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Discouraged and disappointed

Riff Raff, by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

One may admire the perseverance of Fort Smith City Directors Kevin Settle and Mike Lorenz in their effort to quash any discussion of how the city handles its legal needs, but their passion is raising more red flags among citizens not prone to cynicism, conspiracy or WTF!?

The focus of this essay is on the Tuesday night (July 15) Board meeting actions of Settle and Lorenz, but we must first review the origins that brought us to what may prove to be a classic example of how to raise insurmountable doubts about your ability to govern simply by opening your mouth.

A few weeks ago legitimate questions were raised about the billing practices by the law firm of Daily & Woods in its representation of the city of Fort Smith. These were not necessarily contract-ending or government-crumbling allegations, and it’s likely that any public relations person could have provided a positive response strategy resulting in adequate resolution. (Feel free to follow this link to bone up on the issue.)

But instead of a professional and pragmatic response to the serious allegations, the city of Fort Smith sought to kill the messenger (Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell), allowed the alleged to self-investigate the allegations and then report innocence with a straight face, and the Board of Directors twice used a rarely-used ordinance to privately remove public discussion of how to respond to the allegations. What emerged is now a cloud of uncertainty in which many citizens wonder if the attempts by Settle, Lorenz, Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders and City Administrator Ray Gosack to scuttle discussion were worse than any truth there may have been to the initial allegations.

We return to Tuesday in which Directors Settle and Lorenz receive a “D” grade for their opposition to repeal an ordinance that allows the Board to privately remove agenda items that were approved in a public format. Let me restate that: Four members of the Board of Directors, led by Settle and Lorenz, voted to allow themselves to kill something in private which they, for whatever reason, do not want to discuss in public. (Feel free to link here to the story about the Tuesday night Board vote.)

The “D” grade is given because the actions of Settle and Lorenz were discouraging and disappointing, and disrespectful to the fundamental notion of protecting minority interests and views in a representative government. The argument Settle and Lorenz (and, unfortunately, to which Directors Andre Good and Keith Lau agreed) used to retain their ability to conduct business outside the public view was that any two directors could bog down Board meetings with triviality and nonsense. It was a false argument in that long meetings have not been a problem, whereas Directors discussing public business in private arenas has and continues to be a problem.

It is absurdly over-the-top yet painfully necessary to reach back to the Founding Fathers’ (primarily Madison and Adams; and think, “tyranny of the majority”) work to protect the interests of minority viewpoints and factions as a reminder to Settle, Lorenz, et al., that governance isn’t pretty. A representative government was never meant to be easy or devoid of badgering from those with minority viewpoints. Voting rights for non-property owners, voting rights for women, and the abolishment of slavery were once the viewpoints of fringe political minorities who refused efforts to keep their views out of the public discourse.

Settle said Tuesday that allowing two directors to approve a board agenda item without the ability to privately remove said item would lead to inefficiency. Dear Director Settle: Efficiency is never a preference when it negates transparency.

Settle and Lorenz are borrowing problems and/or creating a straw-man argument by asserting that repealing an ordinance preventing private removal of publicly-placed board items will result in bad government. Let’s remember, the pursuit of a more transparent government is the reason this issue is an issue. Legitimate questions were raised about the relationship between the city and its legal services. Those legitimate issues were quashed by the Board using a non-transparent method of governance. The growing number of people (including prominent business leaders) who have reached out to me in recent weeks have not expressed concern about the possibility of inappropriately inefficient actions of two Board members; their deep and growing concerns are with the curious and unexplained actions by a majority of Board members to repeatedly and with the use of arcane ordinances avoid public conversations about the public’s business.

Having watched Fort Smith city government for more than 20 years, please know I avoid hyperbole and joy in saying that the dysfunction and level of Board competence has reached alarming high and low levels, respectively. With every effort to avoid transparency, Settle and Lorenz make it more clear they are unsuited for this level of public service.

Fort Smith citizens should know that city functions and board actions have produced results that are not good. There remain legitimate doubts about our legal services. From that there are growing doubts about overall municipal transparency – doubts also arising from the fact we were just recently made aware that the city has been without an internal auditor for six months and counting. And now we have a lawsuit alleging potential violations of Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act related to Board efforts to privately alter public decisions. The city does not have a good track record with lawsuits involving violations of Freedom of Information Act laws.

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If it is some complex “House of Cards” schemery of Messrs. Settle, Lorenz, Sanders and Gosack to push citizens to more seriously consider a new form of government, then my future essays will attempt admiration for their low-rent Machiavellian plans.

Until then, I am discouraged and disappointed in the capacities of elected and hired leadership of a city with such great potential.

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 4.8 (24 votes)

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Comments

Thank You

Thank you Mike Tilley for speaking the truth and the heart of so many residents of Ft. Smith. I have been disappointed for such a long time now and to see the brazenness not only continue but escalate, is very disturbing. I have lost hope at this point that there will be transparency in our city government and representation of the people. I believe the only word that can apply is tyranny. Again, thank you for speaking the truth and heart of so many.

Lack Of Transparency

Lack of transparency are the vital signs of weak and insecure leadership so maybe Jack was right when he said that we should change our form of government.

Beautiful Comment Me Tilley And

you are right on the money because Settle and Gosack are playing with a stacked deck. Many shades of gray but definitely not operating in the best interest of the people and Lorenz, Good, Lau and Catman are just there for the ride.

Well said Michael!

Your article cuts right to the heart of the issue. Thank you for expressing my views so well. The real issue here is Director Settle. For a long time he has viewed himself as the smartest Director on the block (which is not saying much). He will do whatever it takes to win, even if its not really the best answer or the will of the people. Why? Because he knows what you need and want better than you do and by the way...he is smarter. This comes from a lack of success in his professional life, so he is trying to be "big man on campus" as City Director in order to be a big man in a little town. He knows the powers that be do not like him and frankly do not respect him. This is a "I'll show you" way of legislating. Director Lorenz is a good guy but he suffers from the same issue and follows Settle like a well trained assistant. The two combined just fugured out they can control the agenda. But to what end? Protect Gosack is the obvious answer. He provides them with inside information that the other Directors may or may not get and they are always one step ahead. Pay attention to what is said in study sessions and meetings by these two. They always seem to know more than the others. They also manipulate schedules and timing of things to meet their needs and push their agendas. The sad part is no one takes them on and fights back. Weak. Yes, its a sad state of affairs. But remember, we voted these guys in and have Settle for 4 more years. Enjoy.

Intransparency at its finest

The reason to try and avoid this is humans who are curious enough to notice the weeds are moving are almost always even more curious about what's causing it to happen. For a long time, they will try and guess at what's in there until they finally decide it's never going to bite them. One director even went so far as to state, 'Not that many people want an investigation here'!..? What makes this so amazing is he said in an area that for the past hundred years or so has ranked right up there with Libya as far as letting people know what their government was really up to. Ever since one could find himself dangling from a rope in this town because he probably did it, enough people having access to accurate information has been the main problem. Changing the form of government here could be like changing the environment for a group of chameleons if we are not careful.

Gang of fools

This is probably another example of "the cover-up is worse than the crime" and these guys are too blinded by hubris to see it. These guys have to understand this issue isn't going away until there are answers. If there's nothing to hide or just a simple mistake, now is the time to clear the air and move on to more important matters before the coverup becomes the main story.

This is not going away!

Thank you for putting a voice to the thoughts that many of us have! I totally agree!

What Leadership?

The fools can't get anything right so why is anyone surprised by their feeble attempts at a cover-up?

Going Going Gone

Gosack, Settle, and Hudson could really serve the people of Fort Smith well by taking a very long leave of absence.