The first year in office is a busy time for any elected official. For Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs, 'busy' might be an understatement.
Dabbs will present her second address to the people of Bryant concerning her vision for the city will be held Thursday Feb. 23 at 6 p.m. The location for the speech and the city council meeting that follows immediately after at 7 p.m. will be Love Auditorium on the campus of Bryant High School.
Dabbs tells the Saline Courier that the city has made progress in many areas during the previous year. "Since I took office, we have restored the school resource officer program. The 'Keeping Bryant Beautiful' campaign has been launched. We now have a smaller, more efficient city government. We have also improved the work order system for the public works department and have implemented a storm water management program. I am very proud of the fact that Bryant was capable of funding our new police fleet and storm water management program within existing budget and without increasing taxes."
Dabbs has also dealt with ethics charges, personnel issues and a recall effort during the same period.
On the first day of her administration, Dabbs informed Shayne King, then the human resources director for Bryant, that she would not be retained in that position going forward. Following the termination, the Bryant City Council approved a $9,000 severance package for King. The measure was passed by the council with a 5-2 vote. Alderman Chris Tipton was absent during the meeting in which Alderman Danny Steele had presented the package. Steele stated theat Kings deserved the severance "for her loyal and excellent service to the city of Bryant" during her 12-year tenure.
Alderman Mike Chandler and Steve Gladden voted against the severance.
Dabbs said she vetoed the measure because "In my judgement, the payment of a severance package in this instance is contrary to the public interest and would set a bad precedent."
The council failed to override Dabbs' veto and the severance package was not given to King.
In Jan. 2012, twelve months after being released by Dabbs, King filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against Dabbs and the City of Bryant. In her lawsuit, King alleges that the reason for her termination was never explained to her. Dabbs maintains she gave King a notice of non-selection.
According to the 'Guidebook for Municipal Officials', a publication of the Arkansas Municipal League, "Mayors in cities or towns with the mayor/council form of government have the power to appoint and remove all department heads, including police and fire chiefs, unless the city or town council votes to override the mayor's action by a two-thirds majority of council members."
In Feb. 2011, Dabbs fired Richard Penn, director of community development and public works. She also fired Jarion Stevens, information systems administrator. Following his firing, Penn told the Saline Courier "It was just another normal day in the office Friday when (Dabbs) called me into her office, When I got in there, (former) Human Resources Director Robin Ussery was also in the office. Then the mayor handed me a letter that read 'I didn't meet her expectations' and that was it. (Dabbs) didn't say anything else."
He added, "I don't know why I was let go, but I had heard rumors during the election that she was going to do this, and they seems as if they are coming true."
During the mayoral campaign in 2010 and following the election, a Bryant city employee had used the city email system to send messages stating that Dabbs would be terminating employees upon taking office. The employee was disciplined by former Mayor Larry Mitchell, according to Dabbs and interim city attorney Doyle Webb.
Alderman Danny Steele filed an ethics charge alleging Dabbs authorized a pay raise for herself and City Clerk Heather Kizer. After consideration of the matter and testimony from Dabbs, Kizer, Steele and others, the commission ruled Dabbs "is hereby found to have committed a violation of Ark. Code Ann 21-8-304(a) by using her position as Mayor of Bryant to secure a salary for herself without obtaining prior approval from the City Council and that the respondent shall be issued a Public Letter of Caution."
Dabbs had rescinded the raise prior to the commission hearing.
In her lawsuit, King states the result of the hearing was that Dabbs had "used her office for personal gain."
In December 2011, Dabbs asked for and received the resignations of Gary Hollis, finance director, and Nga Mahfouz, city attorney. Doyle Webb was named interim city attorney. In Jan. 2012, the city council overturned the mayor's termination of Hollis and returned him to work. Later in Jan. a legislative audit of Bryant finances resulted in charges against an IT firm that was paid for services and products that were not received by city of Bryant. The amount in question was just short of $50,000. The Saline County Prosecuting Attorney's office issued a warrant for the arrest of the owner of the IT company. Two hours after the warrant was announced, Hollis submitted his resignation to Dabbs, effective Feb. 1, 2012.
The mayor's address as well as the city council meeting is open to the public.