Fort Smith Board of Directors to discuss removing Chip Sexton from civil service commission

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 3,115 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors will hold an executive session at the July 11 regular meeting to discuss removal of chairman and Fort Smith attorney Chip Sexton from the Civil Service Commission for a potential conflict of interest.

Sexton was not in attendance at Tuesday’s (June 27) meeting when Fort Smith Director Keith Lau asked fellow board members to consider adding the session.

“I’d like to make a motion we have an executive session to discuss the removal of Chip Sexton from the Civil Service Commission, specifically the head of the Civil Service Commission, for cause, due to the fact he has a conflict of interest representing the Civil Service Commission, and his law firm is suing the city,” Lau said.

Lau’s lawsuit reference is to CV-2017-657-F, filed by Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, a partner with Sexton in the McCutchen & Sexton Law Firm. The case, entitled “Bruce Wade vs. The City of Fort Smith,” argues the city and Board of Directors violated Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law when discussing abolishment of the commission over an email thread.

While Lau would not commit to his intention with the request to Talk Business & Politics, he did say, “Part of the issue Joey (McCutchen) had with the lawsuit itself is making sure this is discussed within proper channels, so we’re going to discuss whether or not that is a conflict of interest worthy of removal.”

Tensions have been high between city government and the CSC after the commission refused to consider Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark’s request for the option to hire senior-level positions from outside the police department. Fort Smith Director Andre Good — also not in attendance on Tuesday — has publicly called for the abolishment of the CSC if it refuses to grant Clark’s request.

The complaint alleges that City Director André Good sent an e-mail to City Administrator Carl Geffken on May 23 to complain about the Civil Service Commission decision against Chief Clark’s request. Good noted that “progress will not happen as long as this closed system persists.”

McCutchen asks in the complaint that the court stop city officials from “conducting public business through a series of emails without providing the public with notice of the emails and giving the public the opportunity to provide input in the emails.”

Traditionally, the department has promoted from within, but the Board’s charge to improve diversity would mean Clark could only position minority new-hires at the bottom of the employment hierarchy regardless of qualifications. Clark has argued it would effectively handcuff him from attracting highly qualified applicants while improving diversity within the department. The city employs only three African-Americans, seven Hispanics, and 18 “Asian or Other” officers out of the 143 sworn officers on staff.

At a meeting on June 20, Sexton recused himself from matters pertaining to Clark’s request. Before recusing, Sexton said his decision was “not intended to influence your (the Commission’s) decision on any issue, but simply to make sure you are informed about the law. You should make the decision that you believe to be in the best interests of the citizens of Fort Smith.”

Commissioner Bob Cooper was unanimously voted the new chairperson specific to Clark’s proposal, so any action the Commission takes on the matter would have to be in a meeting chaired by Cooper.

Since the Commission could take no action due to the meeting’s short notice and lack of public notification, the matter would have to wait at least 10 days to adhere to media notification requirements under the Arkansas FOIA law. Cooper has hip surgery scheduled for June 27 and will be out four weeks following the procedure. Given the timeline, he did not see the Commission being able to address the issue before Aug. 1. Prior to the June 20 meeting, the Commission had not allowed a formal vote on Clark’s request, instead opting to let it die for lack of motions.

Link here for a lengthy PDF copy of Bruce Wade vs. The City of Fort Smith filing.