• Dennis McCaslin

McCutchen prevails (again) against city leaders in forcing adherence to state FOIA laws

Joey McCutchen

F0rt Smith attorney Joey McCutchen has (once again) received a judgement in his favor against the city of Fort Smith concerning the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act after circuit judge Gunner Delay ruled in his favor during a hearing on Friday.

McCutchen filed suit on June 4 against the city's Board of Directors alleging they violated the Arkansas sunshine laws when they failed to turn over requested emails and tried to claim the emails were exempt from FOIA. Delay ruled the emails were "clearly" subjected to the state law. Delay ruled the requested information be turned over to McCutchen within three business days.

This is not the first time McCutchen has prevailed against the city in lawsuits concerning the FOIA, with at least two other successful verdicts dating back to 2012. However, each time the court has failed to follow through with applying the misdemeanor criminal sanctions against the city and directors.

The target of the law suit was the seven sitting BOD members, the mayor, city attorney, and the city administration.

McCutchen sought all emails from May 1 202 to the present circulated in a ten-person Board pf Directors email group which has been a point of contention for years. He claims the BOD is holding "secret meetings" concerning the controversial consent decree long standing problems with the city sewer system.

The city, through their long-tenured law firm, refused to to turn over the emails contending they were not subject to FOIA laws.

After McCutchen last successful lawsuit against the city for similar tactics, the city responded by posting a link to an email "dump" on the city website. However, the software is next to impossible to navigate by a regular citizens, downloads take forever and they are seemingly updated when someone decides to make an occasional trip to the "dump".

Getting to even see the emails or navigate the software is a disaster that requires computer savvy and downloading and installing a confusing, and often expensive, piece of software just to open the files.

In fact, the attempt at meeting FOIA requirements is so transparent and outdated the application still lists the email links for former city director Keith Lau and does not have a link to newly elected director Jared Rego, who somehow became vice-mayor in his first term on the board.

You can see the useless link, which the city contends they spent "thousands" on a few years back, by clicking HERE.

“The City thumbed its nose at our request for the contents of this email group. As citizens, we need to ensure that our City is not discussing public business and making decisions without giving notice to the public", McCutchen said in the original lawsuit.

This is obviously a developing story and we will follow up as more information becomes available.

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