Fort Smith will appeal a judge’s decision that city officials violated the Freedom of Information Act by conducting public meeting business over email, the city administrator said.
City Administrator Carl Geffken contended Tuesday that emails between himself and city directors Andre Good, Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz did not violate FOIA, despite a court order filed Thursday in which Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Fitzhugh denied the city’s motion for summary judgment in a civil lawsuit that claimed it violated FOIA and granted summary judgment to plaintiff Bruce Wade.
“Under the facts of this case, the Court concludes that informal meetings subject to the FOIA were held by way of emails,” Fitzhugh’s order states. “The purpose of which were to either opine or survey the members as to the demise of the (Civil Service Commission) and/or acceptance/rejection of a settlement. These are clearly matters that should have occurred in a public setting. The plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted and the defendant’s motion for summary judgment is denied. Further, the defendants are permanently enjoined from conducting public business in this matter without notice.”
There are two email threads in question — one from May 2017 when city officials discussed potential actions the board could take after the Civil Service Commission did not approve a request from Police Chief Nathaniel Clark to accept external applicants for supervisor positions and one from August 2017 when city officials discussed a settlement offer regarding a lawsuit filed over the first set of emails.
In August, Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue issued a letter to the board stating that he found both email exchanges to be in violation of FOIA and that if this continues, his office and the Sheriff’s Office would be compelled to take further action.
The city has spent $31,000 on legal services pertaining to the lawsuit, Geffken previously said.