City of Fort Smith (AR) and school district accused of Open Meeting violations on several occasions in 2017

The city of Fort Smith and the Fort Smith School Board were accused of violating the Freedom of Information Act on more than one occasion this year.

In one instance, Sebastian County Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor found the school board to be in violation, calling an email exchange between school board members a “meeting” with no prior notice given to the public as required by FOIA. In October 2016, school board members discussed slates of officers via email before officially electing officers at their regular public meeting.

In a separate lawsuit, the Arkansas Court of Appeals determined in March that the school board did not violate FOIA at a June 2015 meeting when it voted to retire Southside High School’s Rebel mascot and “Dixie” fight song, upholding a ruling by Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox that dismissed the lawsuit by June Bradshaw.

Five school board members had an unscheduled discussion about the Rebel mascot and fight song and voted in open session to stop using them. The board later had a final vote at a July meeting. The lawsuit claimed that the board failed to give proper notice of the committee meeting. The law requires that notice of a public meeting be given to the news media and to anyone who requests it. FOIA also does not require that public bodies give notice of what will be discussed at a meeting. Read more…