The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board of Trustees agreed to allow the board’s attorney to enter into mediation with Ivy Owen’s attorney regarding a wrongful termination claim following an executive session at the board’s regular meeting Thursday (June 20).
Owen, the face and often evangelical voice of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) for more than 11 years, was terminated from the position Feb. 21 by the board, who said Owen was no longer able to fulfill his responsibilities due to health issues and thus would no longer be employed by FCRA. The board announce the change in leadership Feb. 26.
“This decision was not made lightly. The trustees took all factors into account before voting. We all wish him the best and hope he will enjoy a full recovery in the future,” Dean Gibson, board chairman, said at the time of the announcement. “The trust believed Ivy’s health had become an issue that kept him from doing the job we needed him to do.”
Owen told Talk Business & Politics he had been fighting an illness for the better part of 2018, but had been in contact with the board throughout. In June 2018, Gibson told the board Owen was “well on his way to recovery” after an extended illness and would be back in the office by mid-July. He had been out of the office since April at that time. Owen missed the January and February board meetings of this year.
“They (the board) came to me and said they needed to do something because they needed leadership (at FCRA), and we need to know something by the next board meeting. They needed to know if they needed to make a change,” Owen said.
Owen had to have surgery following that conversation and was not able to get back with the board regarding his ability to continue as executive director.
“The next thing I know they had left a note on my door saying I was terminated,” Owen said. “I was in shock. I didn’t even know what to do. That’s a heck of a way to tell someone.”
Owen said his contract was valid through the end of 2019. The contract was not renegotiated at the 2018. His plan was to retire at the end of 2019, Owen said. The more he thought about, the more upset he became with the situation.
“So I found a lawyer, and he filed a wrongful termination (claim),” he said. “I either want my job back, or I want my contract paid out.”
No lawsuit has been filed on the matter, said Dalton Person, FCRA attorney, but the board did agree to have their attorney enter into mediation with Owen’s attorney, Joseph Gilker of Mountainburg. Person said FCRA attorney Mark Moll has been the attorney communicating with Gilker.
Person said FCRA is hopeful both parties can come to an agreement on the matter.
“FCRA appreciates Mr. Owen’s many years of service to the organization,” Person said.
Owen, who suffered from a blood infection, said his health has improved greatly since being released from the hospital April 1. He is continuing with physical therapy to “teach me to walk again,” he said.
Having been in the economic and community development industry for more than 50 years, Owen has served in multiple prominent positions. He was hired by the FCRA board in December 2007, taking the role once held by former Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders. Under his leadership, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority 1995 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) economic development project has received multiple national, state, and regional awards, and reached more than $1.651 Billion in projected capital investments (based on property sold through the end of 2018), a media release stated.
The FCRA board has conducted several initial interviews for the executive director position over the past couple of weeks, said board member Kelly Clark. The personnel committee plans to meet soon to narrow the list of candidates they want to bring in for second interviews, Clark told board members at Thursday’s meeting.