City appointee Mark Kinion still awaiting seat on Walton Arts Center board

Mark Kinion / File photo

A former City Council member who was appointed to the Walton Arts Center Council seven months ago has yet to take his position on the board.

Mark Kinion, who served 12 years on the City Council from 2011 to 2022, was assigned to the arts center’s council in July. He was one of two city-appointed representatives chosen to fill some openings on the board, which is also comprised of people appointed by the University of Arkansas and the Walton Family Foundation.

The board openings came after nine people resigned in the wake of the arts center’s decision to deny certain types of drag performances in a youth zone scheduled at the venue during last year’s NWA Pride Festival.

That decision led Pride Festival organizers to move their youth zone events to the Fayetteville Town Center, and was met with several public protests from area residents, including Kinion, who was seen holding a sign criticizing Walton Arts Center president Peter Lane.

Walton Arts Center officials said in emails obtained by the Flyer that the reason Kinion hasn’t yet been seated is because he failed to attend a required confirmation meeting held by the center’s own committee.

“While you have been nominated by the city to fill a vacancy on Walton Arts Center’s Council, each nominee must meet with the Walton Arts Center council’s nominating committee before being ratified by the entire council,” Lane wrote in an email to Kinion on Feb. 12. “This second step assures that incoming members understand and meet the fiduciary and governance requirements of Walton Arts Center and that the council feels the nominee will support the mission.”

According to the emails, Kinion was invited on Aug. 16 to attend a meeting scheduled for Aug. 22. Kinion said in a responding email on Aug. 25 he did not know about the meeting because the invitation email was diverted to his junk mail folder. The other city appointee, Joel Freund, did attend the meeting and was confirmed to the board.

Kinion was invited to a second meeting on Nov. 2, but was unable to attend due to a scheduled vacation, he told Lorrinda Smith, assistant to the VP of Operations at Walton Arts Center, in an Oct. 24 email. Kinion had been scheduled to leave for vacation on Oct. 29, and said he looked at options to change his flight to leave later so he could attend the meeting, but ultimately the change was cost prohibitive.

About a month after Kinion’s appointment was made on Aug. 10, Lane and WAC Council chair Nate Hodne met with city attorney Kit Williams to discuss the nomination process. It appears that the ability for the arts center to accept or reject a nominee was a topic of discussion because a week later on Aug. 17, Williams sent a memo to the mayor’s office giving his opinion on the matter.

In his memo, Williams said the arts center representatives pointed to a subsection of their bylaws which states that board members “shall be ratified at each annual meeting or at any regularly scheduled meeting as needed.” Williams said he believes that sentence should be legally interpreted to mean that the council can only take on the ministerial act of ratifying a new member, not making a judgement on whether the appointee should actually be seated.

Williams said the bylaws could have been drafted to state that the arts center has the power to consider the appropriateness of an appointee before they’re seated, but that’s not the case.

“The bylaws do not say that, and thus do not provide any such discretion to the WAC Council,” Williams wrote.

Lane told Williams in a Feb. 14 email that Hodne, who is also an attorney, and WAC attorney Marshall Ney disagree with his position.

Kinion also contends that his appointment does not require any arts center confirmation hearing at all, and is concerned that the city is not currently fully represented on the board.

“I would like to see an official policy document showing the Walton Art Center has authority to demand a city appointee must attend a meeting with WAC nominating committee,” he said in an email to city officials. “I am well aware of and understand fiduciary responsibility, soundly established governance requirements, and importance of mission.”

Kinion said, however, that he would have attended the previously scheduled meetings if he was available.

“It’s not that I was protesting the policy or anything,” he told the Flyer Wednesday. “I just wasn’t available. I have said I am happy to meet with anyone, one-on-one or otherwise. I just was out of the country (for the Nov. meeting).”

Lane, Hodne and Williams also discussed Kinion’s presence at a protest over the Pride Festival decision, as Williams mentioned the event in a second memo to the mayor and City Council on Feb. 21.

“I did opine that even if the WAC Council had the power to reject a city appointee, I believed it would be a grave and unnecessary mistake to reject an appointee for publicly holding a sign threatening Peter Lane’s job during the recent protests,” Williams wrote. “That was my stated position on Aug. 10, 2023, and remains the same today.”

There is some disagreement as well on the specific seat Kinion was appointed to fill. At the time, he was assigned by the city to a seat that had an advertised expiration date of June 2026, but a reorganized board roster sent from Lane to the city listed Kinion’s seat with a 2024 expiration.

The arts center last restructured its board about 10 years ago. Officials originally sought to create a self-appointed 20-member board, however, a final makeup of five city appointees, five UA appointees, and nine Walton Family Foundation appointees was ultimately agreed upon.

Two additional city appointees – Barry Bryan and Claire Kolberg – both nominated in September, have been confirmed to the WAC Council.

Walton Arts Center officials told the city on Friday that Kinion will be invited to the next Walton Arts Center Council nominating committee meeting, though that meeting has not yet been scheduled.

“We expect the meeting to be set in the coming weeks,” said Lane. “The nominating committee has met twice over the past six months and has asked that the next meeting be set once all nominees are finalized for all the open board positions.”

Kinion said that as of Wednesday morning, he has not been invited to a nominating committee meeting yet, though he does expect to attend the next meeting once one is scheduled.

Jennifer Wilson, a spokesperson for Walton Arts Center said she expects Kinion will be confirmed for the seat by the board if he attends the meeting.

“We believe if he completes the process, he would be ratified,” she said.