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MIKE MASTERSON: Facing consequences

Smoke, then fire by Mike Masterson | August 8, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Did you notice those flickerings from a smoldering city hall in Cave Springs? When Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith formally requests an Arkansas State Police investigation into the town's apparent financial misdealings, all the smoke from there for months apparently is becoming a blaze.

Smith has asked State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant to investigate the results of a legislative audit that discovered unauthorized overpayments to city officials, the alleged misappropriation of city funds and "other financial irregularities." Reporter Tracy Neal wrote that the prosecutor told Bryant that reading the audit convinced him to seek police assistance in determining how deep and wide these problems run.

Mayor Travis Lee had no immediate comment, nor did Cave Springs' Recorder-Treasurer Kimberly Hutcheson. Can't say I blame them.

City Attorney Justin Eichmann did say he and town officials are trying to fix the assorted problems. "It's a bad audit," he conceded without elaborating on the well-publicized infighting in the town's administration.

Neal quoted a justifiably irate Alderman Larry Fletcher: "A lot of good Cave Springs people have been disrespected as a result of the actions of the elected officials who were found to be at fault in the audit. They had to put their full faith and trust in those people to conduct the business of Cave Springs and apparently it wasn't done. It was negligence, and personally, it is very embarrassing to see a document like this come out about our city."

Heads up, Alderman; the possibility exists things could become even more embarrassing with state police investigators involved.

Another hot car

Speaking of consequences, over in nearby Gentry, Thao Xiong is in trouble after police say he left his 4-year-old son in a heated vehicle for about 40 minutes.

It has become one familiar story after another of parents and/or caregivers deciding to take small children with them in the summer heat then either forgetting or ignoring them in the back seats for periods often long enough to claim their lives.

I've probably written a dozen columns on how incredibly foolish it is to ever take a child along in rear seats on hot days. I accept no one listens to my lecturing on the subject, but you'd think at some point after hearing and reading about deaths in superheated cars, the vast majority of people would understand not to do it. OK, my rant here is done.

In this instance, police say the 33-year-old father left his son in the (thankfully) unlocked car as he went to work at McKee Foods on July 24. Temperatures were in the 90s with the heat index near 100 degrees. The child was discovered about 40 minutes later and taken inside the McKee building where he could be assessed by a nurse.

The news account said it took authorities about 35 minutes to arrive at the scene where Xiong wasn't immediately arrested. But after looking further into circumstances, he later was charged with felony child endangerment.

These easily avoidable events will continue across the nation until a effective remedy is implemented.

Team deep-sixed

Still in Benton County, I had to shake my head at recent developments on its dive team after two members were charged with using public equipment to earn personal profits.

The formal name for this kind of alleged hot water is "theft of services." Seems two dive team members, Chris Perry and James Downum, are accused of using the county's pontoon boat and equipment to help raise a person's sunken boat for a price. The operative word here is "county's."

As a result, the entire dive team has been suspended indefinitely as it's reorganized. One can say it's been officially deep-sixed.

The dive team, budgeted at $57,500 for 2017, has operated by ordinance under an independent board since 2009. Board members have been appointed by the county judge.

But all that's changing as a result of this alleged escapade. Plans are now underway to move the team under direction and authority of the Benton County sheriff (where common sense tells me it should have been from the time it was formed). Ah, those consequences to our actions.

Wise to settle

Transparency-lovin' legal eagle Joey McCutchen of Fort Smith says client Bruce Wade has offered to settle his recent lawsuit with that city over Wade's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for an apology and a promise.

The proposal is only asking the city fathers to agree that they violated the law when its leaders conducted obvious public business via email without notifying the public it serves. And it asks that such informal electronic meetings will not recur.

Last I heard the city was mulling over its response. "If the proposal is accepted, it will save the taxpayers thousands of dollars while ensuring transparency in government as intended by the Freedom of Information Act," said McCutchen, who was pressing the city for a response to save taxpayers from "having to pay additional attorney fees."

What's to mull, except some lost face by those allegedly involved?


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at [email protected].

Editorial on 08/08/2017

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