The Fort Smith Board of Directors asked the City Administrator to examine options for filing a direct lawsuit against the River Valley Sports Complex (RVSC) organization, and it bid farewell to the city’s Human Resources Director at a meeting on Tuesday (May 1).
Director Kevin Settle closed an agenda of mostly zoning requests by requesting City Administrator Carl Geffken to explore the city’s options for suing the RVSC’s principals, former state Sen. Jake Files and Sebastian County Election Commissioner Lee Webb. In January, Files pleaded guilty to wire fraud, money laundering, and bank fraud in connection to the RVSC.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Geffken told Talk Business & Politics the initial lawsuit was launched by four companies that had not been paid by the RVSC, and that the companies had named the city in the lawsuit as well, even though the contract indemnifies the city. “They sued us because Jake and Lee said, ‘Go to the city,’ because we canceled the contract. But our contract with River Valley Sports Complex holds us immune from any lawsuits.”
Geffken said the contractors were hired by Files and Webb, so Files and Webb are responsible for paying it.
“When we were sued by those organizations, we turned around and did a third-party lawsuit, and we drew in Jake and Lee, or the River Valley Sports Complex really, and said, ‘We want our money to complete the River Valley Sports Complex, and we want to get repaid the GIF money’ (General Improvement Fund, Files’ guilty plea acknowledges a defrauded amount of $26,900).’”
Geffken said as part of Files’ deal, he “is going to be repaying the GIF money. But what Director Settle has asked for is something most of the Board members have discussed with me, and I have started the process. That is to now research and see if and how we can move forward to sue, probably not only the River Valley Sports Complex, but Jake and Lee as well, and that will be something I’ll be discussing with our attorney.”
Geffken said there is the “potential” to pursue portions of the $1.08 million in funding paid by the city to the RVSC that never made it to vendors. Another possibility — and a costlier one for Files and Webb if the city were to win — would be to attain the remainder of the funds to finish the estimated $6 million project.
Of what has been accomplished at the complex, Geffken said, “We know how questionable that work is, given the trusses that are much larger than they should have been when they were designed, and they’re resting on decorative columns. Electrical work that didn’t get done. Fence work that didn’t get done. We’d have to tear down some of the things out there, redo, regrade, and that would take at least $5 million to finish.”
Geffken also said there was the matter of “balancing off” the cost of a lawsuit versus the potential reward.
“We’ll then bring that information to the Board of Directors and let them decide what they think is best for the city.”
He added: “Sometimes we do lawsuits because the principle is what needs to be upheld. But obviously we’re dealing with taxpayer money, and we don’t want to waste their money however principled the cause or reason may be.”
NAOMI ROUNDTREE ANNOUNCES DEPARTURE
Also Tuesday, the Board said goodbye to Naomi Roundtree, who has served as the city’s Human Resources Director since Oct. 17, 2016. Roundtree has taken another position out-of-state, leaving the role she began with the city a little over 18 months ago.
Director Keith Lau called Roundtree’s departure “a terrible loss.”
“I think she was a great HR person, but I understand. The good thing is, she set up a good framework, and she set a standard so we can operate like a big city Human Resource department,” Lau said.
A veteran of the U.S. Army with more than 17 years working in HR, Roundtree accepted the position after it sat vacant for two years following the resignation of former HR Director Richard Jones.
Geffken announced Julie Pickle as the interim HR Director, adding there would be a formal search forthcoming, but “We have an interim. I do want her to get settled, and then we’ll take it from there. I don’t want to just say, ‘Okay, you’re interiming and tomorrow we’re doing a posting.’”
Pickle is the city’s HR generalist. She has worked in human resources since 1988, and also served in the U.S. Army.