LITTLE ROCK, Ark. Fort Smith is barred from violating the Freedom of Information law in the future after a ruling from the Arkansas Supreme Court found the city violated the state open-meetings law.
The state high court ruled yesterday that the city administrator arranged a land transaction in telephone calls with individual members.
Using the city official as a go-between did not alter the nature of his work, which was to facilitate a decision by the board, the high court ruled unanimously in upholding an earlier ruling by the state Court of Appeals.
The appeals court had overturned a Sebastian County circuit judge's ruling that the sequence of events did not violate the provision of the state Freedom of Information Act. Circuit Judge Michael Fitzhugh last year dismissed a lawsuit brought by Fort Smith resident David Harris.
His suit contended that the calls by City Administrator Bill Harding were a violation of the open-meetings provisions of the state FOI law.
In the calls, Harding surveyed board members on a proposed city bid for land. At their next meeting, directors approved entering the bid, and the purchase was eventually approved.
In overturning Fitzhugh's ruling, state Court of Appeals ordered the city to pay Harris' attorney fees and instructed the circuit court to bar the city from further FOI violations.
Fort Smith directors had unanimously voted to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
The high court said yesterday that FOI law does not permit approval of a confidential bid by the method the board used. Whether the process required to approve and submit such bids should be exempted is a public-policy decision to be made by the state Legislature and not by the court, justices said.
Members of the high court heard oral arguments earlier in Fort Smith, a rare road trip for the justices.