Fort Smith Board pulls agenda items related to law firm review

story by Ryan Saylor

Fort Smith City Directors were true to their straw poll from Tuesday (June 10) and have withdrawn two resolutions that would have directed the city to hire an auditor to look into legal billings by the Daily and Woods Law Firm to the city, as well as establish a commission to review how the city receives legal counsel.

According to City Clerk Sherri Gard, she was contacted by City Director Mike Lorenz regarding the removal of both items from the June 17 regular meeting agenda even though the two items received a motion and a second by City Directors Philip Merry and Pam Weber, respectively.

Gard quoted Fort smith Municipal Code Section 2-31(4) as allowing any director to request removal of items from the agenda.

"Any item of business may be denied a place on or removed from the agenda by notice of four (4) directors to the city clerk prior to the date of the meeting of the proposed consideration. The city clerk shall immediately notify the city administrator, the mayor, the directors and other interested persons of such action."

Merry had requested the review at the June 3 regular meeting, which was tabled by the mayor as an improper motion until the June 10 study session. The request by Merry came after a series of posts by attorney Matt Campbell on the Blue Hog Report blog questioned billing practices by the Daily and Woods firm to the city, alleging the firm had over-billed for some services and billed for others that never occurred, such as phone calls to Campbell as part of a set of lawsuits against the city in which he serves as legal counsel.

City Attorney Jerry Canfield and City Administrator Ray Gosack have both said the billings were above board, with Canfield providing some documentation to Gosack showing a sampling of phone calls he said were made to Campbell.

Merry's motion regarding a review of billings by Daily and Woods would have contracted a firm to audit the billings for the last three and a half years. His motion for the commission would have appointed an attorney, a CPA and three members of the business community to review whether the city should still contract with Daily and Woods like it has since 1967 or whether it should hire in-house counsel and support staff to handle its legal billings.

Voting to remove the audit from the agenda were Lorenz, City Directors Keith Lau, André Good, George Catsavis and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle. Merry and Weber were the only two who wanted to keep the item on the agenda were Merry and Weber.

Voting to remove the commission proposal was Lorenz, Lau, Catsavis and Settle, while Good, Merry and Weber were in favor of keeping it on the agenda.

In an e-mail to The City Wire, Campbell said he was disappointed by the move, saying it lacked transparency for Fort Smith citizens.

"This should give the citizens of Fort Smith a great deal of concern. This is twice now that a procedural maneuver has been used to keep these issues away from a meeting where members of the public could make their opinions known.  I can only assume they are doing this because they, like I, have seen that the overwhelming response from the public is in support of both an audit and a review of the contractual relationship with Daily & Woods."

Campell also called Gosack and Canfield to task for Canfield's response to the allegations made by Campbell.

"It's also troubling to me that the city administrator and others continue to pretend like Jerry Canfield's response to the phone-records issue was anything but absurd. He addressed five phone calls, out of twenty-three, then gave such a transparent 'explanation' for the remaining eighteen calls that anyone who has ever looked at a phone bill should have known it was a lie."