Arkansas Supreme Court Says Fort Smith Board Emails Did Not Violate FOIA

FORT SMITH (TB&P) — The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled Fort Smith city directors did not violate the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when they used emails to discuss an issue. Thursday’s (June 20) court opinion reverses a lower court ruling.

Fort Smith resident Bruce Wade, represented by attorney Joey McCutchen, sued the city in 2017 claiming emails between several city directors about the employment practices of Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark violated the open meeting rules within the FOIA. The emails centered on Clark’s desire to amend rules of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to allow hiring and/or appointment of officer positions to include external applicants, a decision opposed by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) that was allowed to die for lack of motions at the commission’s May 22 meeting.

On Jan. 5, 2018, Sebastian County Circuit Judge J. Michael Fitzhugh said the series of emails written in May and August of 2017 between board members and City Administrator Carl Geffken were in violation of FOIA. Judge Fitzhugh ruled in favor of Wade, noting that “Under the facts of this case the Court concludes that informal meetings subject to the FOIA were held by way of emails. The purpose of which was to either opine or survey the members as to the demise of the CSC and/or acceptance/rejection of a settlement.”

“These are clearly matters that should have occurred in a public setting,” Fitzhugh wrote, adding that the city was “permanently enjoined from conducting public business in this matter without notice.”

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