LITTLE ROCK — When opening his mail recently at his Cherry Hill Drive home, North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays said he was surprised to find a letter “from me to me.”
The letter, sent by a Pennsylvania company, was about an offer endorsed by the City Council in March for homeowners to sign up for a waterline-service warranty. At the bottom was Hays’ signature, which he said he didn’t authorize.
“When it appears that I endorse it — when I didn’t, and I don’t — that angers me,” Hays said Tuesday. “No one is authorized to send out something under my signature except me.”
The letters have the “City of North Little Rock” and the city logo across the top. Also, the listed return address is 300 Main St., the site of North Little Rock’s City Hall, all giving the incorrect impression that the city had mailed the notices or that this is a city program, Hays said.
Hays first mentioned his displeasure over the letters at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
The City Council approved a resolution March 26 for a one-year agreement with Service Line Warranties of America of Canonsburg, Pa., to use the city’s “name and logo on letterhead and marketing material” for its program. The agreement also stated that these will be used on marketing materials to be sent to residents “from time to time.”
The warranty program offers homeowners who sign up to have repair coverage for outside, buried sewer or waterlines between their home and the public-utility connection. Letters for the sewer program went out in May, and the waterline offers went out this month and last month.
With the city’s endorsement, residents are offered a discounted cost of $8.25 monthly, or $92 for a year for an annual rate, for the sewer warranty, and $6 monthly and $65 annually, for the water warranty.
There is no cost to the city, and the city doesn’t receive any payment or revenue from the program by Service Line Warranties of America.
“The City Council made a commitment to reasonably cooperate with SLWA in marketing services,” City Attorney Jason Carter said in an email Tuesday about the city’s agreement. “This is not to say that SLWA is authorized to sign Mayor Hays’ name to any letter of their choosing.”
Carter added that “the City Council has no authority to compel Mayor Hays to personally endorse a marketing proposal.”
Hays said that because he had signed a draft letter in the spring for the sewer program, he admits to “some culpability” over the confusion. It was the revised letters for the water warranty program that Hays said he didn’t approve.
Oscar Arras, a representative for Service Line Warranties of America, whom Hays said he talked with Tuesday morning, said later Tuesday that a “miscommunication on our part internally” caused the letters to go out without Hays’ approval.
There were two mail-outs, Arras said, one in mid-September and one in mid-October for the fall water warranty offer.
Hays had written and emailed the company Oct. 5 to ask it to stop using his signature before the October mailing. Hays’ letter stated that prior approval would be required and that included using City Hall as a return address on envelopes “and any other attribution that may reflect any official and/or unofficial endorsement by the city of North Little Rock.”
Partly because Hays’ email arrived on a Friday and the following Monday was Columbus Day, Arras explained, the next mail-out couldn’t be stopped.
“I explained that to the mayor today [Tuesday] and apologized profusely to him,” Arras said. He added that because each campaign has only two mailings, “there will not be another mailing.”
City Hall offices have received calls from residents confused about the warranty program offer.
Alderman Maurice Taylor, who sponsored the resolution in March based on the warranty program’s backing from the National League of Cities, said Tuesday that there was “miscommunication” about the latest letters having the mayor’s signature.
The original program was to be a spring campaign for sewer warranties and a fall campaign for waterline warranties, Taylor said. The company had communicated letter revisions with Taylor, Hays said, but not with him.
“I guess in some kind of way there was just a miscommunication,” Taylor said about the mayor’s signature being used for the fall mailings. “They didn’t notify him as to when they would send out the second letter.”
With just a little more than two months left in office — Hays isn’t seeking re-election — the mayor said he’s unsure whether he’ll seek to end the city’s association with the program.
He is sure about one thing, Hays added.
“I didn’t intend to take out the coverage,” for his home. “I thought it to be a bit pricey.”