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Bauxite meeting concerning vacant court spots turns tense

January 25, 2012

Tension soared during Monday's Bauxite City Council meeting concerning a vacant court clerk/recorder/treasurer position and resulted in a former alderman calling the mayor "a pathetic little man."
The comment was made by Debbie Purifoy who, along with resident Brenda Haney, has openly campaigned for the position since November. The position was vacated by Renee Chastain on Oct. 18, 2011, just months after she was appointed to serve in that capacity. This followed the March 8, 2011, resignation of Gary Duncan,a former mayor.
Purifoy, who also told Alderman Elizabeth Sweat to "be careful ... someone may drop a house on you," said she was upset that Mayor Johnny McMahan mailed residents a postcard that included her police mug shot from a Sept. 11, 2010, arrest in Bauxite. She spent three days in the Saline County jail for resisting arrest, filing a false police report, failure to obey police commands, obstructing government operations and disorderly conduct. A charge of felony assault of a police officer later was dropped, and Saline County District Judge Curtis Rickard found Purifoy guilty of resisting arrest and obstructing government operations on Feb. 8, 2011.
Purifoy then appealed that decision to Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips, who ruled that Purifoy was guilty of resisting arrest but acquitted Purifoy on the charge of obstructing a government operation.
On the reverse side of the postcard sent to residents by McMahan, it reads "Do you want the person on the front side of this card to be the 'face' of Bauxite? Not me." The postcard also includes the names and telephone numbers of three city alderman with an encouragement from the mayor for residents to call and say "No to Purifoy."
McMahan told The Saline Courier, and reiterated during the meeting, that he designed, printed and mailed the postcard on his own time, using his own money. Purifoy said during the meeting that McMahan used the tactic as a form of harassment and to "bully people."
After calling the mayor a "snotty-nosed brat," Purifoy, along with Alderman Adam Kampbell, also claimed that McMahan bullied Alderman Paula Matthews following an executive session, but before entering the courtroom where the council meeting was held on Monday. Kampbell also claimed that McMahan threatened Matthew's husband in a telephone call.
"I told (Matthews) that she could end this if she wants to," McMahan responded. "I told her she needs to vote for Mrs. Haney. I've never threatened. I do not make threats."
The mayor then told the council and crowd that he supports Haney for the vacant position. Purifoy and a few other residents then argued that if appointed, Haney would not be available to fulfill the duties during regular business hours at City Hall. McMahan and City Attorney Lorraine Hatcher, however, said they checked the rules with the Arkansas Municipal League. The mayor also explained that since the position has been vacant, he has spent nights and weekends paying the bills and working on payroll for city employees, which would be the duties of whoever is appointed to fulfill the positions.
"This is an elected position and there are no set hours," McMahan said. "(Haney) could work 8 to 10 hours a week just as I have done. It's not a full-time job."
When Purifoy asked who would be taking care of Freedom of Information Act requests at Bauxite City Hall, McMahan explained that the person appointed to the position would be the custodian of the city records. Hatcher added that the city has 24 hours to approve an FOIA request and that Haney, if appointed, could fulfill that request. Haney also spoke and said she would also keep a log of who makes FOIA requests, to which McMahan added that "Mrs. Purifoy is the only person making FOIA requests right now."
A person in the audience asked the mayor why he doesn't support Aldermen Guy Hendrix, Matthews and Kampbell's vote on Nov. 21 to appoint Purifoy to the position — to which Aldermen Allison Cain and Elizabeth Sweat both said "absolutely not," which then was followed by the mayor vetoing the 3-2 vote.
"Mrs. Purifoy is not going to be in this position as long as I am mayor," McMahan said. "I don't feel that she is fit and proper to serve in it and I want someone that will be more professional."
After a failed motion to appoint Haney to the position of court clerk/recorder/treasurer, McMahan challenged Kampbell, Matthews and Hendrix to find an "equitable" candidate for the vacant post. He also encouraged people in the audience to submit resumes for the positions.
The council then appointed Matthews to serve as the temporary court clerk and custodian of records.

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