Lawsuit names CAPC commissioners, Berry, Stryker

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mayor Butch Berry, his chief administrative assistant Kim Stryker and five members of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission all declined to comment after being named as defendants in a lawsuit filed last week by an attorney representing a group including current and former CAPC employees.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit — filed Wednesday, March 10, in Carroll County Circuit Court by Eureka Springs attorney Tim Parker — are CAPC finance director Rick Bright, group sales coordinator Karen Pryor, former publicist Gina Rambo, former events coordinator Tracy Johnson and former commissioner Greg Moon.

Defendants are Berry, Stryker, CAPC commissioners Jeff Carter, Carol Wright, James DeVito, Melissa Greene and Harry Meyer, the city of Eureka Springs, Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company and State Auto Mutual Insurance Company. Both Greene and Meyer are members of the Eureka Springs City Council in addition to sitting on the CAPC.

All the individual defendants were served before the commission's workshop and regular meeting on March 10.

Bright, Rambo, Johnson and Moon are seeking compensatory damages of $1 million and punitive damages of $3 million each. Pryor is seeking compensatory damages of $250,000 and punitive damages of $500,000. All of the plaintiffs are also seeking reimbursement from the defendants for court costs and attorney’s fees and asking for trial by jury.

Among other allegations, the 44-page complaint accuses Carter and Wright of defamation, libel and slander against Moon, Johnson, Rambo and Bright. Stryker and the city of Eureka Springs are accused of releasing private personal information about Moon, Johnson, Rambo, Bright and Pryor. Wright, Carter, the city and the CAPC are accused of violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and its open-meeting provisions and of violating the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Rambo and Johnson accuse the city and CAPC of breach of contract. Each of the defendants — with the exception of the two insurance companies — also is accused of civil conspiracy.

At a Feb. 24 meeting, the commission voted to terminate Rambo after Carter read a complaint alleging that Rambo had spoken critically about Carter in conversations with local business owners and others. At the same meeting, Carter revealed that the Eureka Springs Police Department was investigating CAPC operations, although he provided no further details.

Also at the Feb. 24 meeting, the CAPC placed Bright on 60 days’ probation, although no reason for the sanction was discussed in open session.

Johnson served as the commission’s special events coordinator on a contract basis in 2019 and 2020. Emails obtained by the Citizen through several Freedom of Information Act requests indicate Johnson was given the option of remaining on contract or becoming an employee in 2021, and the commission in November approved a 2021 budget that included funding for the position. In January, however, it was revealed that Johnson had been working without pay since the beginning of the year while the city advertised the events coordinator position. The commission later voted to pay Johnson on a contract basis through the end of January, then decided not to hire an events coordinator.

Rambo, who was then interim director of the CAPC, hired Johnson as the special events coordinator on Jan. 4 at the $37,000 annual salary previously approved by the commission and submitted new hire paperwork to City Hall. Berry refused to sign the paperwork, however, and told Rambo that she didn’t have the authority to hire employees.

According to the lawsuit, after Johnson was originally contracted as the events coordinator, Carter suggested to Johnson that she “use his suggested contacts in the entertainment industry for CAPC sponsored events.”

The lawsuit says Johnson informed Carter that she was uncomfortable with his suggestions. It also notes that Carter was actively involved in the entertainment industry with companies involved in sound and video production.

“Carter is now actively engaged, in ongoing efforts to illegally divert CAPC tax money to his own private companies in violation of Arkansas laws against illegal exaction,” the suit says. “In addition to being blatantly illegal, this also constitutes a conflict of interest between Carter’s obligations to the CAPC and his own financial interests.”

Rambo served as interim director of the commission from February 2020 until five days before her termination, when the commission voted to remove her interim director title and return her to her former position.

The lawsuit alleges that Carter has filed false police reports against Rambo, accusing her of improperly directing business to certain local businesses.

In a Facebook message sent to Eureka Springs business owner Rodney Slane on Jan. 27, Rambo writes that things are "out of control" at the CAPC. Rambo writes that Wright has "overstepped the line time and time again."

"She cannot speak for the entire commission and the commission acts as a whole," Rambo writes. "The chair has NO say over the staff alone or no say in giving direction to the mayor's office."

Rambo writes that Wright "really is the main issue." When Slane asks where Carter stands, Rambo writes that Carter doesn't like Johnson.

"But he seriously doesn't like any strong woman —and that's not something I throw out there often but he talks down to both of us," Rambo writes. "He does not understand the rules that are state laws and because we don't have 'bylaws' he doesn't think the laws apply. He also oversteps his bounds a lot. But he is pro tourism."

"So the state has over all amp laws but nothing to protect or govern the individual agency," Slane responds.

"Yeah we don't know where to go," Rambo writes. "To get a ruling through the municipal league it has to go through the mayor too and he and Kim have been awful."

Carter also has accused Rambo of giving Damon Henke, former interim director of the Eureka Springs Chamber of Commerce, access to CAPC computers.

“In effect Carter has accused Rambo of committing crimes,” the suit says, noting that Rambo was contacted by law enforcement and voluntarily submitted to an interview at the Eureka Springs Police Department last week.

The suit asks the court to order the CAPC to reinstate Rambo as executive director and Johnson as events coordinator and award them back pay and benefits.

Moon served as a CAPC commissioner from February 2018 until Jan. 27, when then-chair Wright asked the commission to consider vacating Moon’s seat because he was no longer employed in the tourism industry. On a roll-call vote, the commission voted 3-2-1 in favor of removing Moon and Wright declared the seat vacant despite not actually casting the necessary fourth vote. At the Feb. 24 meeting, the commission amended the minutes from the Jan. 27 meeting to say that the vote to remove Moon was 4-2-1.

Wright served as chair of the commission from January 2019 until January 2021, when Carter was elected chair and Wright was chosen to serve as secretary-recorder for the commission.

Emails obtained through the open-records requests showed that Wright vowed to remove Moon from the commission as early as 2019.

“From 2019 to the current date, Wright has schemed and discussed with fellow Commissioners outside of legally announced Commission meetings, her plan and desire to remove Greg Moon from the Commission,” the lawsuit says. “In order for the Defendants to complete and effectuate their attempts to personally take over control of the CAPC and its staff and install employees of their own choosing, it was first necessary for them to remove Greg Moon as a CAPC Commissioner and thus eliminate his vote and influence from the CAPC.”

In a message to Slane before the Jan. 27 meeting, Rambo writes that Wright is trying to get Moon removed from his seat on the commission.

"[Wright] should not be allowed to, but if there's an empty seat we would love for you to apply," Rambo writes.

The lawsuit argues that the CAPC has no authority to remove commissioners and notes the actual 3-2-1 vote on the motion to remove Moon.

“However, the defendants were not to be deterred in their illegal efforts to improperly remove Greg Moon in order that they could continue in their concerted efforts to take over the CAPC,” the suit says. “Accordingly, the CAPC itself subsequently voted in effect to change history and changed its minutes to reflect that Moon had in fact been removed by the required vote of at least four (4) commissioners.”

The suit asks the court to order Moon’s reinstatement to the commission or declare that he was never legally removed.

Wright recently prepared a “performance appraisal” for Bright in which she awarded him an overall rating of 66.8 and made multiple references to “insubordination.”

The lawsuit points out that “(P)aradoxically and perhaps hypocritically,” DeVito voted to remove Moon from the commission even though DeVito himself closed his own restaurant for several months in 2020.

The lawsuit notes that Bright has twice served as the CAPC’s interim director — in 2010 and 2019 — “with the approval of the full CAPC commission” and describes the purpose of the critical performance appraisal as “to put him in fear of his job and employment security while insuring that he would fall in line with the demands of Wright, Carter and others on the CAPC.”

The suit notes that Wright was not Bright’s supervisor and completed the performance evaluation without input from the other commissioners.

Bright asks the court to order the removal of the performance appraisal from his personnel file and prohibit Wright from completing future evaluations of Bright without input from other commissioners.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act filed by Carroll County Newspapers last month, Eureka Springs City Hall released personnel files for Bright, Pryor and Rambo. In addition to routine documents such as time-off requests and pay increase paperwork, the files released by the city included copies of direct deposit documents for all three employees, with both Bright’s and Rambo’s bank routing numbers and account numbers. Pryor’s routing number was also visible although the section designated for her account number was blank. It was not clear whether the section was blank on the original document, or if the information had been redacted. Also included in the information provided by the city were copies of IRS form W4 for all three employees that indicated their marital status as well as copies of all three employees’ driver’s licenses with their home addresses visible.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act includes specific exemptions for personal financial records and marital status and for home addresses of nonelected municipal employees.

The lawsuit identifies Stryker as the person who supplied the information.

“In the events these actions charged to the City were not intentional, deliberate or malicious, they were committed with extreme negligence and/or gross negligence by someone who quite obviously should be severely reprimanded or removed from their position with the City,” the lawsuit says.

The CAPC votes to terminate Rambo and place Bright on probation came after separate executive sessions at the Feb. 24 meeting. The commission also held an executive session to discuss Pryor, but took no action toward her.

CAPC commissioners Bobbie Foster and Patrick Burnett were not named as defendants in the lawsuit. Foster cast the lone dissenting vote on the motion to terminate Rambo. Burnett was appointed to fill Moon’s former seat at the Feb. 19 meeting. The Feb. 24 meeting was his first as a commissioner.

Parker, Bright, Johnson, Moon and Rambo all declined to comment. Pryor did not respond to a request for comment.

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  • Although it has been said "all advertising is good advertising" I don't think this is an example. The CAPC has done this town more damaged than good over the years. Why it's not just done away with is beyond me.

    -- Posted by Two6pac on Fri, Mar 12, 2021, at 9:57 AM
  • You can't just pull absurdly high numbers like this out of nowhere. I would be embarrassed to be associated with this frivolous lawsuit in any way.

    -- Posted by Lovecraftfan on Sat, Mar 13, 2021, at 8:55 AM
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