TRUMANN, Ark. – Trumann Mayor Barbara Lewallen has attracted the ire of most of the region on social media after she ordered a skate park demolished.
On March 1, the park was featured on a Region 8 News broadcast highlighting youths cleaning it up and fixing the disrepair and neglect. In the report, the group disagreed with the way the mayor had handled the park. They thought it could be fixed while she thought it should be torn down. This public criticism appears to be what drew the ire of Lewallen because the next morning, on her orders, crews were tearing down the publicly funded skate park. This action was taken without a vote by the city council.
The demolition crew appeared to be made up of city workers. The online backlash was swift but the mayor claimed items were simply being placed into storage. The Citizens for a Better Trumann page made it clear – this was false:
Further upsetting the public, Lewallen told reporters she “had no idea” the youth group was working in the park the day before. Even if she had missed the reporting by the largest news organization in Jonesboro (Region 8 News), phone records showed she had spoken to Heather Dawn Shrader – the woman organizing the clean-up – on the very same day.
“What started as a simple volunteer opportunity to clean up a park, shed an unfavorable light on the mayor and her public works director, as it is their responsibility to upkeep and maintain those parks,” Shrader told NEA Report. “I feel that the demolition of the skate park was completely retaliatory.”
Since then, a large opposition to the mayor has vocalized, calling for her resignation and circulating petitions to force a recall election. Lewallen has said she will not resign.
On Tuesday, March 10, a class action lawsuit was filed against Lewallen by the Law Office of Asa F. King, who is taking the case pro-bono. The suit personally targets Lewallen with hope to avoid further expenses for the taxpayers. It asks for $300,000 in damages to be paid back to the City of Trumann to build a new skate park.
“By suing her in her personal capacity, we hope that the Mayor will not be able to use the city attorney, or any Trumann taxpayer funds to defend herself,” Attorney King wrote. “If she decides she wants a new skatepark, she’s going to have to pay for it out of her own pocket. The Trumann taxpayers have been through too much.”
Tuesday night was a city council meeting night for the city. The council chambers were packed and had standing-room-only. Numerous members of the council sought to allow public speaking on the skate park issue but the mayor and several other council members worked to avoid that.
“The public showed up in force to address the council and mayor last night at the city council meeting and was not allowed to speak- even after a motion to allow us to speak was made,” Shrader said. “The mayor then called an “executive session” with the public works director and discussed the skate park issue privately after everyone was ushered out.”
The public works director approached the council and said “I would like to discuss a disciplinary action and possibly resignation,” Shrader said.
Lewallen has not responded to request for comment by NEA Report and has appeared adversarial in conversations with Memphis media outlets attempting to interview her about this.
Despite the growing animus, the goal of Shrader and those behind the movement continues to be to see a skate park reconstructed in Trumann. Shrader found encouragement this week with the Tony Hawk Foundation – a non-profit organization focused on creating free public use skate parks in low-income communities. It was named after its founder, Tony Hawk, one of the most well-known skate boarding celebrities in the world. Hawk has almost 6 million likes and his foundation has over 73,000 likes on Facebook.
“We’re working with the Tony Hawk foundation and inquiring about future grant opportunities,” Shrader said. “However, it will require the cooperation of the city in order to qualify for those grants.”