Final report

Police Chief John Willoughby gives his final monthly report Oct. 8 to the Clinton City Council prior to his Oct. 16 retirement. “I appreciate all you guys here,” Willoughby said, marking the end of a 20-year law enforcement career.

CLINTON — Clinton City Council met in its regular monthly session Thursday, Oct. 8. Along with routine business, council members discussed plans for the city’s annual Fall-Halloween event, the retirement of its police chief and tax ramifications if the county is voted wet in the November election.

Scare on the Square

City of Clinton Fire Chief D.L. Webb asked the council how it wished to proceed for the city’s annual Scare on the Square downtown festival.

The city had, in the past, closed off the square for the evening and had a well-attended public event where costumed children could trick-or-treat at various tables and booths, as well as providing a haunted house. The event has been very popular, with participants in the past from throughout the central Arkansas region.

Due to the pandemic, however, new considerations would have to be given, Webb told the council. Webb then gave a choice of two options, one being a drive-by event where children stayed in cars as an ad hoc parade which would go through town, or the regular closing the square Scare on the Square, while being mindful of public health guidelines.

In following public health guidelines, Webb said, there would be no haunted house this year, regardless of the council’s decision. This was in keeping with recommendations from the Arkansas Department of Health, he said.

After some back and forth, the council agreed that the conventional open-square Scare on the Square would take place, allowing trick-or-treating around the square. Webb said masks would be required and hand sanitizing stations would be present, with regular PA announcements to use both.

Scare on the Square will take place Saturday, Oct. 31, beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Clinton’s courthouse square.

Councilman Jeff Pistole stated that if the pandemic becomes more of an issue between the council meeting and the date of the event Webb could always cancel the event.

Webb, and several, discussed in ultimately approving the event that if someone was concerned about COVID-19 transmission they had the option to not attend the event. Scare on the Square had originally been set up in the interest of public safety, Webb said.

Car wreck

Webb concluded his report with fire department duties during the previous month. He cited some concern after a fatal car wreck in front of Ozark Health on Highway 65 had several people “broadcasting” from the scene for the benefit of Facebook Live.

Webb said he was “very disappointing” at the pictures and videos being posted to Facebook.

“I’m imploring everyone on Facebook Live when we’re working a wreck ... we really don’t need people out there who want to be the first ones to put it on Facebook,” Webb said. “Sometimes it’s not the right time.”

Webb said it was not until later that night where he had to speak to the parents of one of the drivers involved in the accident when they called the fire department asking after their son’s whereabouts.

“Don’t jeopardize other people’s feelings, their lives, their hearts,” Webb said. “Leave it off there [social media] for a day or two.”

Police chief retirement

City of Clinton Police Chief John Willoughby gave the department’s monthly report to the council, for what would be the final time due to his pending retirement Oct. 16.

Echoing Webb’s statement, Willoughby said he “came unglued” when people closed in on rescuers during the car accident, trying to get pictures of the event for social media posting.

He then, after the department’s activity report, spoke about his time in service, thanking the council for its support.

“This is my last one,” Willoughby said,”I appreciate y’all,” adding “If you guys ever need me, I’m here.”

City of Clinton Mayor Richard McCormac thanked Willoughby for his 20 years of law enforcement service, as well as his service to the city. Several council members also spoke, thanking Willoughby for his service.

Van Buren County Sheriff Lucas Emberton also spoke, citing how he and Willoughby first met when Emberton was “wet behind the ears” and how much he appreciated and admired Willoughby’s service.

By vote, and at the suggestion of Clinton Police Lieutenant Jay Murdock, the council supported Willoughby keeping his service weapon at his retirement. McCormac told the council he had contributions forthcoming which would pay for the weapon’s replacement with no impact on city funds.

“I’m not going to have any problems raising the funds to do that,” McCormac said.

Wet-Dry tax issues

A resolution was presented by Councilman Jeff Pistole for a study of the reduction of Clinton property taxes should the county vote in favor of going “wet” in the November election.

Currently on the ballot is a proposal for voters to approve the county becoming “wet” by allowing alcohol sales. If the proposal is approved, it would allow two liquor stores in Van Buren County.

Pistole, in outlining the resolution, said he was “not a fan of property tax” and the resolution support the additional revenue from alcohol sales to be reviewed in order to support a reduction, and ultimately elimination, of the tax.

The council had just previously approved on second of the three required reading of the city’s millage to continue at 2.9 for the next year.

Pistole said the resolution required, first, the wet vote to pass, then if a liquor store was located in Clinton, for the council to study any increase in tax revenue, then roll back the property tax accordingly. The initial roll back would be 50 percent for the first year, then 100 percent for year two, Pistole said.

The resolution passed.

Councilman Tim Barnes made the point that the vote was not to show a position of the council on the wet-dry vote, but a possible outcome based upon revenues.

“This is not about supporting our not supporting the wet-dry issue,” Barnes said.

In other council matters:

McCormac told the council he expected to present a request for funding to clean up Town Branch river to the council for the next meeting. Cleaning the river would help the city’s plan to lower the flood plain, he said.

McCormac also said the interview process for police chief would begin the week of Oct. 12.

Clinton Water & Sewer Manager Will Hinchey said deliveries of the remote-read meters had begun, with plans for that project to start shortly. The project would begin in Dennard, he said.

Hinchey also presented to the council a break-down of water and sewer billing, including its impact on the department budget. Anyone who had questions about their billing could check with the water department, Hinchey said.

Hinchey said he would “likely” be asking the council to consider a bonds issue soon, as bond rates were at a low price at 3 percent interest. The earlier rate hike had been approved in order to support bonds in turn to support department infrastructure in its five-year plan, Hinchey reminded the council. The department was in good financial shape, Hinchey told the council. Barnes complimented Hinchey for his financial management of the water department.

“It’s been a long time since someone from the water department came to the council and said they numbers were looking pretty good,” Barnes said.

The council passed, on its final reading, the city nuisance ordinance.

Tentative plans were discussed for Christmas at Clinton’s Archey Fork Park. Parks Department head Charles Wilson said lights would be going up “regardless.”

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