Dark drama in Cave Springs

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Mike Master­son Mike Master­son’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette. Email him at mmas­ter­son@arkansason­line.com.

I’ve ex­er­cised an im­pres­sive level of darn-near su­per­hu­man willpower to re­frain from com­ment­ing on all the Ton­ti­town-like turmoil un­fold­ing in lit­tle Cave Springs. Yet, alas, val­ued read­ers, to­day I’ve have failed af­ter fi­nally en­joy­ing all the dark­ened drama I could stand with­out of­fer­ing a thought.

I lost track last week of just who’s su­ing whom in the com­mu­nity that stands squarely be­tween the North­west Arkansas Re­gional Air­port and the I-49 ur­ban cor­ri­dor I like to call Ozarkopo­lis. It won’t sur­prise me if the berg’s name is changed to Cavedin Springs.

First we watched the town’s recorder-trea­surer, Kim­berly Hutch­e­son, file a fed­eral suit against Mayor Travis Lee, and six cur­rent and two for­mer city coun­cil mem­bers. She’s al­leg­ing a mul­ti­tude of of­fi­cial mis­fea­sance.

The al­le­ga­tions in­clude that nei­ther Lee nor coun­cil mem­bers would pro­vide her with a suit­able job de­scrip­tion for the po­si­tion merged from two in 2015, or al­low her to per­form her job.

One al­le­ga­tion is that Lee ba­si­cally elim­i­nated her po­si­tion by ve­to­ing her coun­cil-ap­proved job de­scrip­tion. She also lost ac­cess to the com­puter needed to ful­fill her job.

Like sands through the hour­glass so lately have gone the days of those folks’ lives.

Mean­while, soon af­ter­wards for­mer po­lice­man and plan­ning as­sis­tant Nathan Coy along with of­fice em­ployee Jacki Hawkins filed a suit of their own in cir­cuit court al­leg­ing that Hutch­e­son and five of the six al­der­men had re­tal­i­ated against them for supporting the mayor.

The mayor has asked the Ben­ton County prose­cu­tor to open a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Hutch­e­son’s ac­tions.

The full ex­tent of this soap opera seem to me to in­volve al­le­giances ei­ther to or against hiz honor. In ei­ther case, Mayor Lee finds him­self stand­ing at the eye of this storm.

At the risk of telling you way more than you want to know, here’s a rapid-fire sam­pling of what I call the Cave Springs Car­ni­val as it’s un­folded. Buckle up. Try your best to hold your nose and stay with it.

A news ac­count by re­porter Tracy Neal says the city coun­cil adopted a res­o­lu­tion to fire 10 city em­ploy­ees in early Jan­uary. Those dis­missed in­cluded Hawkins, who’d once worked for Hutch­e­son, and the med­i­cally dis­abled Coy. But the mayor up and ve­toed that res­o­lu­tion the next day. The law­suit claims Lee fired Coy on Jan. 30 in a com­pro­mise with the coun­cil, but Coy was pro­tected un­der the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act and the Fam­ily and Med­i­cal Leave Act at the time.

The Coy-Hawkins law­suit claims they were tar­geted for supporting the mayor. Coy also says Hutch­e­son cre­ated or ad­min­is­trated the Face­book ac­count “In­formed Res­i­dents of Cave Springs,” where she al­legedly com­mented in public post­ings on Coy’s Hispanic her­itage and dis­abil­ity.

The law­suit also claims Hutch­e­son re­peat­edly warned Hawkins un­der threat of ter­mi­na­tion to re­main loyal to her. Hawkins and Coy re­ported Hutch­e­son to the mayor, and the coun­cil and Hutch­e­son re­moved Hawkins as deputy recorder-trea­surer, the com­plaint says.

The law­suit fur­ther claims that wages were with­held or paid slowly to city em­ploy­ees who were be­lieved to be loyal to the mayor.

Worn out yet? I am, so that’s enough for now. Rea­son­able folks can only stom­ach so much turmoil whether it’s in Tu­mul­tuous Ton­ti­town or Cave(d-in) Springs.

Ad­den­dum to SRJ8

Some­times I run plum out of space in a col­umn, which was pretty much the case in Sun­day’s piece about the Se­nate Res­o­lu­tion SJR8. That’s the res­o­lu­tion passed by the Se­nate and now be­fore the House.

It would al­low vot­ers to de­cide in 2018 whether to cap the amount in­jured par­ties in law­suits could re­ceive in non-eco­nomic ben­e­fits. I need to add that in the event of a death, say, in a nurs­ing home, the cap could rise from $250,000 to $500,000 if there are le­gal ben­e­fi­cia­ries in­volved such as chil­dren, a spouse, par­ents and sib­lings of the de­ceased.

Five hun­dred thou­sand is the to­tal that would be split, whether there are one or 20 ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

For me, this is yet an­other rea­son vot­ers, if given the op­por­tu­nity, should re­ject this res­o­lu­tion if it shows up as a pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment on the 2018 bal­lot. It’s cru­cial in the in­ter­est of fair­ness and jus­tice that all ev­i­dence be heard in any rel­e­vant case with a de­ci­sion made by lo­cal ju­ries and not a one-size-fits-all ap­proach es­tab­lished by our spe­cial-in­ter­est-in­flu­enced politi­cians.

It’s equally im­por­tant to know that SJR8 ap­plies to ev­ery kind of case from high­way wrecks to rapes, and not only med­i­cal mal­prac­tice like the 2013 and 2015 failed pro­pos­als for so-called tort re­form.

What’s an immigrant?

I keep see­ing the term “immigrants” bandied about freely in much of to­day’s me­dia. But I find my­self won­der­ing why there’s no dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween those who come here in a le­gal man­ner, like the more than 12 mil­lion immigrants who came legally through El­lis Is­land be­tween 1892 and 1954 to be­came nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens and as­sim­i­late in our cul­ture, and those who en­ter se­cretly or in fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of long-stand­ing cus­toms laws. What do you think? Is one more le­git­i­mately clas­si­fied an “immigrant” than the other?

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