There are “serious legal concerns” about the contract to produce LITFest between the city of Little Rock and the consulting firm Think Rubix, City Attorney Tom Carpenter said in a letter to Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and members of the Board of Directors in a Friday letter.
The Arkansas Times received a copy of letter as part of a Freedom of Information request.
Carpenter cites an undated Zoom conference call between Kendra Pruitt, chief of staff to Scott, other representatives of the city; Tristan Wilkerson, head of Think Rubix; and other Think Rubix employees, which Matt Campbell of The Blue Hog Report reported on yesterday. In the call, which happened before the LITFest contract was signed, Pruitt acknowledges that the festival will likely cost into the six figures and that the city will provide its resources, including from the Little Rock Police, Public Works and Parks departments “at evidently no cost for materials, overtime, or other matters,” Carpenter says.
But Carpenter says the most important thing the call reveals is that the mayor’s office wanted to keep the matter from reaching the board. The city’s policy is that all contracts up to $50,000 can be authorized by the city manager without board consideration. Think Rubix’s contract to produce the festival is for $45,000.
In the call, Wilkerson asked if it was possible to increase that contract amount. Pruitt responded, “If we go above [$50,000] within this contract, that would trigger a need to go before a board. It becomes political at that point. That would just be something we’d have to deal with there. I think it’s possible to leverage some sponsorship dollars for additional work as necessary because that wouldn’t be city money and therefore wouldn’t require that political step if you will. … I don’t know if we want to go before the board for what they maybe deem as us throwing a party.”
In his letter, Carpenter notes, as Campbell on Blue Hog Report has, that the contract between Think Rubix and the city says that Think Rubix is responsible for ensuring the prompt deposit of sponsorship funds with the city. Carpenter said that hasn’t happened, and that the Board of Directors has no reason to believe the value of the contract between Think Rubix and the city hasn’t exceeded the $50,000.01 trigger that requires board approval. He also says that Pruitt’s sentiment about the board looking unfavorably on “us throwing a party” ignored the board’s fiduciary obligation.
This all comes while the board has been in an all-day budget workshop. I’ve asked Pruitt and Aaron Sadler, spokesman for Scott, for comment.
UPDATE: From Sadler:
I’m certain the Mayor and Board will give due consideration to the City Attorney’s legal concerns, since, after all, it’s his responsibility to bring legal issues to their attention. That said, Mr. Carpenter approved the LITFest contract, and his office has sole responsibility for handling FOIA requests. The Mayor transferred the FOIA Division to the City Attorney’s office on Aug. 9, so if Mr. Carpenter located documents responsive to a FOIA request, it’s because it’s his job to do so.
Board members are sure to have a lot to say if not immediately, certainly at future meetings. LITFest is scheduled for Oct. 7-9, so it seems unlikely any serious push to rescind approval would happen, but there are bound to be discussions at next week’s board meeting if not sooner.
Ahead of last week’s agenda meeting, the board spent two hours in an executive session discussing a personnel matter. Carpenter later revealed it was about him. The board took no action, but the matter remains unsettled. Reporting to follow on that part of the story.
Not mentioned in the Carpenter letter is a key detail Campbell unearthed: That LITFest sponsorship money has been routed to the Foundation for Social Impact, a nonprofit affiliated with members of Think Rubix, which is keeping a percentage of the sponsorship money. That arrangement is not part of the city’s contract with Think Rubix.
Carpenter notes that his office unearthed this video “without assistance from the AFOIA division workers.” Campbell has complained in recent days that the city is withholding records from him.