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Flag display removal draws suit

John Lovett

Fort Smith Southwest Times Record USA TODAY NETWORK

A local attorney has filed two lawsuits against the city of Fort Smith recently: One is for the city’s removal of flags at Riverfront Park and the other claims a violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Joey McCutchen filed suit in Sebastian County Circuit Court on Thursday claiming the city violated the Arkansas State Capitol and Historical Monument Protection Act when it removed a display of flags and bronze markers from Riverfront Park in Fort Smith. The flag display and bronze markers were taken down in April 2020 and were not replaced.

McCutchen also filed suit Friday claiming the city violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act for not responding to a request for over a year of emails.

Colby Roe of Daily & Woods, the city’s law firm, said Monday the city will reply to the lawsuit regarding the flags in the 30-day time allowed. A hearing is set Friday for the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, Roe added.

The flags included several historical American flags, a Confederate flag along with flags of Spain and France, which were taken down in April 2020. The original flags were installed in October 2000. The city stated the flags were taken down “due to age and condition.”

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said May 28 the city would replace the flags with those of the five branches of the United State military, along with a United States flag.

McCutchen said his complaint requests an order compelling the city to “immediately replace the flags and markers and enjoin future violations of the act.”

“The removal of the historical flag display and bronze markers identifying each flag was done without transparency or input from Fort Smith citizens,” McCutchen stated in the release. “Fort Smith history is important and must be

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protected and preserved.”

McCutchen also noted that while he commends the idea to honor veterans and troops by raising U.S. military flags, “they cannot do so by unlawfully displacing another historical flag display.”

FOIA lawsuit

McCutchen’s Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the city of Fort Smith was filed Sebastian County Circuit Court on Friday. The lawsuit stems from a FOIA request sent by McCutchen on May 27 to Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken, Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, and City Attorney Jerry Canfield, seeking all emails sent or received by the Fort Smith “Board of Director Email Group” from May 1, 2020 to May 27, 2021. “The City thumbed its nose at our request for the contents of this email group,” McCutchen said in a news release. “As citizens, we need to ensure that our City is not discussing public business and making decisions without giving notice to the public as it did by non-transparently removing flags from Riverfront Park.”

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