Former Gould police chief sues municipality for unpaid wages

Former Gould Police Chief Talvin Collins filed suit against the city of Gould in Jefferson County Circuit Court in mid-March, alleging breach of contract for failure to pay Collins his mutually agreed salary of $21,900 per year.

Collins said in the complaint filed on his behalf March 13 by attorney Luther Sutter that the Gould City Council voted to stop paying the chief his salary in November 2011. He is asking the court for $3 million in compensatory damages and a jury trial.

“[Collins] has continued to work for the city, yet the city refuses to pay in breach of contract,” it states in the lawsuit. “[Collins] is entitled to his lost wages as well as any penalties allowed by law. [Collins] has suffered severe mental and emotional harm.”

The suit alleges that the refusal to pay Collins amounted to the firing of the chief.

“The city refused to pay [Collins] because he had complained to them about a violation of the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act,” the suit said.

Circuit Judge Jodi Dennis recused herself from presiding over the case, stating that it is a necessary move to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

“The Court does hereby recuse from hearing this case and this matter is hereby transferred to the 2nd Division of Circuit Court, the Honorable Robert H. Wyatt Jr. presiding,” it states in Dennis’ recusal filing, dated March 13.

Sutter is running against Dennis for the Fifth Division Circuit Court judicial seat that she currently occupies.

A writ of garnishment that tied up the bank accounts of the city of Gould in February was quashed March 7 by Circuit Judge Rob Wyatt Jr.

On Feb. 14, Wyatt signed an order staying the writ, which had been filed by Sutter for Collins, who sued several former members of the Gould City Council in 2012.

The four — Harry Hall, Veronica Tensley, Sonja Farley and Rosieanna Lee — were sued in their official capacities, but the city of Gould was not named in the suit, a point Wyatt made in his March 7 order.

“The record shows that the City of Gould was never named as a defendant and was never served with process pursuant to the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure,” Wyatt said in the order.

He said those rules require that if a municipality is sued, a copy of the complaint and summons must be delivered to the chief executive officer of the city, which would have been then-mayor Earnest Nash Jr.

Nash resigned Feb. 20.

“The mayor is the chief executive officer of a municipal corporation and the record shows that the mayor of the City of Gould was not served with process,” Wyatt said in the order.

After the four former aldermen failed to respond to the lawsuit by Collins, a judgment of $86,000 was entered against them. The writ was filed by Sutter.

In his request for the writ, Sutter said a lawsuit against a person in their official capacity is the same as a lawsuit against the entity itself, but attorney Gene McKissic, who represented the city of Gould, disagreed, saying that the city was never named as a defendant.

In February, Wyatt also said that Merchants and Farmers Bank of Dumas, where the city of Gould’s bank accounts are kept, was released from any responsibility to honor the garnishment until it receives further orders from the court.

— Staff writer Ray King contributed to this article.