Marked Tree settles lawsuit, to pay Kirk Aviation $85,000

Friday, August 29, 2003

The lawsuit of Kirk's Aviation, Inc. vs. the City of Marked Tree and Lawrence Ashlock, Jr. was settled early Tuesday morning in Helena, Ark. in the amount of $85,000 for the loss of a contract with the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Foundation.

Plaintiff Ben Kirk was the only witness to take the stand on Monday, said one observer.

John C. Everett of the Everett Law Firm in Fayetteville and Michael Everett of Everett and Hunter in Marked Tree filed a complaint on Dec. 6, 2002, on behalf of Kirk's Aviation of Louisville, Miss. The City of Marked Tree was represented in court by Municipal League attorney Jeannette Denham, of North Little Rock, in the lawsuit.

In the complaint, Kirk contended Mayor Lawrence Ashlock, Jr. verbally approved Kirk Aviation's use of the Marked Tree Municipal Airport for the purpose of applying insecticides, provided a fee of $1,000 was paid to the city. Kirk then submitted a bid to the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program and included in it the proposal to use the airport at Marked Tree. Kirk Aviation's bid was accepted, however, based on the denial of the right to use the airport, the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program rebid the contract, and upon that rebidding, the contract was ultimately awarded to a company who was an established enterprise in Marked Tree. Kirk contended that the defendants intentionally caused the contract to be rebid to favor a local operator.

In an answer to the complaint, Ashlock and the City of Marked Tree stated the Mayor "made no promises, nor was any alleged promise reduced to writing." The answer also stated "that the Mayor initially stated [Kirk Aviation] could use the Marked Tree Airport. However, it was only later that the Mayor was informed that not only would [Kirk] need an airport facility for taking off and landing, but [he] would also need office space and a loading ramp. When the Mayor was informed by [Kirk] of these additional needs, that is when the Mayor sought the advice of the Airport Commission about safety concerns and whether there was room at the airport for these additional facilities. Marked Tree Airport had 11 planes, and the Airport Commission subsequently determined that for safety reasons there was not room for the housing of another plane, offices and loading ramp."

Ashlock told the Tribune the Marked Tree Airport Commission members are Cliff Parham, Sydney Arnold, Jerry Teague and Charles Glover.

In the complaint, Kirk stated "that while the contracts with the Arkansas Boll Weevil Eradication Program are issued on an annual basis, once an aerial operator has been awarded such a contract, then he continues to receive contracts for each successive year if he performs satisfactorily. Thus [Kirk] could reasonably expect to have received such a contract for many years in the future."

On Wednesday, Mayor Ashlock stated, "We took the most prudent option. They were suing us for $390,000 and we settled for $85,000."

Ashlock added that this lawsuit will not negatively affect city operations. The settlement will be paid out of the capital improvement fund, which is reserved for emergencies and replacements, and has a balance of over $192,000.

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