STAR CITY – A felony forgery charge has been filed in Lincoln County Circuit Court against Gould Mayor Earnest Nash Jr., who was scheduled to go on trial here Monday on charges dating from 2003 to the present.
The trial has been delayed after Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau petitioned the court for a continuance, telling Circuit Judge Robert H. “Rob” Wyatt Jr. the state “recently discovered information which has led to an amendment of the criminal information in this matter adding an additional charge of forgery.”
Juneau said prosecutors need additional time to prepare for trial.
Nash was charged in late March with obstructing governmental operations, theft of property, abuse of office and two counts of nonfeasance in office. He could be removed from office if convicted of the latter two, Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter said previously.
Four members of the Gould City Council early this year asked Gov. Mike Beebe and state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to encourage Hunter to investigate the municipality’s financial dealings under Nash’s current administration. Prosecutors requested an Arkansas State Police probe into actions allegedly taken by Nash when Nash was serving as clerk of the Gould City Court before taking the office of mayor.
Juneau confirmed to The Commercial that the criminal investigation has been expanded in recent months.
The formal charges Nash faces:
• Forgery on Dec. 16 involving a document filed with a bank stating Nash had been authorized to establish a bank account and write checks on the account;
• Obstructing governmental operations in Gould from Feb. 15 to the present by unlawfully and willfully hindering the performance of the office of Pamela Barley-Gibson, recorder-treasurer of the municipality;
• Illegally prohibited Barley-Gibson from taking office and performing her duties and authorized payments from the city’s general fund and a disaster fund in violation of a municipal ordinance;
• In 2003, when he was serving as clerk of the City Court, altered court records without authorization and converted $520 of court monies to his own use; and
• Abused the office of court clerk by falsifying a number of court records.
Barley-Gibson was appointed city recorder-treasurer three different times by four aldermen, but Nash vetoed each appointment. Nash maintained he vetoed the appointments twice because they were illegal.
Aldermen Sonja Farley, Roseanna Smith-Lee, Veronica Tensley and Harry Hall voted 4-0 to override Nash’s vetoes of Barley-Gibson as recorder-treasurer. Under Arkansas law, a recorder-treasurer can preside over a council meeting in the absence of the mayor.
Barley-Gibson and Hall said they learned Nash and Alderman Essie Mae Cableton had signed a $2,986.53 check drawn on the city’s “Disaster Fund” on Feb. 6 without authorization. Nash acknowledged earlier federal monies earmarked to repair storm damage were also used to repair vandalism at the Gould Resource Center.
Nash also approved utility companies to make electronic debits on the city’s checking accounts without council authorization, the two told aldermen. A state police criminal investigator confirmed the latter.
Hall, Farley, Smith-Lee and Tensley have feuded with Nash, Aldermen Ermer Preston and Cableton since 2011.
Hall and Barley-Gibson maintained they were assaulted by Nash Feb. 21 when they went to Gould City Hall with a locksmith to gain access to the recorder-treasurer’s office. They filed an affidavit with the clerk of Lincoln County District Court seeking Nash’s arrest for assault.
Nash has denied assaulting the two. Nash was convicted of one count of battery in the third-degree and acquitted of two additional misdemeanor charges last month in Lincoln County District Court.
Dallas County District Judge Ronnie Phillips, who served as a special judge and heard the three charges lodged against Nash, assessed a fine and court costs of $615 on the battery conviction. Nash has 30 days to pay the fine and costs or perfect an appeal to Lincoln County Circuit Court.
As Nash was being arrested and handcuffed April 3 on the battery warrants, Lincoln County Deputy Sheriff Justin Nealy testified the mayor shouted threats at Barley-Gibson as she drove past. The threats resulted in the third charge, terroristic threatening, being lodged against Nash.
Phillips ruled that he heard sufficient testimony that was corroborated by a video to warrant the conviction on the assault charge involving Barley-Gibson. However, he found the assault charge involving Hall, who has since resigned from the Gould City Council, was not as convincing, and the comments Nash directed at Barley-Gibson during his arrest did not meet the definition of a terroristic threat, Phillips held.
Hall and Smith-Lee were removed from office in mid-July by Wyatt in response to a July 2011 civil suit filed by two supporters of Nash and the Gould Citizens Advisory Council. Hall resigned as an alderman earlier this year.
Norvell Dixon, Samuel King and the GCAC sued Hall and Smith-Lee, maintaining Hall was a convicted felon and Smith-Lee was elected in 2010 to represent Ward 2 in Gould, but was and continues to be a resident of Ward 1.
Wyatt ordered the two attorneys involved in the civil suit to file briefs with the court in an effort to resolve three additional issues raised in the suit:
• Were recent actions taken by the Gould City Council, including the appointment of Barley-Gibson as city recorder-treasurer and Hall being named one of two officials to sign city checks, legal?
• Was the lease Nash authorized for the GCAC to use the former Simmons First National Bank branch legal?
• Will Hall and Smith-Lee be required to repay their $100 a month salaries for the period in which they served as aldermen?