The termination of Casey Millspaugh from the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission came to a quiet conclusion Tuesday night (Aug. 21) with the city’s Board of Directors reinstating him in executive session to the end of his term, which runs through Aug. 31, 2019.
Millspaugh told Talk Business & Politics afterward it “feels good to be able to continue the mission and just to keep doing what I’m passionate about.”
“Either way, I would have continued doing what I’m doing, so I appreciate them voting me back on, and I’m just going to keep rocking, man, doing my thing,” Millspaugh said, adding he would like to be considered for his previous role of chairman. “I assume that will probably be voted on at the next commission meeting. I don’t really know how that will go, but I would like to, obviously, run the commission again. Hopefully, we can make sure that happens.”
Millspaugh was terminated by City Administrator Carl Geffken via letter on Aug. 6. Geffken’s letter stated the termination was “automatic” due to Millspaugh having missed three consecutive meetings without any excused absences as determined by the commission.
Millspaugh previously told Talk Business & Politics he understood how the termination happened. “I’m not trying to argue the ordinance (Section 18-30 of the Fort Smith Municipal Code, cited in the letter). I understand that’s how it is. But I hope they can find an appropriate way to accept the parks commission’s recommendation to bring me back on.” That said, Millspaugh said the termination happened without any formal warnings and that he was in a state of shock when he received it. He also admitted his digging for information could sometimes rub others the wrong way. “I ask a lot of questions through email, and I dig. And I think sometimes they (administration) don’t like that. I can’t say that that’s related any to why they booted me off, but it was a shock to me that they did that, especially considering it’s a volunteer position.”
Previous email exchanges between Millspaugh, Geffken, and fellow commissioner Lacey Jennen revealed tension over discussion of a tree ordinance for the city, something Geffken noted was “outside the scope of the parks and recreation commission.” Millspaugh had requested a special session to discuss the item with Wally Bailey, the city’s planning and development director in relation to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO). Jennen noted the item would have been on the Tree Commission agenda, which “meets at the same time and place as the Parks Commission.”
“The city of Fort Smith is a Tree City and one of the requirements to achieve that status is a Tree ordinance,” Jennen explained, adding that when the city “sought to receive this award back in 2006, the ordinance that was submitted pertained to our parks and property owned/maintained by the city.”
Jennen continued: “The Tree Commission, who is comprised of the Parks Commission, has voted unanimously to open the discussion of expanding the ordinance to apply an ordinance and requirements towards new developments. This would put us in line with other comparable cities (Fayetteville, Little Rock, Bentonville, Rogers) in our state and elsewhere that have similar ordinances. Just one more way our city can offer the great quality of life we are seeking to enhance.”
Geffken had also stated Bailey would be too busy on other projects to meet for the discussion, to which Millspaugh responded, “I’m confused by this. Is it because Wally is busy or is it because you think this is not under our scope of responsibility? I feel like you are just trying to keep us from discussing any type of change. If you just want us to just check the city box, then this Commission should be dissolved.”
Millspaugh also asked for “guidelines and scope of responsibility for the Parks Commission” in the same email.
This received a response from Geffken that provided the requested information as well as an explanation: “The scope of the parks and recreation commission are contained in the Fort Smith Code of Ordinances. It states that the parks and recreation commission shall act in an advisory capacity to the board of directors on parks and recreation activities or, at the request of the city administrator, put forth a budget.”
Geffken continued: “This does not mean discussing what activities are conducted by the streets department or expanding the park commission’s sphere of advisory capacity beyond the parks and recreation department. To answer your initial question, the Planning and Development department is busy with projects for me and the board of directors. At the same time, I had hoped that I would not have needed to send the powers and duties information in order to limit ‘responsibilities creep’ by the commission. There is no box to check other than my hope that the commission understands and operates within the commission’s powers and duties.”
As far as the tree ordinance discussion falling within proper scope, Geffken added in another response to Jennen that “the code of Ordinances state, ‘in public grounds’ and ‘at the request of the board of directors.’ Since a tree ordinance has not been requested by the board of directors and since the discussion with Wally was to discuss the tree ordinance in conjunction with the UDO, meaning beyond public grounds, the tree commission is overstepping its powers and duties. However, I have asked the board of directors if they would like to have this considered. Until the board agrees that this is a priority and something they would like to consider, the administration will not be taking part in any discussion.”
Geffken was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, thus unavailable for immediate comment. Talk Business & Politics has reached out for a response concerning the reappointment of Millspaugh. In another parks commission move, the Board appointed Susan Pruitt to fill the role that will be vacated on Aug. 31 when commissioner Sherry Tolliver’s term expires. Pruitt’s term will run through Aug. 31, 2023.
Also Tuesday, the Board appointed Griffin Hanna to the planning commission. Hanna will fill the rest of former commissioner Josh Carson’s term, which expires on April 30, 2021. Carson resigned the post on July 5.