City Directors Talk About Prosecutor Not Filing Charges In FOIA Violation Investigation

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FORT SMITH (KFSM)—The Sebastian County Prosecutor will not be filing any charges against the three city directors that he said violated the Freedom of Information Act through email exchanges.

“I really don't believe there was a violation there, [the] prosecutor disagreed with us of course there's still two pending court cases that will go before a judge and we'll see what the outcome is there,” said Director Mike Lorenz.

Lorenz is standing by what he said in his interview with the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office. Capt. Philip Pevehouse asked Lorenz if he thought his actions were in violation of the FOIA. Lorenz said no. When Pevehouse asked Lorenz if in hindsight would he do anything different, he also said no.

Prosecutor Dan Shue released this statement Tuesday (Aug. 29) saying he won’t file charges. It says in part: “The Sebastian County Sheriff's Office investigation did not request the issuance of any warrants or the undertaking of any criminal prosecution."

While Shue agrees with investigators, he said in a written statement Monday, in his opinion Lorenz, Andre Good and Keith Lau violated FOI laws.

According to Fort Smith Attorney Joey McCutchen, the seris of emails in question involve two topics. The first is a settlement proposal McCutchen made with the city. The other involved the Civil Service Commission and the police chief wanting to hire managerial positions from outside agencies. Director Keith Lau said he stayed out of that conversation, and that’s why he wasn’t questioned by investigators.

“What I did was a little bit different,” Lau explained. “I responded back to an email from Carl Gefken and I responded all and two of the city directors and Joey and now I guess the prosecuting attorney thought that was a violation of the FOI.”

He said he respects the prosecutor’s opinion but thinks FOIA laws need to be updated and clarified.

“That's my hope is that we go back to the state legislature and they better define what a meeting is and evolve the legislation,” Lau said.

In his statement, the prosecutor goes on to say: “If there’s another occurrence of conducting public business in this fashion, the Sheriff’s Office and my office will be compelled by the law to take further action.”

“If we conduct business like that in the future, we can be subject to that type of prosecution,” Lau said.

Lorenz added, “Yeah I may not agree, but then again, I'm not going to push my luck either.”

Lorenz said he has no regrets, but both city leaders said they will be cautious of emails they send in the future. Lorenz said he thinks in the end, it will have a negative effect on how efficiently they operate.

McCutchen said in an interview on Monday (Aug. 28), he hopes this accomplishes transparency in city government in the future.

Lorenz said the emails were informational and not making any decisions without the public’s knowledge.