Berry: ‘I do not believe that I lied under oath’
Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry did not lie under oath in a deposition, he told the city council Monday night.
“Recently I was, been accused of lying,” Berry said at the end of a tense two-hour meeting at the Auditorium. “I want to be clear that I did not. I do not believe that I lied under oath.”
On April 14, the Lovely County Citizen reported on an audio recording of a conversation between Berry and city council member Autumn Slane. In that recording, which is labeled with a date of April 5, 2021, Slane expresses concern about issues regarding the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission.
“There’s just talk of embezzlement,” Slane says. “And then all of a sudden we’re spending half a million dollars. It’s just a little alarming.”
“The embezzlement was — Tracy,” Berry replies, pausing briefly. “I mean, that wasn’t anything about us, because the state auditors that audit us, they came up and they would have found it. They’re aware of our concerns about Tracy.”
Berry appeared to be referring to Tracy Johnson, former events coordinator for the CAPC.
In a deposition taken Feb. 8, 2022, as part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by Johnson and several other plaintiffs, Berry testified that he never told anyone that Johnson had embezzled money or property from the city.
Asked by attorney Tim Parker if he was sure about his answer, Berry replied: “Yes, sir.”
“So is your statement here today under oath that you never represented to anyone that Tracy Johnson stole, embezzled or wrongfully took money from the CAPC or the City of Eureka Springs?” Parker asked.
“No, sir,” Berry replied. “Not to the best of my knowledge, no, sir.”
At Monday’s council meeting, Berry said he did not accuse Johnson of embezzlement.
“I was not accusing Tracy Johnson of embezzling during the snippet of a secretly recorded conversation made by Autumn Slane,” Berry said. “When I sat for my deposition with Mr. Parker, I did not recall having the conversation at issue with Ms. Slane. This can be seen from my response in the deposition. I said ‘to the best of my knowledge.’ I’ve had lots of conversation with lots of people during the course of my day as mayor, as a professional and as a citizen, and I cannot remember every single detail of every single conversation. After listening to the recording, my recollection was that Ms. Slane was relaying to me that she had heard that there was embezzling at the city. My response was that those rumors were in reference to Miss Johnson. I stated that they were not about the city itself and if there had been any embezzlement at the city level, it would presumably be caught by the legislative audit. Both the city and the CAPC are tasked with overseeing taxpayers’ dollars and ensuring that those dollars are spent carefully, appropriately, fairly and lawfully. When information is received that this is perhaps not the case, even via rumor, that information cannot be ignored and there is an obligation to look into it and report it to any appropriate authorities. I have nothing but the best interest and love for this city at my heart, and I think I’ve shown that in word and deed during my tenure as mayor. Given that there is an ongoing lawsuit in which I am named, I will not be able to comment further, on advice of counsel.”
Earlier in the meeting, council member Melissa Greene questioned the credibility of the Citizen’s reporting.
“This is newspaper articles,” Greene said. “Does everybody believe what’s put in the paper? I don’t. I find out stuff myself. The one thing I’m going to say is, our side in this lawsuit has not tried our court case in public opinion. Our case is not out in the public. You don’t know our side. And I’m going to ask that anybody out there that has a brain, reserve your judgment until this is over and hear our side. It might change your mind; it might not. But wait until you make judgments and before you believe everything that’s in a paper, really? I don’t. Because it’s so easy. I can say ‘the sky is blue, except when it’s black,’ and they can write ‘the sky is blue.’ So I look like an idiot, because everybody knows the sky is dark at night. So, I’m a little offended by some of this.”
An audio recording of Greene speaking with Rodney Slane, April Slane’s husband and a local restaurateur, was quoted in the Citizen’s April 15 report, with Greene alleging that CAPC employees “wrote themselves a check on the slush fund.”
“I think they got all got caught up in something that they didn’t have any control over and they got a hold of, as I affectionately call it, a slush fund,” Greene said on the recording. “And they just wrote themselves a check on the slush fund.”
At Monday’s meeting, Greene said she was “gossiping with a friend” on the recorded conversation.
“I was voicing my opinion,” she said. “Throughout the whole conversation, I say ‘I think, I think.’ Those were opinions, whether they’re right or wrong. I didn’t accuse anybody of anything, but I am ashamed. I was gossiping with a friend. I couldn’t believe that a friend would record me. That would be the last thing I would ever do, even if I was angry or thought they were hiding something. I just, for me, it’s as low as low can be.”
Greene chastised Autumn Slane for recording her conversation with Berry.
“The recording of Mayor Butch, Butch was helping you, Autumn,” Greene said. “He was trying to assimilate you to be a good council person. And you’re the one asking him about the embezzlement. You’re the one that brought up that word. Miss Johnson, if that’s who we’re talking about, cannot embezzle. She doesn’t have her hands on the money. What I was told about her, after I heard that rumor over and over and over, I talked with Kim and it was, she was allowed to use her production company and bill us twice. To me, I don’t like that, but that’s an opinion. … Yes, I’m ashamed that I got caught gossiping, but I know most of you out there. I’ve gossiped with you before. I’ve seen you gossip. You know, we all have opinions, and sometimes our opinions aren’t liked by other people. I just think this was low. I really think it was low, and I’m going to say this, this is what makes me the most angry. As a city council person, as a mayor, we are tasked with the safety, the welfare of the people of this town. When you actively help someone that is suing our town for $16 million, you’re not thinking of the health, the safety and welfare. Why didn’t you come to me and bring me that tape? Why did you give it out? It was in all our depositions, so it was out before that. You know, I sat there and listened to ’em all. I was there. I watched when Butch was asked about that, and he was just perplexed. He doesn’t remember. He doesn’t recall. So what? That doesn’t make him dishonest or incredible. He just doesn’t recall.”
Before Greene’s comments, Autumn Slane said she doesn’t trust her fellow council members or Berry.
“I don’t trust anybody up here, to be honest,” Slane said. “And I have done my due diligence to make sure that that’s been known and heard and, you know, I have no idea what to even say here. I think the recordings speak for themselves.”
Council member Harry Meyer responded.
“I don’t know what to say,” Meyer said, chuckling. “You don’t trust anybody? You don’t trust anyone up here at this table? It’s ridiculous. Then why are you here? I’m dumbfounded. … Now, if y’all are going to assume that attitude, that we’re all liars, you have to secretly record us, you’ve only been here a while but you know everything. I’m just dumbfounded that you can be so smart in such a short amount of time.”
Earlier in the meeting, Autumn Slane said she had become frustrated by attempts to control what is discussed at the council table.
“You know, I had private conversations with many of you before I sat on this table, and it was it was definitely told to me that I need to have certain opinions,” Slane said. “And when that didn’t align, it was not a compromise. It was not an understanding. It was more of, ‘well, this is how we do things.’ So yeah, I struck hot and I’m sorry about that. But honestly, there are some dirty politics. And I fought dirty.”