Illegal meeting? Parks employee's resignation linked to allegation

Thursday, January 30, 2020

By Samantha Jones

Citizen.Editor.Eureka@gmail.com

Parks office manager Dove Bolerjack resigned from her position in November after reporting that the Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission allegedly held an illegal meeting on Sept. 26, 2019.

The Citizen has obtained recordings, emails and personal statements that link Bolerjack’s resignation to the alleged illegal meeting. In a statement dated Oct. 1, 2019, and emailed to Parks director Justin Huss on Oct. 7, Bolerjack says the commission held a special meeting to approve minutes on Sept. 26 at the Harmon Park Office. 

“All the commissioners were in attendance except Draxie Rogers. A member of the press was present,” Bolerjack writes. “After the special meeting was adjourned and the press left the commission members stayed and held a lengthy discussion (approx. 1 hr and 20 min) on various parks matters.”

Parks employee Nicky Boyette, who was in the office at the time of the meeting, issued a similar statement that also was dated Oct. 1 and emailed to Huss on Oct. 7. Boyette writes that the topic of the special meeting was to approve the minutes of a previous commission meeting. That meeting took 15 minutes at the longest, Boyette writes, and a member of the press left at that point.

“Commissioners remained, and [chairman] Bill Featherstone mentioned the many FOIAs submitted by Linda McBride which focused on Justin Huss and expenses related to him,” Boyette writes. “The conversation went on for a while during which time they discussed particulars of her investigation which eventually transitioned to observations about perhaps hiring an outside auditing firm to conduct an operational audit of the internal daily workings of Parks.”

Boyette writes that the purpose of the audit would be to make sure there was sufficient oversight of the handling of financial transactions — “in other words, tightening up the paperwork flow in the office.” According to Boyette’s statement, former commissioner Steven Foster, who resigned from the commission on Thursday, Jan. 23, mentioned that he is on the board of an agency that chooses to have such an audit conducted annually at a cost of several thousand dollars.

“Featherstone observed it was his opinion that McBride certainly had not intended to help Parks perform its work more efficiently,” Boyette writes, “but because of the scrutiny resulting from the FOIAs she might have done Parks a favor. Commissioners seemed to be in favor of discussing the operational audit at a later meeting, and a few suggestions were thrown out about as to who could lead them to a possible auditing firm.”

Boyette writes that the commissioners departed at approximately 10:45 p.m. The recording of the special meeting lasts only nine seconds, but a recording of the alleged illegal meeting spans more than nine hours. In that recording, Featherstone can be heard asking if Bolerjack is alone in the office. Bolerjack says she and Boyette are still there, and Featherstone jokingly remarks, “Oh, we can’t trust Nicky.”

While much of the meeting is muffled, the commission can be heard discussing FOIA requests, hiring an auditing firm and their perceptions of McBride, who said at the commission’s regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 21, that she has submitted more than 30 FOIA requests. Approximately 44 minutes into the recording, a door is heard closing and the recording becomes even more muffled. A door can be heard opening one hour and 16 minutes into the recording, and the commissioners can be heard leaving the office. That’s when Boyette and Bolerjack begin discussing the meeting.

“You know they had a five-minute meeting at 9 and they just got out,” Boyette says.

“That meeting was adjourned,” Bolerjack says.

“No one left but the press,” Boyette says.

In an email to Huss and all members of the commission on Oct. 2, 2019, Bolerjack addresses things “that go against the law.” 

“If you don’t understand what I mean,” Bolerjack writes, “call me at the office.”

Bolerjack writes about a few other things she “found disturbing,” including the commission’s claim that employees buy whatever they want without approval. That is far from the truth, Bolerjack writes.

“The purchasing policy has stayed the same through the last three directors and I might even wager before that as well,” Bolerjack writes. “The Parks staff knows what they can purchase and what will need approval. We all have the directors phone number and know how to use it. Don’t assume just because someone comes into the office and picks up a purchase order and runs to the hardware store that they didn’t called Justin first.”

Bolerjack responds to another claim that “employees must be padding time” because they don’t use a time clock, saying parks employees use the city’s payroll system. If employees were on a time clock system, Bolerjack writes, time would have to be corrected, printed and signed by each employee and delivered to City Hall by 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning with the pay period ending Tuesday  night.

“Not seeing how that is more efficient,” Bolerjack writes. 

Bolerjack writes that at least three parks employees do more work than they put on their time sheet.

“The Commission should consider itself very lucky to have dedicated employees that feel their job is more important than their pay check,” Bolerjack writes. “I promise we do not work for Parks because of the wages and benefits. Almost every staff member is underpaid and knows it.”

Bolerjack then responds to claims that the accounting is not detailed enough. There are 773 accounts and sub-accounts, Bolerjack writes.

“We look through every invoice and PO … to make sure things are getting assigned properly,” Bolerjack writes. “I am more than willing to present you the information in whatever format you wish but someone does have to come and explain to me what they want.” 

Bolerjack ends the email encouraging the commissioners to ask any questions they have.

“For the love of Parks, ask questions!” Bolerjack writes.

Just a little more than a month later, Bolerjack submitted her resignation. In a letter written on Nov. 18, 2019, Bolerjack writes that the past year and a half or so have been a real struggle for the commission. She knew parks was growing and moving in a different direction, Bolerjack writes.

“The past three months have been horrendous. I do not approve of the commission’s unprofessional behavior,” Bolerjack writes. “I do not approve of the undue stress and hardship the commission has caused staff. I do not approve of the commissions blatant disregard for the law. I do not approve of the commission’s current direction. All trust and faith in the commission is gone.”

Bolerjack writes that she has worked with Eureka Springs parks for several years, saying she has seen several changes in leadership. She used to love working for parks, Bolerjack writes, but that has changed.

“It has now come to a point that I do not love my job. In fact, I am now sad about my job,” Bolerjack writes. “When your job makes you sad, it’s time to go. When your job makes you dread going, it’s time to go. When your job makes you physically ill, it’s time to go.”

Bolerjack continues, “When your job negatively affects your family life, it’s time to go. This job causes all of these for me now. It’s time for me to go."

Featherstone said Tuesday that he remembers the meeting, saying commissioners continued talking about parks business after the special meeting was adjourned.

"The conversation was completely spontaneous and unplanned," Featherstone said. "Most of the conversation revolved around finances and financial reporting and related matters. Because it was innocent and impromptu and just volunteers serving to help parks, I thought nothing of it at the time."

Still, Featherstone said, it should not have happened.

"It will never happen again. As the senior member of the commission," Featherstone said, "I assume full responsibility on behalf of the commission."

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