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Arkansas mayor defends firing of district court staff

April 9, 2019

HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. (AP) — A mayor in eastern Arkansas insists he didn’t overstep his authority when he fired all the office employees at a court in the city, saying an audit that found financial irregularities justified the dismissals.

Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith said he fired the six employees of the District Court clerk’s office last Friday, swiftly drawing complaints from some members of the City Council, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“It’s not a power move,” Smith said. “I am doing this for the public good. We had some serious problems.”

An Arkansas Legislative Audit report in November found issues with the court’s accounting practices, including more than $130,000 in year-end bank balances that were unidentified and a full-time employee working six-hour days. The audit’s findings were submitted to the 1st Judicial District prosecutor’s office for criminal investigation.

Smith said he met with the City Council on Monday regarding potential litigation over his decision. Smith said some council members believe District Court staffers are employees of the state, not the city.

“The position of the Arkansas Legislative Audit, as you can see in the audit itself, has been that our particular District Court falls under the mayor’s office and it is the mayor who is ultimately held accountable,” Smith said in a letter released Monday.

District Court Judge Durwood King wrote in a letter to the council that the mayor will supervise district court employees until more clarification is provided.

“If we don’t take this audit serious, then we can be held in noncompliance and the state could withhold funding from our city,” Smith said. “As a city ... dealing with severe financial challenges, we can’t afford that.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com