Parks investigations: State police, special prosecutor looking into separate cases
By Samantha Jones
The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is currently being investigated by the Arkansas State Police and by a special prosecutor in separate cases.
Eureka Springs Police Chief Brian Young confirmed Feb. 28 that the commission is being investigated for holding an alleged illegal meeting and for missing money. Young said the investigation regarding missing money was turned over to the Arkansas State Police, while a special prosecutor has been appointed to handle the investigation into the alleged illegal meeting.
The Carroll County News and the Lovely County Citizen, sister newspapers published by Carroll County Newspapers, recently reported that the commission allegedly held an illegal meeting on Sept. 26, 2019. Parks director Justin Huss confirmed Monday that this is the same alleged illegal meeting being investigated by the special prosecutor.
At the time of the alleged illegal meeting, Huss said, he was at a conference in Baltimore.
"It was originally intended to only be a special meeting to approve the minutes from the prior meeting so we could purchase the shuttles," Huss said.
Parks office manager Dove Bolerjack resigned from her position in November, and recordings, emails and personal statements link her resignation to the alleged illegal meeting.
In a statement dated Oct. 1, 2019, and emailed to 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 present except Draxie Rogers, Bolerjack writes, and they stayed and held a lengthy discussion for approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes after the special meeting was adjourned.
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 special meeting took 15 minutes at the longest, Boyette writes, and a member of the press left at that point.
“Commissioners remained, and [former 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 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.
Less than two months 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.
“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.”
Featherstone said Jan. 28 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."
Ruth Hager, who was named the new chair on Feb. 27, could not be reached for comment. Huss said he couldn't give comment on the investigation into missing money, saying he can't give an official statement on matters under investigation.