Fort Smith School Board refuses vote on new settlement offer in FOIA lawsuit, discusses Rebels auction ‘catch-22′

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 854 views 

The Fort Smith School Board did not push through with a motion from board member Bill Hanesworth to accept an agreed order settlement in pending litigation from plaintiff June Bradshaw that was sent to the board Monday afternoon (Feb. 20).

The order calls for the Board to acknowledge violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for emails where members had discussed proposed slates of officers and how long their terms of office should be. One of the emails sent between Oct. 8-13, the order states, had “agreed upon a tentative slate of officers to be voted on at the next meeting.”

The order continued: “Defendants (School Board) contend that the exchange of emails did not constitute a meeting of the School Board, especially since no action was taken and the election of officers would have to be voted on during a regular meeting of the board. … Plaintiff (Bradshaw) contends that the School Board members were conducting public business which should have been performed in an open and public manner.”

Board member Talicia Richardson seemed torn on accepting a settlement, stating that as a Christian, “I immediately go to, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God,’ and this is one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do.”

She continued: “As someone very important to me in my life said, ‘Why continue to allow this individual to distract and take up so much time over something so petty’ … instead of just saying, ‘Let’s focus on these children and their education and resources?’ So, I say that as I’m shaking like a leaf. It’s not easy.”

Board member Jeannie Cole was reluctant to take action on Monday because the order had not landed in her inbox until 4 p.m., “and this is a decision that affects all of us, so I think all of us should be here,” she said, noting that only five of seven board members were in attendance. The case is pending in Sebastian County Circuit Court, case number CV-16-1053.

A previous FOIA lawsuit related to the Southside High School mascot name change from Rebels to Mavericks with Bradshaw as plaintiff was filed by Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen in early September 2015. Related to the previous case, the Board discussed on Monday an upcoming auction on March 11 at the Southside High School Activity Center to liquidate remaining Rebels-branded inventory.

So far, the school district has inventoried approximately 5,000 pieces that bear Rebels branding. According to FSPS Assistant Superintendent Dr. Gordon Floyd, the law states districts must dispose of surplus items in such a way to recover a fair value for the items presented, and that the most common way is by auction.

Richardson, not wanting to send a “contradictory” message, felt the district should consider a student dress code to discourage wearing the old branding at future events.

“I know there are people that assign value to things. Because of that, people are going to come out for it. But in my heart of hearts, I hope that people who want to use those items for malice or hurt choose to make a good decision and showcase the jersey in a man cave, if you will, and they don’t get a group of people together and use those Rebel megaphones and come to a game,” Richardson said.

Richardson acknowledged it’s a “catch-22 when you make a decision like that and then you come back and auction those things because it may have value to someone, and then, the same place you have done away with it, you’re bringing it right back.”

To citizens and alumni that had a sentimental attachment rather than one of malice, Richardson said, “The Board was trying to be very sensitive” with the auction, “as they should.”

Back to the dress code topic, Richardson said any current policies are “vague,” noting students cannot wear alcohol and drug paraphernalia. “But how do you respond to that change to where it’s not contradictory,” she said, will be what the Board needs to discuss.

Fellow board member Susan McFerran, who launched the effort to change the Rebels mascot in 2015, was for the idea of a student dress code barring Rebels memorabilia as well.

“I think we do need a dress code,” she told Talk Business & Politics. “I personally don’t feel like the kids need to wear it to Southside or to any of the activities that might be going on — football games, band concerts, and what have you. It’s something we need to discuss.”

Even so, McFerran acknowledged that “you can’t control adults, and we can’t control parents telling their children what to do.”

The auction does not yet have a scheduled time, but it will be overseen by Looper Auction and Realty.