The trust and transparency deficit with Fort Smith municipal government took another hit Friday (July 10) when Mayor Sandy Sanders admitted – maybe unwittingly – that the Board broke state law during a more than two-hour executive session held after the sudden resignation of City Administrator Ray Gosack.
Naming an interim city boss was the purpose of the meeting and associated executive session. One might think this almost a perfunctory decision. As long as the city has had a deputy city administrator, that person has been asked to step up after the unexpected departure of a city administrator. Administrative continuity is one of the reasons to have a deputy city administrator.
So why did it take more than two hours of executive discussion to then vote 7-0 on a motion to appoint Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman the acting city boss? The unanimous vote makes it even more curious as to why such time – which included about 45 minutes with Dingman meeting in executive session with the Board – was necessary.
After the 7-0 vote following the executive session, Mayor Sanders asked the city’s HR director to begin the process of seeking applicants for the city’s top job. That request by the Mayor raised a red flag. Myself and another member of the media immediately asked what had been discussed during the executive session, and if the Mayor’s request of the HR director was his unilateral action, or was the process to hire a new administrator discussed during the executive session.
Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act allows an executive session solely “for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining, or resignation of any public officer or employee.” The law allows only a narrow agenda focused on a single person, and not broad personnel policy.
In responding to our questions, the Mayor acknowledged that the Board talked about how to move forward. Whoops. That is a clear violation of the law. (It will be interesting to see if the minutes of the meeting accurately reflect the exchange between the media and the Board. They’ll probably hide behind meeting adjournment to avoid including the exchange.)
It’s not just the media who is suspicious about events of the past week. On Tuesday the Board conducted a job review of Gosack – at his request. We were told it was a positive review. Then a few days later Gosack suddenly resigns. Social media was busy with questions about the disconnect. One can be without an ounce of cynicism to raise an eyebrow about the difference between Tuesday and Friday.
Also, for those of you who blamed Gosack for the Board’s dysfunction, you should know the Mayor and Board fouled up what should have been a simple interim transition decision without any help from the former city administrator.
You, Kind Reader, might think this executive session thing a minor oversight; an honest mistake; no big deal. You’ll have to forgive me for being fresh out of such benefit of the doubt. My tolerance is damn near non-existent with this city government. (Feel free to read the essay at this link to learn why I possess a lack of confidence in our municipal leadership.)
Breaking the law is breaking the law, and we have more than five years of recent history in which what we hear from the Board and city staff is not necessarily the way it is.