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City Council hears proposal for electric scooter rental firm to operate in Magnolia

by J.D. Bailey on 06/28/22

The Magnolia City Council this week heard and discussed a proposal from California-based firm Bird Rides, Inc., to partner with the standup electric scooter company to operate a rental service in Magnolia. The proposal -- technically called a memorandum of understating (MOU) between the city and the scooter company -- if passed, would allow the devices to be rented and ridden throughout the city and be subject to the same rules, regulations, and travel access as local cyclists.

According to the company’s website, Bird Rides partners with cities across the nation to help implement standup electric scooters as a form of “micromobility.” The business offers rentals via its mobile app platform and collects scooters wherever they are left around a city. According to the app, the company charges a $1 rental fee, plus 39 cents per mile.

Although the Magnolia City Council took no action on the piece of business Monday, the MOU was read aloud and a short discussion on the matter took place.

Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann informed the Council that Bird Rides approached the city via its economic development office. The local leader stated that he did not know much else about the project other than what was in the MOU, but noted that a similar scooter program currently operates in El Dorado. The mayor also thought the Southern Arkansas University campus area would be an ideal place to house a scooter hub.

“We could base them at the university and encourage them to bring them downtown and continue to try to tie SAU into Magnolia,” said Vann.

Alderman Steve Nipper noted that SAU has housed bicycles for students for years, but not electronic scooters.

Other council members added to the discussion and stated that similar scooter programs are popular in larger urban areas in the region, including Little Rock and Memphis.

Most of the topics discussed Monday, however, revolved around possible liability language in the deal, how the scooters would be collected and charged, and how any rules on the scooter travel could be enforced with a limited police force with often more important matters at hand.

“I want to help the citizens that use this with gas being as high as it is, but I also don’t have the police manpower to be policing a bunch of scooters when I’ve got other issues,” said Vann.

The MOU stated that only those 18 and older could ride or rent the scooters, but Alderman Steve Crowell noted that he had seen younger teens riding and renting the scooters via the app.

Other language in the proposed Bird Rides MOU included the following:

  • The agreement with the city would last until Dec. 31, 2022, and have an annual 12-month renewal

  • The 12-month renewal can be voided if the city informs Bird Rides of the matter at least 90 days before renewal

  • Either party can terminate the agreement with 30 days' notice if the operation of the scooters is seen as unsafe or the service is not practical

  • No one else can deploy a stand-up electric scooter sharing system in Magnolia

  • The city will regulate the scooters just as it would bicycles, including granting them the ability to ride in bike lanes and on the roadways

  • Anyone under 18 riding the scooters can be fined by the city for violations

  • Bird Rides will provide easily seen contact information for scooter rentals, relocation, or issues with the devices

  • The city can choose to cease hours of operation between midnight and 4 a.m., but otherwise, the scooters will be available 24 hours per day.

  • Rider education will be provided to renters by Bird Rides

  • Bird Rides will provide data sharing to the city to monitor how much the scooter program is being used

  • Bird Rides is absolved of any damages if the city is deemed to be at fault in an incident

  • The city cannot enter into any injury judgment or settlement without prior consent from Bird Rides and Bird Rides

  • Bird Rides shall provide the city with proof of liability insurance coverage for scooter use

  • Bird Rides negligence compensation obligation does not extend to city agents, employees, or affiliates

  • Bird Rides is absolved from any compensation for loss or damage if the matter was caused by the city’s negligence or maintenance of public infrastructure

  • Bird Rides can use independent logistics providers to facilitate local operations

  • All notices to the city shall be made in writing

  • Bird Rides remains an independent contractor with the city’s partnership

After the MOU was read, City Attorney Jennifer McKendree noted that the city’s bicycle codes may need to be reviewed to apply to the scooters. She also suggested implementing the midnight to 4 a.m. shutdown of scooters.

Although no action was taken on the scooter issue this week, the matter will likely appear on the Magnolia City Council’s agenda for a potential vote in July.

Magnolia mayor hopes East Side Park splash pad can be open by next spring, doesn’t want design ‘to be like everyone else’

by J.D. Bailey on 06/28/22

A major addition at Magnolia’s East Side Park became one step closer to reality this week as Mayor Parnell Vann re-assured the public that a new splash pad and skate park will be built as promised, and that he has been in significant talks with a development group over the last month.

“It will happen,” he said as he addressed the Magnolia City Council on Monday. “We should have something before July’s (city council) meeting – hopefully to bring to you."

The mention of the park project was the second from the mayor in as many months. In May, the city leader told the public that he had been in talks with a designer for the new East Side Park improvements, but that he was extremely underwhelmed. Vann noted last month that he wanted to be “wow’d,” but hadn’t yet seen anything to satisfy his vision of a significant revitalization of the multi-acre public park area in the city’s eastern region.

On Monday, however, the mayor’s tone had somewhat changed. He seemed more optimistic that his “wow” park project could actually materialize. He noted that a skate park group had recently reached out to the city.

“I’m not going to bring an average splash pad for you to approve,” Vann said while speaking to the city’s governing board. “We’ve got a company working on that right now, and they know not to bring me and the team something that’s just average.”

The splash pad and skate park project using local funding was approved in March by the Magnolia City Council. The move was made after the city was twice denied in recent years a state parks grant that would have seen the cost of the build split 50-50 between the Magnolia and Arkansas governments. After receiving the second grant denial in February, the mayor came forth with a $600,000 joint proposal between the City of Magnolia and the Magnolia A&P Commission to fund the East Side endeavor and negotiations with contractors began soonafter.

On Monday, the mayor assured the public that the funding for the project was still secured, and that he hopes the new park additions can be open and operational by the mid 2023.

“As I’ve told folks, we want to be playing in the water and skating by next spring-summer -- and that’s still our goal,” Vann said this week. “The money is still there to do all this with, and we are still on go.”

A dog park has also been discussed to be part of the East Side additions, but it is not clear yet if that piece of the project will be part of any presentations brought to the Council in the coming months. The mayor did mention Monday, however, that the topic was still on his mind. 

“I have gotten some local interest in working with the dog park,” Vann added.

As of last month, plans for the splash pad still included locating the structure at the apex of northern hill inside East Side park. Currently, a baseball and softball field, as well as sand volleyball court, occupies that area. Those structures, though, will need to be removed to make way for the new park recreation areas. 

Although no official diagrams or layouts have been presented to the public so far, one thing is for certain: the mayor wants something to make the park pop. 

“We want people to talk about Magnolia’s splash pad,” he said. “We don’t want to be like everyone else.”

Boyd steps down as Magnolia city attorney after 13 years, former deputy attorney McKendree appointed as new head legal rep for Magnolia government

by J.D. Bailey on 06/28/22

After 13 years as the lead legal representative for the City of Magnolia, Michael W. Boyd has stepped down from his post. The longtime local attorney and partner at Bell, Boyd & McKendree, PLLC, in Magnolia officially resigned from the position on June 24, but he was recognized for his service on Monday by the Magnolia City Council. At the same gathering, the local governing board appointed a new city attorney, Jennifer Jameson McKendree, to fulfill the rest of Boyd’s term.

The move has been in the works since Boyd was named executive vice president and general counsel at Farmers Bank & Trust in late May. He will begin his new position officially on July 1.

Boyd is a native of Cleveland County and attended law school at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He has also sat on the board of directors at Farmers Bank & Trust since 2015 and will continue to help oversee bank affairs going forward. 

Monday’s farewell was congratulatory in nature, with Magnolia Alderman Jamie Waller thanking Boyd for his years of service to the city.

“We appreciate how much Mike has done,” the city official said. “You’ve always made sure we stayed on track, and I know I’ve turned to you many times with questions.”

After the gathering this week, Boyd was greeted and thanked by even more local officials, including numerous Magnolia aldermen and Magnolia Mayor Parnell Vann.

Besides legal duties for the municipal government, the city attorney serves during Magnolia City Council meetings to guide the board on procedural legalities and answer any legal questions that may arise about matters of city business.

The Magnolia City Attorney is an elected position and will be on the local ballot this November.

In his place, the Magnolia City Council unanimously appointed McKendree to take over the duties as city attorney. The position will be nothing new to the veteran legal official. The Magnolia native and local private practice attorney has served for years as deputy city attorney and was recently added as a member-partner at Bell, Boyd & McKendree in Magnolia. According to the motion passed on Monday, she will serve out the remainder of Boyd’s term, which expires at the end of the year.

“We look forward to working with Jennifer,” Waller added. “You’ve always been more than capable, so we’re excited about what’s to come.”

McKendree is a graduate of Magnolia High School and earned her undergraduate degree at Southern Arkansas University. She also attended law school at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and became a firm partner earlier this year. Besides her work with the city, McKendree’s legal background includes cases involving adoption, guardianship, divorce, estate planning, estate administration, and real estate. She also served as assistant general counsel for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission from 2012 to 2018. 

In other Magnolia City Council News: 

- Annette Pate and Haley Bell were unanimously appointed to the Magnolia A&P Commission. Pate is currently the chairman of the local board and Bell is new to the local commission. She takes the place of outgoing commissioner Megan McCurdy. The A&P board terms last five years.

The next 
Columbia County Hayride is 
June 18, 2022!