Judge rules that flag display is historic monument
Fort Smith Southwest Times Record USA TODAY NETWORK
A circuit court judge ruled that the flag display that the city of Fort Smith removed from Riverfront Park is a historic monument.
Judge Gunner DeLay made the ruling and mandated that the city must file a request for a waiver with the Arkansas History Commission to determine whether Fort Smith officials can keep permanently remove the flags.
The city filed the waiver request Sept. 29, but DeLay said the city did not submit the information to the court.
“Judges are bound by the record and that was not in the record,” DeLay said.
DeLay’s ruling spawned from Joey McCutchen’s lawsuit against the city. He sued the city after officials removed the “Flags Over Fort Smith” display at Fort Smith Riverfront Park that included seven flags of governments that governed Arkansas from 1699 to 2001. Those flags included the Confederate States of America flag.
In an email, City Administrator Carl Geffken said the city planned to replace the display with flags celebrating the military. The flags were removed 18 months ago.
“They we’re going to force this down the citizens throats with zero public input and on a fraudulent theory,” McCutchen said.
After reviewing city emails he obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, McCutchen said the move to replace the flags with military flags was a cover-up for the real reason officials wanted to take down the flags.
“They’re just making it up as they go, and the point is I’ve got all documents to prove that. It’s just not my opinion. I can prove it with documents. That they’re just making, they’re just making the reasons for removal of that flag display up as they
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go,” McCutchen said.
He said the officials actually decided to remove the flags, particularly the Confederate States of America flag, after the murder of George Floyd.
“And then around that time, the tragedy of George Floyd occurred, and our leftist city administrator decides that now is a good time to cancel our history,” McCutchen said. McCutchen said that by removing the flags, including the Confederate States of America flag, city officials were trying to erase Fort Smith history. “The real reason is they, Mr. Geffken, doesn’t like our history, and they want to cancel my history,” McCutchen said.
McCutchen thinks the move to remove the flags without the public’s knowledge points to a pattern of a lack of transparency among the city government.
“So this issue involves more than just this flag issue. It involves issues that are systemic to this city where unelected bureaucrats are making decisions that are affecting the entire city, and the board seems to let them do as they wish,” McCutchen said about the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
McCutchen said that the flag issue and other similar issues should be brought to the public’s attention.
“Let’s have these discussions in public that’s the bigger issue here,” McCutchen said.
Alex Gladden is a University of Arkansas graduate. She previously reported for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Jonesboro Sun before joining the Times Record. She can be contacted at agladden@ swtimes.com.