The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved 5-1 Tuesday night an extension for negotiations with Barling regarding a commercial water contract between the two cities.

City Administrator Carl Geffken said the board approved in November a resolution to allow him and City Attorney Jerry Canfield to negotiate with Barling leadership how Fort Smith can recoup more than $1 million in unpurchased water that was required by the 2002 contract.

It was determined in August 2017 that Barling was required to purchase at least 587,200 gallons on a daily basis, invoiced annually, but had not been fulfilling the provision. It was frequently under the required amount from 2013 to 2017.

If Geffken and Canfield were unable to come to an agreement with Barling within a “reasonable period of time,” they were authorized to take legal action.

The negotiations were scheduled to be complete March 1, however, Geffken requested an extension until May 17.

Geffken said the city has made a good-faith effort by sending Canfield a draft contract, which they hope to evaluate.

Vice Mayor and At-large Director Kevin Settle requested to have the item on the board’s agenda last fall. He’s glad progress has been made but said he hopes this is the final extension, because Barling was “given plenty of time.”

“After this one, if they don’t come up with a solution to pay back what they owe the city of Fort Smith, it’s time to go the other direction.”

Geffken said the extension came due to “recent events” in Barling.

“We just didn’t think it would be right to do something until we’ve fully explored their agreement, since there are many areas that are in common with the draft agreement we sent them,” Geffken said.

Barling City Administrator Mike Tanner was suspended in January for failing to report a 2015 DUI arrest.

“On Mar. 2, 2015, Mr. Tanner was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence, transporting a loaded firearm while under the influence of alcohol and transporting a loaded firearm,” a news release sent to the Times Record states. “He was booked in at LeFlore County. Mr. Tanner was driving his personal vehicle at time of arrest. Mr. Tanner does not drive city vehicles nor is he assigned one.”

Tanner was terminated March 6 after a deeper investigation revealed poor work conduct that included cursing at employees, forcing an employee to remain in her office, and he allegedly made comments of a sexual nature toward a female employee.

Barling Public Works Director Steve Core was named acting city administrator.