Fort Smith City Director Wants To Dissolve Police Department’s Civil Service Commission

FORT SMITH (KFSM) -- If a position of sergeant rank or higher needs to be filled in the Fort Smith Police Department, it has to be filled or promoted from within the department.

Police Chief Nathaniel Clark went before the Civil Service Commission on Monday (May 22) and asked that the policy be changed. Clark wanted the option to hire outside applicants to fill those positions.

The members of the commission denied Clark's request.

"It would have allowed the ability of the police chief to hire somebody with no knowledge of Arkansas law, no experience as a law enforcement officer in Arkansas, no knowledge of Arkansas criminal procedure, never been in an Arkansas court room to become a supervisor and be a supervisor over someone who had been a street officers for a day or perhaps 15 years," said Chip Sexton, chairman of the Civil Service Commission. "I think that creates a major public safety concern."

In the same week, Fort Smith Board of Director Andre Good sent an email to City Administrator Carl Geffken to be forwarded to fellow board members. To read the email and other emails from those involved, click here.

The email asked for support of fellow directors in dissolving the Civil Service Commission "as soon as possible."

"If the chief wants to implement anything it has to be approved by the Civil Service Commission. If they say no then that staggers his ability to do his job and if we have asked him, this is what we are asking you to do and he cant do it because his hands are tied where do we go then? Then they will ask him for his resignation," Good said. "I understand working at a place for 5 to 10 years and wanting to be promoted. The focus seemed to be, appeared to be on the body of the Civil Service Commission, how this change is going to effect their process and how it's going to effect our current employees. Which there is nothing wrong with that, but the focus shouldn't be always on us. The focus should be broader on the whole city."

Several Fort Smith officers spoke their opinion during the meeting on Monday night. Officer Wendall Sampson, who spoke in support of Clark's agenda said he was not asked his opinion when one board member suggested 90 percent of police department employees were against the change.

"I'll tell you right now. I haven't seen that list. I wasn't asked that question. It's absolutely incredible people can say with a straight face 'I'm scared of competition,'" Sampson said.

Retired Captain Jarrard Copeland and member of the F.O.P. wrote this statement:

"It's unfortunate that a city director would have this kind of knee jerk reaction to a decision simply because it wasn't the decision he hoped for. The existence of the Civil Service Commission is to protect the men and women of the Fort Smith Police and Fire Departments. It is their only option to appeal what they might feel is unfair treatment and with their current working conditions, low pay, shortage of manpower and worn out equipment. It's sad to know that one of our city directors now wants to abolish the Civil Service Commission. Simply, because they didn't make the decision he wanted them to make."

Good was asked if he thought he would receive support from fellow board members to dissolve the Civil Service Commission.

"After last night's meeting, the chief and Sgt. Wes Milam gave a State Of The Police Department address and it was a very good presentation. After the presentation, I would like to thank my fellow board members," Good said. "Tracy Pennartz, she actually spoke up as well as Mike Lorenz on the issue of that as an organization, not just as a police department you need to be more focused on our citizens and transparency. Tracy spoke up with heart and passion. I believe I do have the support. Not saying they would vote for it, but it's obvious because it appears as though my fellow board members see the lack of diversity in the whole organization. Primarily, the police and fire departments, but not limited to. They also see as a whole organization we need to be focused on community not just individuals, not just organizations."

Good said he has spoke with other city leaders and police chiefs outside of Fort Smith to get an idea of how they run things.

"I don't know the next steps. But, I do know there has to be a body in place. A Civil Service Commission, from what I can tell, by trying to do research in talking to other chiefs out of state. There has to be a body in place that takes the place and represents our municipalities. Our fire and our police. There has to be an agency aboard a group in place to handle the changes and policies in place similar to the Civil Service Commission," Good said. "To replace them but not to do the same things."