Civil Service Commission chair responds to ‘material factual inaccuracies’

by Aric Mitchell ( 1,075 views 

Fort Smith Civil Service Commission Chairman Chip Sexton has responded to “material factual inaccuracies” included in a report from a Fort Smith Board of Directors study session on Thursday (July 12).

Sexton said the Talk Business & Politics article suggested he “called a special meeting on two hours notice on July 11, 2018, in regard to civil service interviews of Police Department applicants.” Several members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors complained during Thursday’s meeting about the commission’s activities.

“The truth is that I have been on vacation since Tuesday, July 10, 2018, more than 300 miles from Fort Smith, and no special meeting was called,” Sexton said. “I was not at any meeting of the Civil Service Commission this week and no meeting was called or held. The only contact I had regarding the Civil Service Commission this week was to advise the City of Fort Smith that a commissioner had contacted me (Charolette Tidwell) on July 11, 2018 to let me know that she could not be present for the civil service interviews held later that day.”

The Board discussed a desire for mandatory five-day meeting notice times moving forward. No media notice or background on the interviews in Sexton’s explanation were provided in advance of or at Tuesday’s study session, and they were referred to generically as a meeting.

The short-notice times were discussed by Robyn Dawson, a former member and candidate for outgoing At-Large Director Tracy Pennartz’ position. Dawson said there were occasions during her tenure when the Commission provided very little notice.

“The person who sets that (notice) time is the chairman (Sexton), and as a former person on that commission, I would say a lot of training needs to be done.”

To that point, Sexton said it was “incorrect.”

“While I have attempted to change at least one meeting time to make it easier for Ms. Dawson or another commissioner to attend when the schedule of such Commissioner would not permit her to attend, even Ms. Dawson was made aware in an email I sent on January 30, 2018, that I did not set the meeting times. Meetings are set when the most number of Civil Service Commissioners can be available,” Sexton said, adding that “only one time during my years of service has there ever been a meeting on less than a day’s notice.”

Sexton continued: “It was not called on two hours notice but instead notice was given at 9:58 a.m. for a meeting to be held at 4:00 pm the same day. The reason was that the issue was purely procedural, would only last a few minutes, and was very time-sensitive about an upcoming hearing before the Civil Service Commission. The meeting had to be held quickly because of the timing of a required hearing in a related matter.”

Addressing discussion made among Board members that tattoos were discussed as a decision point of hiring in candidate interviews — the interviews for which Sexton was not present — Sexton said he had “no knowledge about any ‘tattoo’ question being asked during the Civil Service interview process this week because I was not present, but I can certainly conclude that the question in issue had to do with the Police Department’s policy. The Police Department has a tattoo policy, not the Civil Service Commission.”

Sexton also said he has backed the idea of standardized interview questions to be used in the interview process, and has even “proposed objective standards on multiple occasions in the past,” referring to a Nov. 19, 2017 meeting in which the issue was discussed for police and fire.

“Even though there is a divergence of opinion about subjective testing, Fort Smith’s prior (not the current) Human Resources Director (Naomi Roundtree) received a template from me of proposed questions for the interview process and never provided any further input.”

Roundtree left the city for another position in May.

Sexton concluded: “One additional thing I would like to point out is that I feel that Robyn Dawson, who is a current candidate for the Board of Directors, was there to speak on behalf of the Civil Service Commission. Although Ms. Dawson is no longer a member of the Commission and was opposed to my position in the meeting, she actually voted for me to be Chairman of the Civil Service Commission (as I recall) on May 7, 2018.”