Marshals Museum official nixes idea for public event with those opposed to museum tax

by Michael Tilley ( 1,905 views 

Updated rendering of the planned U.S. Marshals Museum under construction in Fort Smith.

Citing a concern about “disruptive behavior,” the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation has declined an invitation to participate in a public discussion about a one-cent, nine-month sales tax to raise money for completion of the U.S. Marshals Museum.

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, founder of the Transparency in Government Group of Western Arkansas and part of an organized effort against the sales tax, sent Jim Dunn, president of the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation, a letter Feb. 7 asking for the debate.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors in December approved an ordinance for a March 12 election on the tax. Early voting begins March 5. The ordinance governing the special election for the sales tax requires that the tax is imposed for only nine months. The museum foundation will pay the city’s cost of the special election. If passed, the sales tax will raise around $16 million of the remaining $17 million needed to complete the museum. The museum has raised enough money to pay for the construction of the facility, which began in July 2018. The remaining funds are needed to build the exhibits and “experience” of the museum.

In Tuesday’s (Feb. 19) letter to McCutchen, Dunn cited social media posts that included allegations of fraud made and/or unsubstantiated claims the museum will financially benefit only certain individuals and businesses. Dunn also stated in the letter that museum proponents “were asked to shut up or leave” a Jan. 31 meeting conducted by those opposed to the tax.

“Despite your assurances of civility,” Dunn noted, museum tax opponents “will likely resort to disruptive behavior designed to produce spectacle rather than substance.” (Link here for PDF copy of Dunn’s letter.)

Dunn noted in his letter that museum officials have held and will hold several public meetings to inform voters about the tax and the museum.

“We have posted extensive information on our website, our financial information has been readily available since inception of the project, we have responded to numerous requests for information, and much more,” Dunn noted.

Talk Business & Politics agreed to moderate the debate/discussion. The proposed format included opening statements, followed by questions from moderators, questions from the audience (written on cards and submitted to moderators), and closing statements. Depending on the date, KUAF News Director Kyle Kellams agreed to be a second moderator.

McCutchen told Talk Business & Politics he agreed to the Talk Business & Politics proposal, but alleged that Dunn “became hard to pin down” on details. McCutchen said they tentatively agreed to a Feb. 28 date, but Dunn then wanted to avoid the live audience and have the event streamed via Facebook for the public.

“He proposed that the public could not be present at the debate or forum or whatever you want to call it. And I’m like, ‘No, that’s totally unacceptable,’” McCutchen said after receiving Dunn’s letter. “Elderly people and others who don’t even use Facebook would be excluded.”