Small Town Democracy in Action

AM/FM Delta Democracy Labor Neighbor Politics

            Eudora, Arkansas       I was a guest at the monthly city council meeting in Eudora, Arkansas.  Representing the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM) and the licensee, the Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center (LNRTC), I was there to talk about our plans to launch KEUD, a 50,000-watt noncommercial where the FCC has granted us a construction permit.  My hopes were that the council would permit us to put our antenna on their water tower.  Meeting with the Mayor recently, she invited me to talk to the city council members at their monthly meeting, so there I was in route between Little Rock and New Orleans on a Monday evening.

My small piece was part of new business, so I sat in the room full of local townspeople and city department directors and staff, as it turned out.  The meeting was a marvelous experience, not often my privilege, at watching small town democracy in action.  Eudora is a town of 1700 or so in the farming delta of the Mississippi River in far south Arkansas near the Louisiana border.  Main Street is like so many.  A combination of the new, like a large supermarket, the old, like city hall, and the vacant, either on offer or abandoned, but the business of the city is a microcosm of any city government, whether small or huge.

Mayor Tomeka Butler is in her first term, but she ran the meeting with a grace and patience that might be a model for cities holding millions, even though in this case, likely everyone knew each other, maybe even too well.  Each alderman gave a report on the business in their ward and had the opportunity to raise individual issues that might have landed in their lap, whether a ditch that needed work or a leaky pipe.  Nothing was too small, because it mattered vitally to their people, and each issue received a response.  Their reports, like all others that were to follow, where only accepted after a formal motion was received with a second and each member of the council responded to a rollcall vote.  Everybody was on record.  Every vote was counted.

Each department head offered a report, giving the alderman another bite at the apple. If they had an issue, they raised it, and hung onto it until they got an answer, one way or another.  The audience, like me, just watched and listened to the council in action.  The head of the streets, water, and sewer department asked if he could take the scrap metal in the yard to a dealer, sell it, and deposit the money in their account.  Rarely has the concept of “trust, but verify” been more elaborately demonstrated.  Witnesses were arranged.  Documents promised.  Once assured that every penny would be tabulated, his initiative was approved 8-0, like all of the rest of the reports, but the peoples’ representatives had done their job, and accountability was absolute.

There were no rubber stamps.  The only divisions in the house involved approving the minutes from the last meeting and the financial report.  From what I could gather the nay votes were largely sending a message.  On money, they seem to largely say that they are always vigilant.  On the other, there were some that questioned whether broadcasting the meeting on Facebook Live was a good idea.  As observers we all could see there was “history” in these votes, but the Mayor’s evenhanded and calm demeanor in navigating both the straightaways and the curves of the meeting, left all of us feeling that the city was in good hands around the table, at the top, and in the departments.

Seventy-five minutes after the meeting started, we were driving home.  Alderman Marco Toney had surprised and delighted me by making a motion for us to use the water tower, even as I still was standing holding my handouts for the council.  The motion passed 8-0 after a few questions.

Democracy is worth the effort, and it works, if we could all just let it.