The Fort Smith police chief withdrew his request to accept external applicants for supervisor positions — a request he initially brought to the Civil Service Commission in May that was the beginning of a thread of controversy.
The Civil Service Commission, which governs the Police and Fire Departments, voted unanimously Thursday to honor the withdrawal, and some of the commissioners commented on some of the city's Board of Directors' contentious decisions regarding the commission since May, such as to add two new spots to the commission and to ask Chairman Chip Sexton to recuse himself from commission activities.
• On May 22, the commission did not approve a request from Police Chief Nathaniel Clark to accept external applicants for supervisor positions instead of only allowing higher positions to be filled through promotion, a decision the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) supported.
• On May 23, Ward 2 Director Andre Good proposed via email to City Administrator Carl Geffken that the Civil Service Commission be dissolved. Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen later filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that emails from Good and Lorenz violated the Freedom of Information Act by conducting public meeting business via email.
• On June 6, the board passed a nonbinding resolution 4-3 in support of allowing external applicants in an effort to persuade the Civil Service Commission to reconsider.
• On June 27, Ward 1 Director Keith Lau made a motion during a study session to add a resolution to the board’s July 11 meeting agenda removing Chip Sexton, McCutchen’s law partner, from the Civil Service Commission.
• On July 11, the board voted 4-3 to ask Sexton not to participate in commission activities while his law firm is in a lawsuit against the city after a more than two-hour executive (nonpublic) session.
• On Sept. 6, the board decided 4-3 to increase the size of the commission from five to seven spots.
• On Sept. 14, the FOP announced that it would attempt to remove city directors from their positions, beginning with Ward 3 Director Mike Lorenz.
"This Civil Service Commission is not an arm of the Fort Smith Board of Directors," commissioner Bob Cooper said Thursday. "We are an independent commission, and are to serve as an independent commission, and, with that, I would like to — I wouldn't use the word caution — but I would like to caution the Fort Smith Board of Directors. I would like to ask them and challenge them that when you're reviewing the applicants for these two new positions that you've created to serve on our board — and we welcome that — but I want to challenge you to consider these applicants for who they are and not how they would vote on any issue that the Fort Smith Board of Directors may have that they feel is very important to them. And I would like to avoid any indication that our city Board of Directors are practicing gerrymandering in their choice of the new applicants."
Commissioner Marty Shell said that he may not always agree with the decisions that the Board of Directors makes but that he will respect their decisions and would ask that the directors respect the decisions that the Civil Service Commission makes.
"I agree 100 percent," Commissioner Orvall Smith said. "I think Director Hutchings hit the nail on the head with his statement that kind of ruffled feathers around town, but he called it like it was. Along that same token, if we voted this that we're going to accept Chief Clark's removal of his Section 12, I think that should put us back to where we were prior to the May 22 meeting, and I think we need to discuss the fact that Chip is still a member and Chip needs to be back involved."
At the Board of Directors' Sept. 6 meeting when the board decided 4-3 to increase the size of the commission from five to seven spots, At-large Director Don Hutchings said to the other directors before the vote, “I appreciate this healthy discussion, but I’m a little bit confused. If you could stop for just a moment and look at what’s happening right now — I was at the Civil Service Commission meeting May 22 and it was a very contentious meeting about hiring outside supervisors for the PD and not one commissioner made a motion to change our policy. But this board wouldn’t accept that, and so the discussion then was doing away with the Civil Service Commission. And that didn’t work, so this board passed a resolution 4-3, a nonbinding resolution to get the Civil Service to change their mind. That didn’t work, so next was a target of a commissioner to remove Chip Sexton, and that didn’t work, so now we’re stacking the court and adding two new commissioners. And it’s blatantly obvious what’s going on here, and it’s pretty disturbing. This board is struggling with credibility. There have been a lot of issues that we need to speak to our people about and a resolution like this I think pushes our citizens farther away from trusting us, so I urge my good friends on this board to vote ‘no’ on this ordinance.”
Commissioner Charolette Tidwell said that she had not heard of any talk of gerrymandering or negative comments toward the Board of Directors.
"I would hope that both our group and the directors' group would be responsible and mature enough that we all act in mature fashion for the benefit of Fort Smith," she said.