Luke Broyles no longer part of Historic Preservation Commission
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – With two members abstaining due to conflicts of interest, the Hot Springs City Council voted 6 to 0 in favor of removing Luke Broyles from the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, during their regular meeting last Tuesday, April 6.
Broyles had only been on the commission for about one year but recently came under fire for comments he posted on a Facebook site he operates called “Fall River County SD Chatroom.”
His social media posts were in relation to a line of questioning Councilwoman Caitlin Turner made towards fellow councilwoman Debra Johnston during the March 16 meeting regarding the future of the condemned Wesch-Oak building. At that meeting, the city ultimately voted in favor of accepting the low bid to demolish the building, but also heard a plea from former Hot Springs resident Ron Eastep for him to purchase the building.
After coming out of an executive session at the March 16 meeting, Johnston, who was not present but took part via conference call, was asked by Turner whether she had money invested in the Wesch-Oak project, whether she was one of the people Eastep had lined up to help with the project and whether Eastep was currently staying at her home while he was in town – all of which were asked to potentially expose a possible conflict of interest in regards to the Wesch-Oak building vote.
Johnston responded in the negative to all of Turner’s questions, but sounded surprised by the line of questioning.
Prior to the conclusion of the March 16 council meeting, Broyles uploaded a post to his Facebook chatroom page which included his bitter disappointment in the city council voting to demolish the building, which included the following excerpt:
“I think being asked if you need to recuse yourself from a vote because you let a high school class mate, who is trying to save the Wesch-Oak, and lives in Keystone stay at your house periodically to be both demeaning and attempting to slut shame a Councilwoman into silence to be appalling.”
The full post is still available on Broyle’s chatroom site and includes more than 50 additional comments, which includes interactions between Broyles and Councilwoman Turner, as well as fellow commission member Kara Hagen.
During discussion of the April 6 agenda item to remove Broyles from the commission, Councilwoman Johnston was first to speak when she said, “I’d like to strongly advise against terminating Luke.”
“He has shown himself to be a real active participant in its function and is one of the principals in the editing of Chapter ordinances,” Johnston said. “His research skills are phenomenal and is something he loves to do and he loves the history of Hot Springs, and those two coincide really well. It’s wonderful having younger people join in these endeavors and is something that should not be let go by. He’s a major asset to the process.”
“Reasons for terminating his membership, I believe, are punitive, vindictive and censorship and will not serve the city’s best interest,” added Johnston.
Also speaking in support of Broyles remaining on the Historic Preservation Commission was fellow commission member Kara Hagen.
“Luke is always available to push for research,” Hagen said. “He’s put a lot of time and effort in. I’d hate to see him lose the position. I’d like you to consider giving him a written warning, or something, rather than flat out terminating him. There’s been other occasions where city employees also made comments on social media that weren’t appropriate. So, please see both sides and please give him a chance. He’s really valuable.”
Hot Springs resident Mike Sommer followed up Hagen’s comments and stated that, “Luke puts forth a lot of effort in his research and he knows many things that are beneficial for the historic preservation. I’d certainly like you to consider seeing him stay in that role.”
Johnston again spoke and said, “Maybe we all need to learn how to be more discerning with our words, which is what got us into this situation in the first place. And, Luke just had my back.”
“I think we need to consider council’s words that were said as well, so Luke is not the only one with dirty hands here,” Johnston stated.
After initially declining the opportunity to speak on his own behalf, Broyles did come to the microphone and said, that after being asked multiple times to be a part of the Historic Preservation Commission, he ultimately accepted about a year ago, with the caveat that “the city was not going to control the chatroom.”
“So to remove me now, because of something in the chatroom, I don’t really think it’s fair.” Broyles said.
“I was not a part of those conversations; those agreements,” replied Mayor Nelson. “Your name was put forward to me to approve and I accepted at that time the recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission. As far as the chatroom was concerned, I wasn’t aware of those concerns at the time.”
In explaining his desire to see Broyles removed from the Historic Preservation Commission, Mayor Nelson then told the council that it was Broyles’ specific language that he chose to use on social media, which he said was inappropriate and motivated him to seek his dismissal.
Mayor Nelson then read the letter which he had sent to council members prior to the meeting.
“I asked you to appoint Luke to the commission to represent the city in all things historic and to be one of the voices on the commission and provide the council with sound guidance,” Nelson read. “As a result of Luke’s post on social media, and the language he chose to use, I’ve lost confidence in Luke’s ability to provide you with the unbiased guidance you need to depend on.”
Mayor Nelson then stated that after rereading his initial letter to the council, he now feels the need to amend the latter portion, in regards to ‘unbiased guidance’ and change it to ‘objective guidance.’
“Luke is obviously ‘biased’ in his passion for the buildings and historic properties, and that’s right, that’s appropriate. But there’s a correct way to do that,” Nelson said. “We all have freedom of speech, but I also think we all have an obligation to responsible freedom of speech. So I stand by my request to remove Luke from the Historic Preservation Commission. You appointed him and I just feel he’s let you down, in the trust you’ve placed in him to give you objective guidance.”
Prior to doing a roll call vote – which saw council members Turner and Johnston both abstaining due to conflicts of interest – Councilman Larry Pratt provided some additional commentary.
“We as a council have certain standards that we have to uphold, and I feel, if we have anybody that we are putting in any of these committees down below us, I also feel that those individuals should follow those codes of conduct also,” Pratt said. “Yes, you have a right to your opinion, you have a right to your freedom of speech, but bear in mind, you are a representative of this city, and this town, and I believe you should act accordingly.”