A legal mess

The City Wire editorial
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A rarely used procedural action taken June 11 by the Fort Smith Board of Directors to kill a review of the city’s long-term relationship with and recent billings from the Daily & Woods law firm is part of a growing list of troubling board decisions that is causing more citizens to question the competence of the board and top city staff.

Fort Smith City Directors Philip Merry Jr., and Pam Weber requested that the board at its June 10 meeting begin a discussion of the city’s legal representation. The request followed a series of website reports by attorney Matt Campbell which questioned billing practices by the Daily and Woods firm to the city. Campbell’s detailed research alleges the firm had over-billed for some services and billed for others that never occurred, such as phone calls to Campbell as part of a set of lawsuits against the city in which he serves as legal counsel.

The request by Director Merry sought to audit the legal billings back to 2011. His request also included the creation of a commission to review whether the city should still contract with Daily and Woods like it has since 1967, or if it should hire in-house counsel and support staff to handle legal matters. The city paid Daily & Woods under $300,000 in 2011, and more than $400,000 annually in 2012 and 2013.

Voting to remove the audit from the agenda were City Directors George Catsavis, Andre Good, Mike Lorenz, Keith Lau, and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle. Voting to remove the commission proposal were Lorenz, Lau, Catsavis and Settle. Lorenz initiated the effort to remove the agenda items.

Jerry Canfield, the lead attorney for the city with Daily & Woods, and City Administrator Ray Gosack have said nothing was wrong with the billings. Canfield provided documentation to Gosack showing a sampling of phone calls he said were made to that counter Campbell’s allegations. No one should be shocked that the self-investigation by Canfield found no wrongdoing, or that Gosack was quick to support Canfield’s assertions of innocence. There is nothing to see here. Move along.

Of the 23 phone calls Campbell alleges Daily & Woods erroneously included in a bill to the city, Canfield’s investigation reported explanations for five. Apparently, being able to dismiss five of 23 disputed calls was enough to discredit Campbell’s entire report. Gosack has also sought to discredit Campbell by noting that Campbell is in the midst of a lawsuit against the Fort Smith Police Department, which is represented by Daily & Woods. Indeed, Campbell is suing the FSPD, but so far he reports being 4-0 on legal battles with Daily & Woods. One might understand the need for a distraction if on the losing side, but Campbell is doing fine, thank you very much. One might justifiably assert that it is in Campbell’s best interest for Daily & Woods to continue as the city’s legal arm.

What’s more, Campbell is not some disgruntled, shoot-from-the-hip troublemaking attorney. He is the attorney who discovered financial irregularities that resulted in the resignation of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. Campbell’s research resulted in Faulkner County Circuit Judge Mike Maggio dropping out of a Court of Appeals race, and resulted in the Arkansas Supreme Court effectively suspending Maggio from the bench. Campbell’s research also resulted in changes within the office of Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin. Director Lorenz might want to ask Darr about the strategy of ignoring Campbell with the hope that he goes away.

An initial review of how other cities manage their legal affairs suggests that Fort Smith is unique. Of Arkansas cities with a population of more than 30,000, only Fort Smith depends fully on an outside legal firm. And based on what is admittedly an unscientific survey of more than a handful of attorneys, the city could be paying more than double what is necessary for legal services under the existing arrangement with Daily & Woods. And more than the cost, the attorneys also suggested that an in-house attorney may create more efficiency among city departments AND provide legal advice based solely on the best interests of the city.

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The Board’s fear of transparency on this issue, its unwillingness to further investigate Campbell’s serious allegations, and the cowardice move to kill agenda items outside of a public format has raised eyebrows, suspicions and anger.

However, if the inexplicable behavior by some members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors is part of a secret plan to energize an effort to change the form of city government, well, good job. There is certainly more talk – even among those historically supportive of the existing form of government – about considering other city governance options.

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Comments

Amen

This sad reality needs to be told. THANK YOU CITYWIRE for honest unbiased reporting.

Ditto On The City Wire

THANK YOU CITY WIRE for your unbiased reporting and your refusal buy into every story told by the professional story tellers at City Hall. Its refreshing to know that Fort Smith has at least one good news source. God Bless You and your staff!

Steming from information obtained from FOI requests or

unsubstantuated rumors from a blog. Basically except for Merry and Weber our Directors seem to be trying to sway public opinion a tad here. I wish the city would pay me a couple of million or even $400,000 for my services plus guarantee me no one else could provide them as long as I did. I would appreciate it a lot....a whole lot and someone would realize it.

I totally agree

And the 2 Directors who consistently try to keep transparency are getting off the board because of always getting beat up. We need to change our form of government...

Sad Indeed!

Sad indeed! Thanks to the board of directors, transparency and public trust hits a new low for Fort Smith. Not only do we need to change to an elected and accountable city manager, but the more elected officials in positions of authority, the more accountability to the people.

Rip Off

Lets not forget the County Judge who along with the City Administrator is wasting an extra 2 million taxpayer dollars on a Water Park. It was reported on The City Wire that these 2 are doing business with a Tulsa company named Flintco who was investigated by the FBI and charged by the Attorney General for paying 2 million dollars in bribes to get construction projects. It also was noted that a local contractor said that he could build a better Water Park with 2 extra indoor pools for 2 million dollars less. Yes, Fort Smith City Government needs to be flushed and a new form of City Government needs to be found to restore the Public Trust.

What is needed for a change

I have recently began following The City Wire and the latest drama with the BOD and city officials and I am going to pose an amateur question here...what is required to change the form of city government? I understand the antiquated system we currently have but since there is an overwhelming agreement that this needs to occur to solve some issues and address accountability what steps must be taken and by whom to begin a restructuring of the current form of governance?

Needed Change Is Good Question "New Citizen"

In short, it takes a petition signed by electors equal in number to 15% of the total votes cast for the previous mayor race. Then the mayor by proclamation shall submit the question of organization under the form stated in the petition at a special election to be held at a time specified therein. The notice is to be published twice with the first no less than 15 days before the date set for the election. If it is a win, then you select another date to vote positions. You can go to the Secretary of State's website and read the 2-page details under Arkansas Code 14-48-105, "Procedure to change another form of government.

In Ft Smith what seems to be the main requirement is

the ones leading the show think it will work for them better with whatever they're actually doing, however they go about doing whatever it really is...who knows? When we first went to city manager we had some pretty good ones but it looks like outsiders were too hard to control so they moved to people from within who knew full well which side their bread was buttered on.

A simple petition

Mr. Swink thank you for such a prompt detailed response. So by quick math a petition with approximately 2,820 signatures (based on the last mayoral race) forces the vote for a change of government? This either seems very simple or I am missing a piece of the puzzle. It seems that initiating change in this style of government would be very simple considering that current sentiment in the public would strongly suggest 2800 signatures would be quickly attainable. So based on the assumption that I am not missing a fundamental piece of the puzzle why if everyone is in agreement about the needed change is someone (myself included) not working to obtain this change and begin the process of restructuring our current style of government?

Well, let's see...

If you are gathering signatures, make sure you do it by the letter. Save yourself some nasty issues later on. Jack will be here shortly to talk about subpoenas and black cars sent by the government shortly. It's one of his favorite talking points. Second, All of the people here have had AMPLE OPPORTUNITY to enact the change they wanted. It's very simple, they run for board of directors against those who they disagree with. Merry and Weber aren't running again. Reading many other threads, you can see that they are the only two that many commenters feel that are trying to change things. Everyone else who was up for re-election ran UNOPPOSED. So...we have a lot of commenters here who are all talk yet no action. They wouldn't be the ones getting signatures. They won't be the ones running for an accountable mayor. Shoot, there's a few on here that have enough ideas about how things could change, that it'd be an interesting ride. So when it comes down to it, all the talk about change is just that. Talk. Even those who've put there names out there won't walk the walk about trying to get the change done because "the city will come after them next" So, how exactly is this gonna get done? And who's gonna be in charge of doing it? For the record, I too am disappointed that certain board members are doing procedural run arounds of the truth. I'm just saying that for all the cheerleaders on here, very few actually do anything but cheer.

Rah Rah Ree, kick 'em in the knee!

There you are. What we have in general here are people who do not like the city wasting money and that's a little different from someone who does not like the city wasting money on something else. This also marks about the fourth or fifth time you who are unhappy yet runs for nothing complaining about primarily Jack complaining and not running and winning and doing something which might actually be the equivalent of drinking all the castor oil in the cabinet for you. Not sure but if the mayor has a 6 year cycle then this November could put the position in the lesser voted one which translates into less signatures. We should be aware that whoever controls this place now will simply try to get their man in there and they will throw in money to try and make it happen.

You are correct....

and I agree that there seems to be a lot of "cheerleaders" for change but very little in the form of action. That is why I posed the question on how to restructure the current organization. I constantly hear and read much discontent but see very little action which led me to believe that enacting change must require some monumental task that was seen as unachievable. I do not, however, see 2800 signatures as a monumental task. While I agree that there has been a lack of candidates running to unseat the current BOD, I was referring to more of an actual restructuring of the current form of city government that will allow positions such as the city administrators to be an elected position and the position of mayor to become less ceremonial and more accountable. And as far as the black cars and subpoena's....and the "city coming after me next" while I don't share the fear that some have of this, if it is a legitimate concern wouldn't that just make you want to rally around the cause for change even more? Do we really want to live in, or even care about, a city that will treat its citizens this way for standing up for their rights and accountability in their government officials?

2800 Doable, Make the Changes & You Won't Hear From Me Again

Change doesn't come overnight, but change is taking place. Obviously, my first frustration with city hall was when our late mayor decided to bail out a CBID member and his privately owned Ferris wheel. Next I found our salaries at the convention center were more than the center's annual revenue. Then, 3 water/sewer rate increases to the public, to only turn around and pull $2.1 million from the same fund to provide utilities to 60 acres of private riverfront property. I could go on and on about the waste and questionable benefits, but you get the picture. The city administrator form of government hasn't worked for the ordinary person. We need a manager who is elected and accountable to the people. I would prefer to even have the city attorney and the city clerk elected as well, but accountability and performance over the influences of special interest groups, who rob the opportunities for our young folks. We don't need more networking, but less strict code enforcement and unnecessary regulations that benefit the connected and hurt new business startups and expanding businesses. In other words, the tail is wagging the dog at Fort Smith city hall, by trying to be the economic engine for the few, rather than allowing free, competitive markets to be the people. Now, 2800 signatures are doable, but you would need people in place, people who care for the city and its' people. Someone who seeks harmony among all. I know Phil Merry cares a great deal for this city and its' people. Whether Phil would be such a person, I don't know, but regardless, people willing to serve would have to be in place. And since we're barn storming 2 year terms for board of directors is better than 4 years, most people could spend 2 years of service to their city. We get accountability and transparency and you will never hear from me again.
Change doesn't come overnight, but change is taking place. Obviously, my first frustration with city hall was when our late mayor decided to bail out a CBID member and his privately owned Ferris wheel. Next I found our salaries at the convention center were more than the center's annual revenue. Then, 3 water/sewer rate increases to the public, to only turn around and pull $2.1 million from the same fund to provide utilities to 60 acres of private riverfront property. I could go on and on about the waste and questionable benefits, but you get the picture. The city administrator form of government hasn't worked for the ordinary person. We need a manager who is ...>> Read the entire comment.

Whatever it takes..

because except for two Directors, I've never seen a set manage to appear to be any more 'up to something' than now. Time to eliminate a few 'sacred cows' also where itemized parts of a deal might just say 'no more than'! What? Let's see the house where that owner lives..OK? This money could be used for schools, parks, social services, employees raises etc. so lets stop being so flippant with it!

Somewhere North Of 62 Million

Fort Smith Taxpayers are paying over 62 million dollars in salaries per year to have their city run honestly and efficiently by city leaders and for that amount of dollars there should not be so many complaints. If the BOD is not able to exercise control over the city administrator then get a new BOD. If the BOD is unhappy with the city boss, it should replace him because it should not be hard to find a good city boss for almost 200,000 dollars per year in salary and benefits.