped a vehicle with fictitious tags and arrested two adults in the car. Johnston had allowed the driver to call Genieve Mitchell to pick up a child who was riding in the back seat. When Mitchell arrived at the scene, the officer said he observed the driver handing items to Mitchell and stuffing them in her jacket.
When Johnston searched Genieve Mitchell, he said methamphetamine was found in her pocket and a methamphetamine pipe was found in her purse. Johnston reported that when he repeatedly asked for her name, Genieve Mitchell did not respond, but later said "she wouldn't because the news media would be here." She also reportedly denied officers' request to search her vehicle and asked them to call the Alexander mayor.
"Mitchell later explained that her husband is the mayor of Alexander," Johnston said in the report.
A Bryant detective said the infant was released to the custody of a woman who later arrived and that Mrs. Mitchell was charged with obstructing governmental operations, felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
A detective also told the Courier that Mrs. Mitchell has an arrest record for drug charges in Benton dating back to 2007 and that she was on probation during the Feb. 25, 2011, arrest.
When Mrs. Mitchell failed to appear in court on June 13, 2011, for the Feb. 25, 2011 arrest, a warrant was issued and the next day authorities took her into custody at her home in Alexander. Officers reportedly found her sleeping in a bed where methamphetamine was located in a nightstand within arm’s reach. Later, a meth pipe was found inside her purse. Outside the courtroom, Mayor Mitchell told the Courier, "You marry for better or worse, and I hope we can put this behind us."
The mayor continuously has denied using illegal drugs, in particular methamphetamine, even though his wife admitted to usage and also had it in their home.
"I've never used drugs in my life," the mayor said. ""That's one thing that I don't tolerate is drugs. If the City Council wants me to take a drug test, I'll do it every day if they want to pay for it at $50 a pop."
In response to the first arrest of the mayor's wife, the Alexander City Council called a special meeting on March 5, 2011, and passed an ordinance for all city employees to undergo criminal background checks and drug screenings. Several aldermen then volunteered to be drug-tested, but Mitchell said the mayor's position and the council members are elected officials, not city employees. The mayor contended that, in accordance with state law, there cannot be an ordinance forcing them to undergo drug tests or background checks.
After the arrest of his wife in their home, the mayor told the Courier, when asked if he is using or has used methamphetamine, he said, "No, absolutely not." When asked by a Courier reporter in July of 2011 about taking a drug test, the mayor said he did take a drug test, but did not remember the exact date.
Alexander Police Chief Horace Walters, who has publicly reported a tumultuous relationship with the mayor, told the Courier in July of 2011 that Paul Mitchell had submitted a drug test from Concentra Medical Center in Little Rock and that the mayor had tested clean, but emphasized that the drug test was submitted months after the council's passage of the ordinance.
"(Mitchell) also gave a urine test and not a hair follicle test," Walters said. "Two of the biggest signs of meth use are deterioration of teeth at the gum level and extreme loss of weight. The mayor has both and he took a drastic decline in health since that council meeting in February (2011)."
The mayor and the police chief have been at odds since Mitchell took office. The mayor suspended the chief on July 8, 2011.
The mayor said he was "shocked" when he saw Walters commenting to a Little Rock television station concerning funds missing from the city.
"I went to the office around 10:30 a.m. and the mayor came to me and said, 'Chief, you are relieved of your duties' and that he wanted my keys," Walters said. "(Mitchell) then went to his office. I later found him in the bathroom and asked him to write me up a reason (for the suspension)."
Walters said the mayor later handed a signed statement to him, which was also confirmed by Mitchell, as reading: "Chief Horace Walters, you are hereby relieved of your duties until further notice for comments made to the news media on 7-8-2011."
Walters told KATV Channel 7 news the previous evening that his job "is in jeopardy" because of an investigation into city finances. He told the Courier that after being told by a city employee that "there is no money" in the police funds, he began an investigation. Walters said he noticed discrepancies between the department's allocations and deposits. That is when Walters began looking into the city coffers and noticed similar discrepancies.
Walters told the Courier he was investigating around $10,000 missing from city finances. He also noted that when he began his investigation, the information was leaked directly to the mayor.
In response, the mayor told the Courier that he was not aware of an investigation until he saw the television broadcast.
"(Walters) also said that I asked the administrative assistant (Stacy Cyz) to stop the investigation," the mayor said. "I haven't spoken with her myself yet, but I will and she will either lie or tell the truth. I also asked the city bookkeeper (Jeri Rainey) if there was an investigation, and she was also not aware of it."
Walters told the Courier that some police officers informed him recently that the assistant police chief, through the mayor, wanted "to get rid" of Walters so "we can have things our way again." Mitchell said, "I never heard anything like that from anyone."
"There are police officers and citizens out here that are scared to death of this regime," Walters said. "Many people are even afraid of having their homes burned down if they share information with me."
Walters also said that at one point he had a checks-and-balances system for cash deposits, but said after a week the mayor abolished that system. Mitchell told the Courier that he did away with that system after speaking with the bookkeeper about the situation. He said (former bookkeeper) Rainey said "it didn't need to be done in that manner, and I do believe the cash deposits go directly to the bookkeeper now."
"(Mitchell) said that I needed to go back to the way it was before, which is basically just putting the cash into a drawer," said Cyz in a previous conversation with the Courier. Cyz no longer is a city employee.
Walters also said that Mitchell had refused to share financial records.
A few days later the Alexander City Council reinstated Walters as police chief. He is a police veteran with more than 30 years' experience and a former captain with the Little Rock Police Department. Before the council vote, Alderman Daisy Hill said that when she heard of Walter's suspension, she called Mitchell and "he made it clear to me that he is the mayor."
"This city could be cleaned up and be a good place to live ... but until the mayor does his job and lets the council do our job, it will never be a good city," she said. "It's time to turn it around. (The council) is suppose to control the money and until we get that back, we cannot get the city to run right."
Hill added, "The citizens also have to stand up and help us run this city — it is their money and we have got to have strong leadership. There are good people out here and they deserve better than what they are getting."
Alderman Harvey Howard added about Walter's suspension, "I am very disappointed in the mayor's decision. I think this was done for retaliation for us not backing the mayor for doing things that are illegal. The chief is the best thing that ever happened to Alexander and apparently the mayor doesn't want him doing any investigations."
Howard also admitted then that he and several residents had "personally asked (Mitchell) to step down as the mayor." Alderman Dorothy Smith asked the mayor during a council meeting concerning missing funds, "Aren't you supposed to be aware of what is going on in the city?"
Alderman Andy Mullins then said that the mayor "should not have made financial transfers without council approval." He also told the mayor that the council is supposed to be in control of the city finances and the mayor is supposed to manage it.
In November of 2011, Walters told the Courier that the mayor had meddled with the police department to the point that he decided to resign from his position. He said after not being allowed to hire an additional officer, it was the "last straw." Walters said the officers already had been working "six to seven days" a week, accumulating numerous overtime hours.
"I asked for another officer to adequately cover the city 24 hours and to have an officer here when two of my officers go to the police academy," Walters told the Courier. "I am not going to kill myself for a job, especially when some people here don't work but two hours a day. I didn't work this hard at Little Rock (Police Department)."
Walters also said that the mayor began controlling the usage of the patrol cars for officers and when and where to park them. A few days after Walters' resignation, the council convinced Walters to return and said Mitchell was to be less involved with the police department affairs.
Mitchell also has been criticized by council members, Walters and city employees for not being available at Alexander City Hall. At a council meeting on Tuesday, the mayor was asked why he is not available to the public and he responded that he is available via telephone.
When Alderman Sam Gregory said "we are not here to answer the public," Smith replied, "Neither is the mayor."
"This isn't just a title; it's a job and it's more serious than some people realize," she said.
In regard to an employee recently receiving additional duties, Alderman Farren Wadley told the mayor, "I don't think we need an office manager; that's your responsibility."
When questioned by Smith about how long he works for the city during the day, the mayor said, "I've worked all day on the phone."
Smith then replied, "We elected a mayor, not a phone."
On Feb. 21 during a council meeting, Alderman Andy Mullins handed the mayor a petition seeking signatures to recall the mayor from office. Mitchell looked at the petition briefly before wadding it into a ball and leaving it on his desk. Mullins then said there were Alexander residents who are ready to sign the petition.
"It's what the city is wanting. I'm here for what the city wants as an elected official. We won't have any problems getting the signatures," Mullins added.
He also said that once the petition drive was started, he received telephone calls and threats from those who support Mitchell. "I'm afraid he will have his cronies come around and shoot up my house," said Mullins.
On Tuesday, enough signatures were gathered and verified to place the recall issue on the ballot. This action is occurring at approximately a year and half into his four-year tenure. Mitchell told the Courier that he will go out and campaign.
"I will just campaign like I did before and I believe a recall election is a good thing," Mitchell said. "To be honest, I really don't know why (the recall petition was started), but I'll go out and talk to people like I had already planned for supporting other people campaigning for office positions."
This is the second mayor in Saline County to be facing a recall election. On July 26, the Courier announced that Bauxite Mayor Johnny McMahan will be facing a recall question after proponents gathered nearly 100 signatures in a petition drive.
Mitchell previously served as a city alderman and was a board member for the Woodland Hills Fire Department, which is now the Alexander Fire Department. Mitchell is a graduate of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and is a former firefighter. He is a certified emergency medical technician and previously worked for an ambulance service.
Mitchell has four sons and four grandchildren.