Lawyers say Gould ordinances violate Constitution

FOX 16 News | July 15, 2011
By Katherine Johnson

GOULD, AR - "I couldn't believe that it was real when I first read it," said UALR School of Law Dean John DiPippa.

Disbelief is a common reaction to Gould's latest city ordinances.

"The truth is the city of Gould doesn't have the authority to tell anyone that they have no right to petition them, no right to speak and no right to exist in their city," said DiPippa.

But that's just what the ordinances do - disbanding a citizens group, forbidding the Mayor from meeting with people and stopping any groups from forming if members discuss the city without council approval.

"The fact is, if it's aimed at this group, it also extends to you talking to your mother or a church group or any other group that wants to form. A garden club! It's so broad that it can't possible comply with the First Amendment," said DiPippa.

"Pretty clearly, they go way beyond what is necessary or what is lawful," said Council Mark Hayes with the Arkansas Municipal League.

That's even what Gould's city attorney told the council.  In return, members tried to fire him.

"That's why you have a higher court," said council member Sonja Farley. "To keep order when people can't keep order. That's why you have a council!"

"With this city council, it's their way or the highway," said Gould Mayor Earnest Nash. "They act more like Napolean Bonaparte. Total domination."

The goal of the ordinances is to releive friction between city leaders and groups.  But the Mayor argues this is a false problem to write in an ordinance.

"This group doesn't cause friction between me and the council. The council causes friction between me and the council," he said.

"Unfortunately, it's probably going to lead to a lawsuit, embarrassment and an expense for the city of Gould because this has no chance of being upheld in a court," said DiPippa, adding, according to the ordinance, the conversations Fox16 had with the mayor, council members and the Gould City Advisory Commission on Wednesday were against the law.

"Technically, when they met with you, they violated their own ordinance," said DiPippa.

The mayor says he believes the council is purposefully trying to lose the city's charter, but he doesn't know why.  In June, he struggled against council members voting against accepting an $800,000 grant to repair the city's sewage system.  Nash says that was the beginning of his rocky relationship with certain council members.