CAPC never approved Ekberg hiring in open session

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

By Scott Loftis

and Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission never voted in open session to hire Lacey Ekberg as its executive director, a review of meeting minutes and video recordings revealed.

The commission went into executive session during a meeting on July 10, 2019, according to official meeting minutes.

“(U)pon their return they stated that the commission had chosen Lacy Ekberg for the Executive Director and that the commission would be in negotiations with Mrs. Ekberg,” the minutes say.

A video recording of the meeting confirms the version of events detailed in the meeting minutes.

“We have chosen as our new ED, and are still in negotiations with, Lacey Ekberg,” CAPC chairwoman Carol Wright says upon the commission’s return from executive session. “We should have her final word on acceptance of our offer, I would say within 24 hours.”

After commissioners’ comments, which are typically the final item on the commission’s agenda, the meeting is adjourned.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act requires that decisions reached in executive session be ratified by vote in public.

“No resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation, or motion considered or arrived at in executive session will be legal unless, following the executive session, the public body reconvenes in public session and presents and votes on the resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation, or motion,” the act says.

Eureka Springs city attorney Tim Weaver said Tuesday that he couldn’t say what effect the lack of a public vote would have on Ekberg’s employment status.

“I, one, need to look at it and, two, I don’t know the answer,” Weaver said.

Susan Harman, a Eureka Springs alderwoman and CAPC commissioner, acknowledged Tuesday that there were some mistakes in the hiring process.

“In general do I think there were things done incorrectly? Yes,” Harman said. “Do I blame any one particular person? I don’t. Do I think we need to fix it going forward? Absolutely, so commissioners in the future have guidelines to go by if they’re in this situation again.”

“I’ll do what I have to do to fix it,” Harman said. “Hopefully there are some others that feel the same way.”

More questions

Meanwhile, more questions have arisen regarding Ekberg’s background, and how she was vetted as a candidate by the CAPC.

In a cover letter included with the resume she submitted as a candidate for the executive director position, Ekberg writes that she has bachelor’s degrees in marketing and business law. Although the cover letter does not mention specific schools associated with those degrees, a previous employment application that Ekberg signed with Alachua County, Florida, indicates that Ekberg received a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1988 from Boise State University in Idaho and a bachelor’s degree in business law in 1993 from the University of California at Berkeley.

Neither of those degrees, however, could be verified through the National Student Clearinghouse, whose data resources include 94 percent of all degrees awarded in the United States, according to its website.

The clearinghouse could not verify that a Lacey Ekberg or Lacey Powell ever attended Cal-Berkeley. The clearinghouse did confirm that Ekberg attended Boise State University from August to December 1983.

The clearinghouse’s response to a records search notes five possible reasons that a degree cannot be verified: identifying information does not match the information provided by the educational organization; the individual has chosen to keep his or her student records private; the school has blocked the release of the individual’s records; the individual never received a degree from the selected school; or the individual never enrolled.

After meeting with a reporter on Jan. 14 to answer questions about discrepancies in the employment history listed on her resume, Ekberg has since referred all questions to Wright.

Wright has previously declined to comment on Ekberg. She was scheduled to meet with a reporter Tuesday afternoon, but canceled the meeting after being provided with a list of discussion topics, saying via email that she was “unwell and unable to meet today.”

No application

Carroll County Newspapers requested public records related to the executive director hiring process from Wright on Jan. 30. The requested documents included copies of all candidate applications and resumes as well as written notes from reference checks on candidates. Wright provided documents related to 353 individuals who responded to an online job posting, but those documents included fewer than 10 city applications and no notes regarding reference checks on Ekberg or any other candidate.

City officials have been unable to provide an employment application for Ekberg. CAPC finance director Rick Bright said the document should be in the city’s personnel file for Ekberg. In an email response to a request for information, Mayor Butch Berry said he had forwarded the request to mayoral assistant Kim Stryker.

“But I believe that we in City hall do not keep her employment application,” Berry wrote in a Jan. 29 email. “That is the CAPC.”

Stryker responded to the request for information on Jan. 31, providing a single document — a “Request for Personnel Action” dated July 24, 2018, and signed by Wright. That document lists Ekberg’s starting salary at $75,000 per year with a phone allowance of $50 per month. Stryker noted that documents related to Ekberg’s health insurance were not included in the response, as they are exempt from disclosure under federal privacy law.

In a Jan. 30 email to city finance director Lonnie Clark, Harman addresses issues related to Ekberg’s personnel file, pointing out that each member of the CAPC staff is required to have a salary authorization form, a signed and dated employment application and a signed and dated copy of the city’s personnel policy handbook.

“It is my understanding that the Executive Director at the CAPC has not provided all of the required documents to the City of Eureka Springs, AR to establish salary pay previous to her first paycheck or going forward,” Harman writes. “It is my intent at this time to correct current issues and avoid issues down the road all while establishing a clear and concise set of guidelines for the CAPC in the future.”

In addition to her annual salary and phone allowance, Ekberg was also paid $4,000 for moving expenses, authorized by Wright.

Vetting process

In a Jan. 16 email to Bright, Wright refers to reference checks on Ekberg “which I did.”

Commissioner James DeVito, a former Eureka Springs alderman who has declined to answer questions on the record regarding Ekberg, wrote in a Facebook comment that “We had a professional search firm vet her resume.”

In response to a request for records related to any proposals, contracts or financial transactions related to the unnamed search firm that DeVito referred to, Bright responded that no such records exist.

“I have not seen a statement from Mr. DeVito but I can say to my knowledge no firm was hired or contracted to vet the candidates for the executive director position,” Bright said by email on Jan. 29.

DeVito was asked by email Tuesday to respond to Bright’s statement or elaborate on his own statement regarding a search firm. He did not respond.

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