Recording: Carter told citizens Rambo ‘can be fired’
Jeff Carter, chairman of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission, discussed the possibility of firing Gina Rambo — who was then serving as the commission’s interim director — at a meeting with a group of citizens approximately three weeks before Rambo’s termination in February 2021.
In an audio recording obtained by Carroll County Newspapers, Carter discusses an upcoming CAPC meeting.
“Next Wednesday at our meeting, the number one topic will be ‘director.’ OK?” Carter says in the recording, which is labeled “CAPC Recordings 02.05.2021 Sean reed meeting with Jeff Carter.”
An unidentified person then asks: “Where would Gina go?”
“Well, she can go back to her original position, if the commission decides she should just do marketing,” Carter replies. “Or, she can be fired.”
The CAPC terminated Rambo on Feb. 24, 2021, after an executive session that lasted more than 30 minutes. Before the executive session, Carter said he had filed a complaint with the other commissioners that he wanted to read into the record.
“It has come to my attention that Gina Rambo attacked me personally through a series of phone calls, messages, around town to local merchants, tax collectors and citizens in the days leading up to the Jan. 27 meeting,” Carter said. “It is my belief that these comments and messages sent out were an effort to discredit me, my business and the work of the commission. These accusations that were made are completely fabricated and false. As the weeks have progressed, I have continued to receive more confirmations that this negative campaign took place. I will cooperate in whatever manner with the commission to provide full transparency to bring this matter to a quick resolution. I appreciate your attention to this issue. It is my belief that this is the type of behavior that is very detrimental to the work of the commission and tourism in Eureka Springs. This is not a time for us to be working against each other, but a time for us to come together as a community for the best benefit of our town.”
“May I say something?” then-commissioner Harry Meyer asked.
“Sure,” Carter replied.
“Yes, I believe there has been almost a battle with the commission by people that have worked for the commission,” Meyer said. “And I can’t imagine being an employer of one of my employees going around telling people in town that I’m not doing a very good job for them, or I need to be replaced. I think we need a code of conduct for the people that work for the CAPC.”
“I just want to say that it goes both ways,” then-commissioner Bobbie Foster said. “We can’t say that an employee can’t say something about us, where in turn it’s OK for a commissioner to say something about an employee. It goes both ways.”
“Sure,” Carter said.
‘Who can you really trust?’
Carter, who became the commission’s chair in January 2021, also tells the group on the recording labeled with a date of Feb. 5 that he isn’t sure if he can “trust” Rambo or then-finance director Rick Bright.
“The other part for me is, who can you really trust?” Carter says. “Who can you really trust in this town? Can I trust Rick? Can I trust Gina? The answer is probably no. So that’s where we are.”
At the same meeting when the commission voted to terminate Rambo, it voted to place Bright on 60 days probation after a separate executive session. Bright retired from the CAPC last fall.
Carter also tells the group during the audio recording that he’s not sure if he wants an audit of the commission’s finances.
“For me personally, I feel like I’m at a tipping point,” Carter says. “If the office will start moving in the right direction, then I think an audit would really destroy us, because we’ll find information that we don’t want to know, right? There’s some things that I don’t want to know. And believe me, Tracy and that group, they’ve covered their tracks. They’ve deleted almost everything. … In my mind, I doubt there’s receipts, like we spent $25,000 for people to play music all over on private property. This email is going to go out today. I’m going to ask Gina to give me a list of bands and what they were paid. And I’m pretty sure the response is: ‘I don’t know.’ I’m pretty sure that they don’t know. … I’m at a point, though, that where if we can move forward and we can do things and we can fix it, let’s not go back and destroy ourselves. If we can’t, then I will not hesitate to go pull that string and say, ‘Here it is, folks.’ ”
Carter’s reference to Tracy apparently referred to Tracy Johnson, the CAPC’s former events coordinator.
Local restaurateur Rodney Slane, husband of city council member Autumn Slane, was among those attending the meeting. Rodney Slane has acknowledged that he and his wife made several audio recordings of city officials discussing CAPC business.
After the Feb. 5 meeting, Rodney Slane contacted Kim Stryker, assistant to Mayor Butch Berry, and expressed concerns over some of the statements Carter had made.
Stryker relayed those concerns to Berry, according to another audio recording. Stryker said Berry had discussed the issue with Carter.
“I know that there have been conversations between Butch and Jeff and I don’t know the outcome, I don’t know the details,” Stryker tells Rodney Slane on a recording labeled “CAPC Recording 02.17.2021 Kim follow up CAPC to Butch.”
Stryker says on the recording that any action following up on Carter’s statements will be a “slow process.”
“I know that Butch took the step and that there have been several conversations, but it’s going to be a slow process,” Stryker says on the recording.
Slane says on the recording that he had expected to hear from Berry directly.
“The minute you and I got off the phone, I went over to my notepad and wrote down the main themes that you told me that you heard from Jeff, in that meeting at Gotahold, so that I could keep them straight in my head,” Stryker says. “Because what you said to me could have only been — you didn’t make that stuff up, because they were all topics that I’ve heard. And so I went back and took notes, and then I called Butch so that I could give him exactly to the best of my recollection what our conversation had just been. And I touched on all of the topics that you told me that Jeff made comments about. And I was shouting on the phone with Butch about: ‘Look, we all know that, you know, people behave in crazy ways and people hear things however they hear things. But there’s enough truth in what Rodney told me that I know Jeff had to have said at least some of this stuff exactly the way that Rodney said it to me.”
Stryker also says on the recording that city officials should be mindful of what they say.
“What you say and who you say it to matters,” she says. “It makes a big difference. And if you go spouting your mouth off with your city council person hat on or your commission chair or commissioner hat on, you’d by God better be ready for some reaction from the people who just heard what you said. That’s serious. … I wish that Jeff had consulted just a little bit before he went shooting his mouth off, but that’s crying over spilled milk. That didn’t happen. He said what he said. And now the chips can fall where they may.”
‘Wrong on many levels’
Stryker said she was disappointed to hear of Carter’s remarks.
“I spent the next day, walking around our house — I think we were iced in last week when you and I talked and I still was working at home on Thursday. I spent the next 24 hours, I’ll bet, walking around here saying out loud, so much so that Sandy (Martin, Stryker’s spouse) finally said, ‘Jesus, God. He did say it. Just get over it. He did say it. Just get over it.’ I kept saying over and over, ‘I can’t believe he f*****g said that. I can’t believe he just said s**t like that. What was he thinking? What was he thinking?”
Stryker says in the recording that Berry took her concerns seriously.
“When I went down my list of topics, I said: ‘There’s no way that Rodney could have made this stuff up. It had to have been said and it had to have been said by Jeff.’ That’s why I give it so much credence. And Butch was in agreement. I mean, he was like, yeah, taken up with the same seriousness as I was delivering it. No matter how loud the decibel level. And I would tell you, because there have been things that I’ve taken to Butch before, and he didn’t take them as seriously. And I got p****d off at him. And, you know, we have our own internal war about that. This one wasn’t one of those, but I would tell you if I took it to him and he was like, ‘Nah, you know, brush it off, it’s fine,’ or ‘It’s just Rodney’ or whatever. But that wasn’t his reaction.”
Stryker tells Slane on the recording that Berry “was careful to report back to me that ‘I talked with Jeff.’
“Because he knew that I was like, ‘This is serious s**t. On so many levels, this is serious s**t. As an employer, this is serious s**t. As a chair of a commission, this is serious s**t. As a person just repeating information … this is all serious s**t. There’s not one level that you can look at and go, ‘Oh, well, I can understand that.’ No! No! This is wrong on many levels.”
Stryker tells Slane that “the wheels are in motion inside the city.”
“Are you going to see Jeff standing at the public gallows out in front of the courthouse?” Stryker says. “Because they haven’t built the damn things, even though I want them. I think it would stop a lot of s**t.”
Stryker says in the recording that Carter’s remarks touched on “employment issues.”
“I don’t know how Butch handled those with Jeff,” Stryker says. “Things that he said about employees or implied about employees. Those are employment issues. … I’m sure that’s where Butch spent some big a** time with Jeff about, ‘Wait, there is due process here for your concerns. And you didn’t follow ’em.’ ”
In a Feb. 8 deposition taken as part of an ongoing lawsuit involving the CAPC, Berry was asked by attorney Tim Parker if he had had any conversations with Carter about meetings where Carter discussed CAPC business with people in the community.
“Possibly in passing,” Berry replied.
“Have you had conversations about Jeff Carter about things he’s said to people in the community that have upset you?” Parker asked.
“I don’t remember any conversation,” Berry answered.
Carter was deposed the same day. Parker asked Carter if he had engaged in a conversation about Rambo with local business people.
“I don’t recall any specific meeting about me discussing Gina,” Carter answered.
In an audio recording labeled “CAPC Recording 01.27.2021 Jeff & Heather Carter. Rodney & Autumn Slane,” Carter says “we’ve got to take away Gina’s powers.”
Carter also says CAPC staff “moved money.”
“They moved money,” he says on the recording. “Gina created a whole new line, budget line (that) didn’t exist, started spending money without any oversight or any approval for the Overhead Music Series. None of that was talked about. None of that was approved. … There’s no transparency. She starts spending money, out of Tracy’s budget. Tracy had a budget, but some of those events were canceled. … So there was money that wasn’t spent. So what did they do? They created another line that didn’t exist, this Overhead Music Series, never approved by the commission. They started spending money. Then they came to the meeting, right? And they’re like, ‘Hey, we want to talk about this Overhead Music Series.’ We were smart enough as a commission to realize that they were already spending money on something we had not approved.So what do we do?
“We were forced to approve it, or look like we were …” Carter says, never completing the sentence. “So they’re spending money that’s approved. But the way it was done, we just can’t allow that.”
During Carter’s deposition, Parker asked him if he had ever alleged that Rambo created a new budget line that did not exist and started spending money out of Johnson’s budget.
“I don’t recall that,” Carter said.
“Do you have any knowledge that she did that?” Parker asked.
“Do you have more specifics?” Carter replied.
“Just what you said,” Parker said,
“Without more specifics, I don’t — I don’t know what — the budget is very complicated and it’s very lengthy,” Carter replied.