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Original Sims VFD Board to move forward with legal action

The emergency meeting held Saturday, March 14, was held at Sims VFD Firehouse #4 located at F&F Fire Service. – Photo by Dewayne Holloway

EDITORS NOTE: The scheduled annual meeting mentioned in the article that was meant to be held Saturday, March 21, has been postponed due to restrictions set on large gatherings by both State and Federal officials in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The meeting will be rescheduled once these restrictions are lifted.

DEWAYNE HOLLOWAY/dewayne@mcnews.online

SIMS – Changes made to the Sims Volunteer Fire Department’s information on the Arkansas Secretary of State’s website prompted a special called meeting by the standing board of directors last Saturday evening.

The board of directors consisting of Vice President Jerry Summitt, Donna Franklin, Marion “Squirt” McKinney and interim board members Bob Porter and Nancy Hawthorn met Saturday at 6 p.m. at Sims Firehouse #4 located on the property of Dwayne and Donna Franklin.

Nathan Mendenhall, lawyer for this board of directors, was named chair for the meeting and the Roberts Rules of Order were waived.

Mendenhall began the meeting by stating that while reviewing a lawsuit filed against three individual members of the board of directors he discovered that information pertaining to the legal representatives for the Sims Volunteer Fire Department had been changed on the Secretary of State’s website.

Mendenhall had been listed as the registered agent since late last year and Summitt, Franklin and McKinney had been listed as board members.

The current registered agent listed is Wade Williams and the officers include Steve Robbins, Brandi Summitt and Donnie Stovall. The persons listed as officers are members of a rival board of directors elected during an annual meeting held in January. Their status as board members is disputed by the standing board and their lawyer Mendenhall.

Mendenhall stated that the disclaimer on the secretary of state’s website states that filing false information on the business form is a possible misdemeanor and person’s found to be responsible can face up to a $100 fine.

Mendenhall reported that he had spoken with the secretary of state and attorney general’s offices about the change in information. He alleged that the changes were made on a 2020 annual report filed and signed by Steve Robbins. He added that the signature is an electronic signature and anyone could have signed Robbins’ name, but that was the name on the report.

Mendenhall asked if any of the board members present had approved the changes. All persons present stated that they had not approved any such changes. He shared that they could file an amended 2020 annual report and change the names back to include Mendenhall as the registering agent and Summitt, Franklin and McKinney as officers.

Mendenhall than pondered if prosecuting attorney Andy Riner would continue to pursue legal action against the rival board if they are recognized as the board of directors for the Sims Fire Department.

Mendenhall stated that the legal action filed by Riner was a clear retaliation against Sims VFD for their petition to become a fire protection district.

He pointed out that a letter requesting a hearing to settle the matter had been filed on behalf of the rival board by Wade Williams. Mendenhall added that he believes Riner, who was recently elected to serve as the new circuit judge for Montgomery County, would want to expedite the hearing. He did not see that it would be possible for him to gather depositions and gather information pertaining the case before Riner takes the bench. Once Riner takes the bench he would either have to allow the case be moved, or recuse himself and allow another judge to hear the case.

A lawsuit brought against Summitt, Franklin and McKinney was briefly discussed. Mendenhall then recommended that the board amend the 2020 annual report filed with the secretary of state’s office and that the board pursue legal action to retain their position as board of directors for the Sims Fire Department.

The board approved a motion to amend the 2020 annual report with the secretary of state’s office.

The board approved a motion to expedite legal action to resolve the legal identity of Sims Volunteer Fire Department. They also authorized Mendenhall to contact the secretary of state’s office on their behalf.

Dwayne Franklin spoke up and said that he believed the board of directors needed to file a lawsuit. Mendenhall clarified that if they decided to file a lawsuit it would be to ask the judge to determine who is the rightful board of directors for the Sims Volunteer Fire Department.

Interim board member Bobby Porter added that he believed they should ask for the other side to pay Mendenhall for his time. Mendenhall thanked Porter for the thought and indicated that it might be possible. He added that he would be keeping up with his time.

There was a motion made and approved to ask for a declaration of rights on behalf of the board of directors. There was a motion made and approved to seek an intervention in the current legal action against the sitting board of directors.

Mendenhall asked Dwayne Franklin how this entire situation would affect Sims VFD’s ISO rating. Dwayne Franklin owns a business which helps VFDs lower their ISO rating.

Franklin stated that currently the Sims VFD ISO rating was a Three, one of the lowest possible ratings for the area. He stated that he expected the ISO rating to increase to a Nine after their legal issues were settled. He added that while changes wouldn’t be felt for a few years, an increase in the ISO rating could cause insurance premiums to double.

Mendenhall once again argued that the current legal action against this board of directors was part of a strategy by the quorum court and the prosecuting attorney to avoid the board’s petition to become a fire protection district.

If declared a fire protection district Sims Volunteer Fire Department would be able to collect dues on the mandatory tax list each year. Amendments to state laws regarding fire protection districts allow a fire department to petition the quorum court to become a fire protection district. Language within the law makes the approval of the request mandatory within a 60 day period. The Montgomery County Quorum Court did not approve the petition. They did approve the redrawing of fire district lines, splitting up territory previously covered by Sims Volunteer Fire Department and including them in territory covered by Oden-Pencil Bluff VFD and S&L VFD. 

Mendenhall stated that he would file a countersuit against Riner’s request for dissolution of the Sims VFD non-profit status. Mendenhall stated by phone Tuesday that he had discovered that the rival board of directors has taken control of the Sims VFD bank account. In an effort to reclaim control of the funds the countersuit against Montogomery County and Prosecuting Attorney Andy Riner may be delayed.

Mendenhall argued that Riner was using a statute that was meant to dissolve inactive non-profits to avoid approving Sims VFD’s request to become a fire protection district. He stated that while investigating the issue he discovered that Oden-Pencil Bluff was also guilty of not updating their registering agent, something Riner’s request for dissolution uses as grounds for dissolution against Sims VFD. Mendenhall added that he had discovered that some of the other VFDs within Montgomery County had no legal status whatsoever. He alleged that there were as many as four VFD’s in Montgomery County receiving Act 833 money without any legal status. Mendenhall explained that Act 833 funds were drawn from insurance premiums and then distributed to legal VFDs.

Mendenhall referenced a similar lawsuit he is involved in on behalf of Fire District #6 in Crawford County. They had also petitioned their quorum court to become a fire protection district and had been denied.

Mendenhall alleged that while investigating both cases he had discovered that there really wasn’t anyone in state government in charge of overseeing the distribution of Act 833 funds.

He added that he was filing a lawsuit against the state’s department of finance and administration on behalf of three counties, including Montgomery County, to halt the distribution of all Act 833 funding until it could be confirmed that only legal VFDs were receiving Act 833 funds.

Mendenhall stated that his hope was that the lawsuit forces the state to put someone in charge of the distribution of Act 833 funds. He also stated that he hoped all VFDs would become fire protection districts.

The meeting closed with discussion about the 2020 Annual Meeting. 

Mendenhall explained that the meeting set for February 24, 2020 had been postponed due to illness and the lack of support from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

Mendenhall asked Donna Franklin about the criteria for firefighter membership. She shared that a person had to attend four meetings within two months. They would then petition to become a member and a vote would be called within three weeks to move on their petition. If approved there was a six month probation period which allowed for necessary training before they were given full firefighter member status.

Mendenhall then asked Franklin to compile a list of firefighter members who could vote.

The annual meeting was then set for Saturday, March 21, at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at Sims Community Bible Church located at 1477 Highway 298. Three board of director positions will be filled at the meeting.

Mendenhall suggested that the board of directors consider an amendment to their SOP that would allow an easier process for membership for firefighters who had let their membership status lapse.

Franklin questioned whether the board needed to amend the articles of incorporation to recognize the offices of secretary and treasurer had been combined. No action was taken.

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