CAPC had 3 separate contracts with Ekberg

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

By Scott Loftis and Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission had three separate contracts with former executive director Lacey Ekberg, although only one agreement has ever been discussed in open session by the commission.

Carroll County Newspapers obtained copies of the agreements through an open-records request, which revealed that the CAPC twice altered its 90-day contract with Ekberg despite never discussing or voting on the changes in open session.

Ekberg served as the CAPC’s executive director from Aug. 15, 2019, through Feb. 10, when the commission voted unanimously at a special called meeting to place her on a 90-day agreement as an outside contractor.

At a workshop two days later, CAPC chair Carol Wright said that a contract with Ekberg had been completed. On the morning of Feb. 13, CAPC finance director Rick Bright said via email that he did not have a copy of the signed contract but that it might be available later in the day.

On Feb. 18, Bright emailed a copy of a contract, signed by Ekberg and Wright, who each listed a date of Feb. 14. That contract stipulated that “a 60 day termination release is required by either party,” and named Bright, CAPC staff, Wright and CAPC commissioners as Ekberg’s points of contact.

Another version of the contract, however, did not include the requirement for a 60-day notice. Both Wright and Ekberg signed that version of the agreement and dated it Feb. 14.

A third version of the agreement, which both Wright and Ekberg signed and dated Feb. 14, eliminated Bright’s name as a point of contact for Ekberg and added Rambo, who was named the CAPC’s interim director at a special called meeting on Feb. 24. That version of the contract was stamped as received on March 11. Also stamped as received that day was a separate document, also signed by Wright and Ekberg. Wright’s signature is dated Feb. 14; Ekberg’s is dated March 11.

That document states that Ekberg and Wright “jointly agree to cancel the contract for 90-Day services that refers to a 60-Day review period.”

On March 9, Wright emailed Rogers attorney Ed McClure about the agreement with Ekberg.

“I feel that you should bill the E.S. CAPC for our, now, 3 questions,” Wright’s email to McClure says. “The first two questions on which you advised, have been extremely helpful to me and the CAPC.

“I have another question related to a job contract for our former Director, now a contract employee.

“We signed a 90-day contract which both parties want to void – taking out language that might have the CAPC extend her employment beyond the 90-days AND with a review after 30-days (not enough time to evaluate how much she is working/doing).

“We want to eliminate one sentence that will allow her to work 90-Days being evaluated at that time.

“The Commission and Contractor (former Director) agree on this.

“Is all we have to do to VOID the first contract and sign the new contract, or is more involved?”

In his response, McClure tells Wright: “(W)e will bill you at our hourly rate of $300 per hour.”

Regarding canceling a previous agreement with Ekberg, McClure writes: “You need to memorialize the cancellation. A document needs to be created and signed by both parties.

“I can do that if you like.”

Aside from the initial discussion of a 90-day contract at the Feb. 10 special meeting, no details of any new agreement with Ekberg were ever discussed in open session by the CAPC.

“The first contract was done by the Chair after they agreed to the terms in Executive Session (Was a written statement in the open part of the meeting),” Bright said by email when asked about the multiple agreements. “I was on vacation and missed the meeting and never received a copy of the original contract. When I asked for the contract for your FOIA the Chair and Lacey said they did not have a copy of it for me so they did the second one #2. The second one was not the same as the first one later supplied by Jeff Carter in a later executive session. The commission called me into the executive session with the contract I had (#2) The second one had a 60 termination notice on the end of it.

“Once the new detail came to light in the executive session the commission said that was not what they agreed to so the Chair and Lacey agreed to do another revised contract #3 taking the 60 notice back off of the contract.”

Asked about the agreements with Ekberg via email, none of the commissioners responded in writing. But commissioners Susan Harman and Greg Moon did address the topic in telephone interviews.

Harman said she was aware of only two contracts with Ekberg.

“There were two contracts floating around when she was first released,” Harman said. “They were both dated Feb. 14. They each had 90 percent of the same verbiage and 10 percent that was different. I knew about two and my understanding was they were both signed and for whatever reason we were told by the chair which one was the correct one. I did not know about a third.”

When asked if the commission should have discussed the contracts in open session, Harman said yes.

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” she said. “It’s the same thing with staff and employees. We can talk about those things in open session and we should.”

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act outlines specific guidelines for public bodies meeting in executive session.

“(E)xecutive sessions will be permitted only for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining, or resignation of any public officer or employee,” the act says, with the only exception being for matters related to the security of a public water system or utility system. “The specific purpose of the executive session shall be announced in public before going into executive session.”

Moon said the first contract with Ekberg “disappeared.”

“We didn’t know what happened to it,” Moon said.

He remembered seeing the second contract, Moon said, and in the third contract, a 60-day termination policy had been added.

“We had a meeting on that and told [Wright] that needed to be taken out,” Moon said. “That’s why there’s these two contracts floating around. The first one disappeared. Nobody had a copy of it.”

A March 23 email from Ekberg to Bright referred to a “3rd contract.”

“Did Carol give you 2 receipts for overnight shipping of 3rd contract and void of 2nd contract?” Ekberg wrote. “Both were $26.35 each. I sent receipts in the package to her both times. She said I would get reimbursed for these.”

Bright responded that he would pull the receipts and reimburse Ekberg.

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