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Sources: Pattern of illicit behavior toward women culminated in a Sunday-night ultimatum: resign or be fired
Former city parks and recreation director denies these allegations
Huffstetler, who is the mayor’s godson, seemed to be held to a different standard of behavior: source
JONESBORO, Ark. – Four independent anonymous sources told NEA Report that City Parks and Recreation Director Wixson Huffstetler abruptly resigned this week due to unwanted advances toward women, some in the workplace, which led to him being given the choice to resign – or be fired – on Sunday. Huffstetler denied this as completely false information Thursday afternoon to NEA Report. Additionally, two other inappropriate incidents have also been detailed to us by several more willing to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from the city.
It was announced late Monday afternoon the city parks director would be resigning his post effective immediately. This came in a news release late in the day, at 4:42 p.m., which limits most newsrooms’ abilities to gather information from public officials in the same working day, who are often off work at 5 p.m.
“I am resigning my position to explore other opportunities,” Huffstetler’s statement said in a press release. “I have enjoyed the last eight years building the parks department to what it is today.”
But that was not the reason, a number of sources say.
As of this publication, four independent sources working at different levels within local government confirmed what was virtually an identical story: Huffstetler was caught making unwanted advances through his cell phone to a female and was told to resign or be fired in a Sunday meeting with the city’s COO and HR director. All sources said it was “sexting.”
When asked Thursday afternoon, City Communications Director Bill Campbell said he had no knowledge of that. Campbell said he only knew Huffstetler had met with Human Resources Director Dewayne Douglas and Jonesboro Chief Operating Officer Ed Tanner Sunday night before tendering his resignation. He referred questions to them as being the only people who were in the room during the impromptu meeting with Huffstetler – the first official confirmation of the Sunday night meeting.
Douglas returned our call Friday morning. As soon as we told him why we reaching out, he said we needed to go through Campbell. As we had been directed by Campbell to call Douglas, we tried explaining that. Douglas hung up on a reporter from his city office. So we called him back and point blank asked him, “Are you covering up for employees who are sexting others?”
“I’ve already told you, all communications have to go through Bill Campbell,” Douglas said. “Wixson resigned. Wixson resigned for personal reasons and wanted some privacy and we’re going to honor that request.”
Douglas hung up on us again shortly after that. We then contacted Campbell, who said Douglas would be calling us back. He called us back a short time later.
“(Bill Campbell) said he failed to let me know it was OK to communicate with the media,” Douglas said. “I can tell you that basically Ed Tanner and myself met with Wixson on Sunday. Wixson submitted his resignation for personal reasons. He asked for some privacy, and we are going to honor that request.”
Douglas would not confirm or deny if he and the city’s COO gave the then-parks director the ultimatum to resign or be fired – an important detail in FOIA law.
NEA Report also contacted Huffstetler on Thursday. He strongly denied these allegations.
“No sir. That’s not right. I’ve heard it all,” Huffstetler said, before giving several examples of what he said were false rumors. One included that he had an affair with an office staff member.
Had the city fired the parks director, his personnel files would be obtainable through FOIA request. By giving Huffstetler, who is Mayor Harold Perrin’s godson, the option to resign, the city effectively protected him from scrutiny through his city employment records.
City Attorney Carol Duncan, who is elected and not appointed, denied a Freedom of Information Act request from NEA Report this week for personnel records of Huffstetler. Duncan said she had no legal alternative, citing FOIA section 3.04(b)(13)(C)(ii), which protects government employees’ personnel records if they resign, rather than be fired. This gives local governments the ability to hide the personnel records of people paid with taxpayer money to avoid embarrassing public relations disasters. It is, in effect, a legal loophole allowing governments to be transparent at-will.
But Arkansas Attorney General Opinion 2013-144 defines a resignation tendered in the face of certain, impending termination as a “forced resignation” or a “coerced resignation.”
“This office has opined that a coerced resignation can, in principle, amount to a constructive termination that would satisfy the level-of-discipline element,” then Attorney General Dustin McDaniel wrote in 2014.
If Duncan is aware of Huffstetler’s resignation being specifically tendered as an alternative to him being terminated, this opinion would suggest she be compelled to release his personnel records. She has not done so as of this publication.
“Looks like you have it all covered,” Duncan said in a group text message sent to the mayor and other city officials Monday morning and obtained through FOIA request. The conversation pertained to the wording of Huffstetler’s departure.
A reply was sent to the group from Perrin, himself.
“Let’s not mention at (the) update meeting or to anyone until we confirm (the) correct wording,” Perrin wrote, a response to Campbell’s earlier suggestion.
While only a select few city employees know what is in Huffstetler’s personnel file, NEA Report has learned of at least two other women whom Huffstetler was allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior with while working on behalf of the city. He denied the claims Thursday.
One of the women he is said to have been involved with he met while participating in the Leadership Jonesboro class in 2014, of which we verified both graduated. Three sources told NEA Report the two, both married, engaged in an extra-marital affair which led to the woman’s husband, a law enforcement officer, becoming suspicious.
“My feeling at the time was that it definitely happened,” said a well-placed source on the matter.
The scrupulous officer submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the contents of Huffstetler’s city cell phone. Before the request was answered, one source confidently stated the phone records were allegedly deleted by Huffstetler in the form of a phone system reset. This constitutes a misdemeanor crime, if true.
Even with this alleged to have happened, no charges were filed.
“I think because he has a close relationship with the mayor,” said the well-placed source in the city.
Again, we submitted a FOIA request to the city – this time for the supposed-FOIA the officer had submitted following the alleged 2014 incident. The document had been destroyed but we confirmed it existed with the city’s communication director. Campbell said the city attorney recalled to him receiving a FOIA from an officer. Campbell said both parties denied any inappropriate behavior and Duncan told him said there was no evidence found.
“I was not here then but in investigating NEA Report’s request, this was what the city knew at that time: there was an FOIA at the time by the officer and it did not produce anything improper,” Campbell said. “And the accused parties denied an inappropriate relationship.”
Huffstetler denied the affair Thursday.
A third female this week, unrelated to the allegations made by the sources above, told NEA Report how the city parks director had made multiple unwanted advances to her in the past, too, in his capacity as a city employee.
The woman said she was accosted by Huffstetler on several occasions. She said he once asked when “he could come over for dinner.” Other requests included hangouts or other vague activities. The female said she denied all of the married man’s unwanted advances. We are shielding her identity out of concern of reprisals.
“I know he wanted to sleep with me,” she said.
Huffstetler is no stranger to controversy. The former parks director survived a public relations disaster in 2016 after he tweeted a racist remark insinuating that African-Americans deserve to be racially profiled.
The tweet netted Huffstetler a two-week suspension without pay from the city, before he resumed his duties as the director of city parks and city recreational facilities. That includes areas for local children of all races to play sports. Many viewed the punishment light. The communications director said he didn’t think it was a slap on the wrist. He said a “neutral, outside labor attorney” recommended Huffstetler be given a suspension of either two-weeks or one month.
Even with two recommendations from an outside party in-hand, the lighter sentence was chosen.
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