- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - City leaders in northwest Arkansas have been advised to reject a settlement in a lawsuit that accuses them of violating the Freedom of Information Act by discussing city business in emails.

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen filed two FOIA lawsuits on behalf of a resident. One of the lawsuits is against the city, and the other is against City Directors Keith Lau, Andre Good and Mike Lorenz.

The lawsuits say that emails directors exchanged discussing city business amounted to an unlawful meeting. They ask the court to stop directors from conducting business out of public view.

McCutchen’s settlement offer requires the city directors to admit that the emails violated the act by holding informal meetings.

Jerry Canfield, the city’s attorney, recommended at the board’s study session Tuesday that the city directors reject the offer.

“Primarily, I don’t recommend the city accept it because I don’t believe actions that have been asserted to be violations of the Freedom of Information Act are in fact violations,” Canfield said.

Canfield said there isn’t a definition of “meeting” in the act.

“I believe our Legislature has dealt with electronic communications,” Canfield said. “They made it clear it was a public record and said nothing about it being a public meeting. I think the Legislature has spoken.”

The board will vote to accept or reject the offer at the next regular meeting Sept. 19.

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