Two complaints against Siloam Springs city board members Bob Coleman and Carol Smiley were dismissed by the Arkansas Ethics Commission on Friday.
Both ethics complaints were filed on Oct. 28 by Siloam Springs resident Larry Kenemore, according to letters from the Arkansas Ethics Commission announcing the decision. After the preliminary results of the commission's staff investigation were presented at the commission's meeting on Nov. 20, commission members voted 5-0 to dismiss both complaints, the letters state.
"The Ethics Commission's decision was based upon a finding that the matters alleged in the complaint, even if true, would not constitute a violation of laws under the Ethics Commission's jurisdiction," both letters state.
Both Coleman and Smiley deny any wrongdoing.
Coleman is a current member at large, who was defeated by David Allen in the Nov. 3 runoff election. Smiley is also a current at large member who retained her seat in the Nov. 3 runoff election.
The complaint against Coleman states that he called an "off-the-record meeting" to discuss changing the termination contract for City Administrator Phillip Patterson to give him at least one-year salary compensation should he be terminated.
The city board did enter a 20-minute executive session in July to discuss amending Patterson's contract, after which Coleman proposed voting to approve an increase in severance pay from six months to 12 months, according to an article in the "Herald-Leader." City board members voted unanimously in favor of the contract changes, it states.
The complaint alleges that neither Patterson nor his representative asked for the contract change and states the action raised the issue of the possibility that Coleman's son, who is a financial planner, does the financial planning for the city administrator, the letter states.
The complaint also alleges that other board of directors members were shocked the issue was brought up because as recently a few weeks before, Patterson was scolded for the city tornado siren system not working when the tornado hit Siloam Springs in October 2019.
"This action smells of collusion and illegality and continues a pattern of pay-for-play politics in Siloam Springs," the complaint states.
"The filing was groundless and without any basis in fact," Coleman wrote in an email response to the commission's decision. "It was filed to divert votes to my opponent. The truth has prevailed."
The complaint against Smiley states she has voted on a number of issues the Walton Family Foundation has been involved with and/or partially funded with the city of Siloam Springs. It alleges that Smiley has taken campaign contributions from the Walton Family Foundation and did not recuse herself from voting on the "GRDA plan or failed bike trails" partially funded by the Walton Family Foundation.
"These actions are pay-to-play," the letter states.
Smiley responded that she knew she had not done anything wrong when the complaint was filed.
Any citizen can file a complaint to the Ethics Commission, according to Graham Sloan, Ethics Commission director. There is an investigation process and the case can go before the board as many as three times, he said. The commission has 240 to 270 days to resolve the case and if it finds a violation, it can issue three levels of public letters, ranging from caution to warning and reprimand. The commission can also issue fines ranging from $50 to $3,500, he said.
Kenemore said he filed the complaints after attending city board meetings and feeling commenters were not treated well.
"Every time you go there to the city meetings and you want to say something they give you a really hard time and treat you something awful," he said.
Kenemore said he felt city board members who have held officer for a longer period of time did not listen or were dismissive while newer board members were more interested in hearing comments.
"There seems to be two separate coalitions on the board, the ones that have been there a long time all vote together, do everything together, and the other ones, the newer ones, are left out in the cold," he said.
In reaction to the Ethics Commission's decision, Kenemore said he plans to look into whether the city board members violated other state laws during the two incidents listed in his complaints.
Kenemore said he has filed a second complaint against Smiley relating to allegations of campaigning during a city board meeting.
Sloan said that he can't confirm there is a second case against Smiley. The commission is required to keep pending matters confidential and can't release any public information about a case until it's over, he said.