Fort Smith utilities director resigns, fifth department head to leave in 2019

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,015 views 

Fort Smith Utilities Director Jerry Walters submitted his resignation Tuesday night (Aug. 27), making him the fifth city department head to resign this year.

Nathaniel Clark, the city’s first African American police chief, announced March 27 he was leaving the post for another police job in the Atlanta area. Clark stepped into the Fort Smith chief police job on Jan. 7, 2017. Wally Bailey, who had worked under six Fort Smith city administrators, retired in June as the city’s director of planning to become the director of planning for the City of Van Buren. Finance Director Jennifer Walker resigned July 26 to take a job in Colorado. And Aug. 13, the resignation of George Allen, director of streets and traffic control, was announced at a Fort Smith Board of Directors study session.

Walters began his stint as utilities director, heading up the department responsible for the city’s water and wastewater assets, and being a key person as the city implemented a $480 million federal consent order, April 3, 2016. He replaced former Utilities Director Steve Parke, who retired April 1, 2016.

Walters came to Fort Smith from Alexandria, Va., where he served as general engineer at the Pentagon for the United States Army. Prior to the appointment, he served as public works director at the U.S. Army base in Baumholder, Germany, for more than seven years, and previously served in capacities of director, deputy director, chief engineer or civil engineer for U.S. Army bases in San Antonio; Hanau, Germany; Yokosuka NB, Japan; Sunnyvale, Calif.; and Zaragoza, Spain.

Walters also served as senior environmental planner for Clark County, Nev., all spanning a career of more than 30 years in public utilities management and design. For 15 of those years, he has worked directly in water/wastewater management.

Walters did not submit a formal resignation letter, but he did submit a form City of Fort Smith Letter of Voluntary Resignation that states his last day will be Sept. 13. The letter stated his reason for leaving as “accepting a position in Germany.”

City Administrator Carl Geffken said Walters will be missed.

“Jerry was hired at a critical time for the utilities department. The department during his tenure implemented new programs and grew to meet the requirements of the consent decree, he examined processes and procedures to improve efficiency while creating new processes and procedures to meet the needs of the City. Jerry also worked with staff to improve their skills through training and mentorship,” Geffken said.

This last city resignation occurs amidst the return of discussion by the board on controversial hire-fire authority of the city administrator. Director Robyn Dawson, at-large position 5, during a Tuesday (Aug. 27) study session brought up the need for directors to have input on who is hired for “key positions” in the city. Dawson also broached the subject at the Aug. 13 study session, asking that the topic be placed on the Aug. 27 agenda.

After much, at times heated, discussion amongst the board, Dawson requested a revision to the ordinance giving the city administrator hiring and firing authority including a provision that the board be able to have “input” in the decision. The item was placed on the agenda for the Sept. 3 regular board meeting.

Dawson contacted the city clerk’s office around 3:45 p.m. Wednesday to have that item removed from the Sept. 3 agenda. All remaining board members “were immediately contacted regarding the request. Directors Keith Lau, André Good, Lavon Morton, George Catsavis, Kevin Settle and Neal Martin concurred with the request,” a memo from the clerk’s office said. The item was removed.

At about the same time (3:15 p.m.), Morton contacted the clerk’s office and requested an item be placed on the Sept. 3 agenda. The request was to add “a resolution that the City adopt a policy whereby the City Administrator discusses with the Board in executive session at a regular or special meeting employment decisions related to department heads prior to the final decision and public release thereof,” a memo from the clerk’s office said. All board members were contacted and all agreed to the item being placed on the agenda except Settle.

Settle said at the Tuesday study session that he was against the proposed revision of the ordinance. He also said he was against discussion of the city administrator’s decision in an executive session because he believes it is an FOIA violation.