City’s civil ser­vice chief asked to re­cuse un­til suit set­tled

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE HUGHES

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.

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