Fort Smith Board leaves Gosack in top job (Updated)

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 134 views 

Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack received a fourth performance review in less than a year Tuesday night (July 17) at the Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting, and Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders announced an upcoming event to support the future of the 188th Fighter Wing.

The board once again expressed “confidence in the Administrator,” said Sanders, addressing attendees following executive session. While the session may have affirmed that confidence, the review itself did not sit well with at least three of the City Directors.

City Director Kevin Settle refused comment on the details of the session, but on Wednesday (July 11), tried unsuccessfully to remove the item from Tuesday night’s agenda.

City Director Don Hutchings, who voted with Settle last Wednesday, told The City Wire after the meeting that he has “been overwhelmed by phone calls, visits, emails, and Facebook messages in support of our Administrator. At the same time, every single contact is stunned and disappointed by the apparent lack of trust from some of our City Directors.”

The Directors Hutchings refers to are George Catsavis, Philip Merry, Steve Tyler, and Pam Weber, who together voted on Wednesday to move forward with the review.

Like Settle, Weber refused comment following the meeting. Catsavis, Merry, and Tyler, left immediately following adjournment, but The City Wire was able to catch up with Tyler by phone.

“It was a personnel matter, and I thought the board ought to discuss his handling of it. We were satisfied with how he handled it,” Tyler said.

While Sanders and the board, were unwilling to discuss the specifics of the personnel matters, sources wishing to remain anonymous have stated the matter involved “threats to Director Catsavis” and “derogatory comments about Director Weber,” allegedly attributed to Baridi Nkokheli, Fort Smith sanitation director.

In a previous interview, The City Wire asked Nkokheli directly about the allegations after receiving calls and visits by supporters of Directors Catsavis and Weber. Nkokheli adamantly denied the allegations, pointing to an internal investigation by the city of Fort Smith that “exonerated” him of the charges. (Documents relating to personnel are not eligible for release under the Freedom of Information Act.)

If that was the issue referenced during executive session, Gosack isn’t saying.

He only adds that he “didn’t find out until Wednesday evening” the review would not address anything he’d done in particular, but would be related to matters involving other city personnel, particularly on the topic of “how I lead department heads,” adding he didn’t know “specifically what it was until tonight.”

“Things don’t make sense, and yes, I’m still shocked,” said Director Andre Good, referring back to his Wednesday comments to The City Wire when he said he was “shocked! …I am curious to know what's happened since Ray's last review two months ago. Can you imagine what this looks like to folks outside of Fort Smith and our citizens?"

Good said on Tuesday that he was “glad we made the decision as a board to set Ray’s next performance evaluation for next July because it does show that we have confidence in him.”

As for the review, Good believes it “should have never happened,” a sentiment echoed by Hutchings.

“Do you realize it hasn’t even been a year since his first evaluation? I’ve got his contract. I helped negotiate it on behalf of the directors. It calls for one annual performance evaluation.”

Hutchings continued: “I get my issues solved by going directly to Ray. We don’t always agree, but we are so blessed to have that guy. It’s stunning to know how effective he is. I just want the community to know — how do I say this? — I just wish this would have never happened.”

In a prepared written statement to City Directors, used here with Hutchings’ permission, Hutchings expounds upon the four actual reviews versus the one that Gosack’s contract calls for.

“Directors, can you imagine having a recall election for your position? Then, if you had the good fortune of keeping your position, you had to endure another recall election eight weeks later? You are all my friends, and I think we could admit there would be some sleepless nights and confusion over your production.”

The statement continued: “No matter what the intent of this evaluation was, it has sent a shockwave throughout our great city. People are demanding explanations. Citizens are stepping up and voicing their support for Ray. If something good has come from this, it might be that our city respects and admires our Administrator much more than he ever knew before.”

Also Tuesday night, Sanders announced the upcoming visit of U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., who serves as chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness. Forbes will attend an event sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

The event, called the Defending Our Defenders Listening Session, will take place at the Arkansas Best Performing Arts Center in the Fort Smith Convention Center. The program begins at 6 p.m. Aug. 21.

“Not only is the 188th an important element of our economic well being, it is a vital asset for the military defense of our nation. The recent proposed decision by the Air Force and Defense Department that negatively impacts the 188th is totally out of touch with reality,” Sanders said.

“Right now more than 300 of our fellow citizens in the 188th have been deployed and are serving in Afghanistan in harm’s way. In addition to filling every seat, I would hope as Forbes and Womack enter (the Arkansas Best Performing Arts Center), we start chanting ‘U.S.A. 188TH, U.S.A. 188TH. Let’s defend our defenders.”