City’s civil service chief asked to recuse until suit settled
FORT SMITH — City directors have requested Civil Service Commission Chairman Chip Sexton recuse from any commission activities while his law partner is involved in a lawsuit against the city.
The city directors took the vote after a two-hour executive session Tuesday. Under the state’s open- meetings law, officials can discuss a personnel matter in private session. But any vote growing out of the discussion has to be public.
Members voted 4- 3 for Sexton to recuse. Keith Lau, Andre Good, Mike Lorenz and Tracy Pennartz voted for it. George Catsavis, Kevin Settle and Don Hutchings voted against the motion.
The motion read: “The city of Fort Smith Board of Directors requests the Chair of the Civil Service Commission voluntarily recuse himself and not participate in any Civil Service Commission activities during the duration of time that there is any lawsuit filed against the city of Fort Smith by the law firm of McCutchen and Sexton.”
Sexton said Wednesday he wouldn’t recuse and believed there was no conflict of interest in his serving on the commission while his law partner Joey McCutchen represents Bruce Wade in a lawsuit claiming city directors violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
After emerging from executive session, Mayor Sandy Sanders read a statement saying city directors believed Sexton “has the appearance
of a potential conflict of interest according to Section 2a of the Fort Smith Code of Business Conduct.”
The statement said a conflict of interest, according to the code of business conduct, occurs when an individual’s private interest interferes with the city’s interests.
“A conflict situation can arise when a municipal representative takes actions or has interests that may make it difficult to perform his or her work for the city objectively and effectively,” the statement said.
After the vote, Sanders announced that Sexton and City Administrator Carl Geffken would meet over Sexton’s possible recusal.
Sexton said Wednesday the meeting with Geffken has been scheduled for Friday afternoon. He said he would recuse from any civil service business until after the meeting with Geffken.
Sexton said Tuesday the commission was scheduled to meet Wednesday to hold interviews with police officer candidates. And the city’s human resources department sent out a notice Wednesday morning the commission would hold a special meeting that evening to discuss testing dates for police and fire exams.
McCutchen filed suit against the city last month in Sebastian County Circuit Court, saying city directors violated the state Freedom of Information Act by doing city business through email that should have been done in public.
The email sent to Geffken and the seven board members called for the dissolution of the Civil Service Commission after its members failed to act in a May meeting on a request by Police Chief Nathaniel Clark to change the commission rules to allow people outside the department to apply for supervisory positions on the force.