CAPC votes no confidence in Clifton, approves Free to Be slogan, reinstatement of full promotional video

By Rick Harvey

Eureka Springs Times-Echo

Chris Clifton, chair of the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission, received just one vote of confidence from his five fellow commissioners at the end of a lengthy and contentious meeting in front of a standing-room only crowd Wednesday, June 26, in the basement of the Auditorium.

“I make a motion for a vote of confidence for chairman Christopher Clifton,” commissioner Bradley Tate-Greene said 3 hours, 20 minutes into the meeting, later adding “it’s yes if you are confident or no if you’re not confident.” 

Tate-Greene and commissioners David Avanzino (who seconded the motion), Steve Holifield and Kolin Paulk voted no with commissioner Chris Jones casting the only affirmative vote of confidence in Clifton.

Five days earlier, Tate-Greene had voted in Clifton’s favor on a similar motion. Avanzino and Paulk voted no confidence in Clifton at that special meeting on Friday, June 21. Holifield was not asked for his vote on that motion, with Clifton declaring that the motion had failed.

The 4-1 decision against a vote of confidence at Wednesday’s meeting led to a roar of applause from those in attendance, with some giving a standing ovation and others whistling.

The ovation was one of many during the meeting, which also included a vote to continue with the slogan “Free to Be” in future city marketing and the reinstatement of an original version of a promotional video — the post-premiere editing of which had been another point of contention with the public and commissioners. 

The confidence vote wrapped up a tense meeting that included public comments from 26 people, many of whom urged Clifton to resign from the CAPC. Among those voicing their opinions were city council member Autumn Slane, Ruth Hager and Rodd Gray from the parks and recreation commission, David Danvers from the cemetery commission, former council member Bill Ott and former mayor and council member Beau Satori. 

“It’s pretty unanimous back here that everybody’s coming up and asking for your resignation,” Gray said. “I think that you know what the right thing to do is tonight. I think you should volunteer to resign because everybody back here is watching you. We will continue to watch you. So, it’s not over.” 

The large and vocal crowd attended the meeting after a series of recent events involving Clifton. 

A letter was recently sent to a group of stakeholders that indicated it was from the CAPC chair. That letter concerned a new advertising campaign for the city by Madden Media and urged stakeholders to attend workshop that had been scheduled before the June 26 regular meeting. That workshop, however, was canceled on Tuesday, June 25 with no explanation. 

The letter accused an unidentified person of trying to “force through” a slogan without input, adding that the message being advanced by that unnamed person aligns with “political and public policy activism messaging.” 

“I called the workshop after finding out someone was trying to force through the slogan they preferred without stakeholder involvement or the commission being able to vote,” the letter reads. “In the past we’ve made sure we’ve gotten input on this piece and voted on, when we hired our ad agency we made sure to get stakeholder input, this is just as important and I hope we get it right.

“I did a deeper look when I received a lot of pushback on scheduling the workshop for stakeholder input and insisting on a vote, some were saying I was unilaterally deciding what our slogan would be. Clearly that’s silly if I’m asking for a vote. I took a harder look at the slogan that was being attempted to be forced through, Incidentally the slogan is ‘Free to be.’ In my opinion someone may have been pushing for this slogan behind the scenes as it aligns with their current and past political and public policy activism messaging. I may be wrong, but at the meeting I’ll show you why I think this and you can judge for yourself.”

Later in the letter, the author points out advertising done by well-known companies Disney, Target and Bud Light that have led to revenue losses. All three companies have been in the headlines in recent months regarding LGBTQ and Pride supportive marketing campaigns. 

“Many companies take or have taken a social stance in their advertising hoping to appeal to a younger audience, or specific demographic for instance Disney, Target and But Light,” the letter reads. “Bud Light lost 28 percent market share over one commercial, all three above mentioned lost large amounts of revenue.”

At the June 26 meeting, person after person expressed displeasure over the letter and many said they felt it was aimed against the diversity of Eureka Springs. 

Speakers also referred to a recent promotional video film that was edited after its premiere, with many saying a short scene featuring a drag queen was removed. 

“One of the reasons we chose to move to and open a business in Eureka Springs was because of the LGBTQ-plus community that has been here for at least five decades,” said Wendy Reese Hartmann, co-owner of Gotahold Brewing. “One of the most intriguing things for people who do not live in Eureka Springs is how in the world all the hippies, hillbillies, homosexuals, Harleys, hill shredders, and holy rollers coexist peacefully. 

“… The actions taken over the past few weeks is poor leadership. It’s eroded trust once again in the CAPC.”

Hartmann went on to request that the original promotional video, along with the slogan “Free to Be,” be used “as our 2024-2025 marketing.”

“And the resignation of chairperson Clifton for repeatedly acting in bad faith of his own accord, eroding the trust in the CAPC and potentially harming businesses of Eureka Springs,” Hartmann said.

Many who spoke blamed Clifton for the editing of the promotional video and the recent questioning of the proposed “Free to Be” campaign slogan. 

“Chris alone demanded the removal of a drag queen from a video for his own reasons,” said Ethan Avanzino, husband of David Avanzino. “Where does it stop? People of color? Women? Allowing one individual to erase people from the media sets a dangerous precedent for exclusion and discrimination. 

“Do the right thing and remove this tyrant before he erases you.”

“Mr. Clifton, shame on you,” resident Pam Greenway said. “Shame on you. You knew what you were doing and knew it wasn’t right and you did it anyway. For those reasons, I call for your resignation. In lieu of that, I call on the rest of you commissioners to remove him.” 

Resident Lana Walker took it a step further.

“If Mr. Clifton does not resign voluntarily, I implore you to take all legal and necessary steps that you can possibly take to remove him from his position,” Walker said to the commission. 

After public comments, David Avanzino asked that comments emailed in to commissioners be read.

“We’ve never done reading public comments,” Clifton responded. 

That drew loud arguments from the audience.

“Here’s a point of information for you,” Clifton responded to those in attendance. “Chair has the authority to remove disruptive people.” 

Holifield, also a member of the city council, made motions to approve the “Free to Be” campaign and reinstate the original video. 

After the motion and second to move forward with the campaign Clifton asked who had the authority to come up with and move forward with the idea and Paulk said it was a decision between him, as marketing liaison, suspended executive director Mike Maloney and CAPC staff. 

“Kolin did not have the authority to make that decision,” Clifton said. 

Holifield responded: “We have it now.” 

“Free to Be” was approved 5-0. 

In regard to the video, Paulk explained the process of the video being premiered, taken down and edited.

“The video was completed, and launched, we had a live premiere, which I believe the community really loved,” Paulk told commissioners. “It was also uploaded online in its full entirety. That is the video that was subsequently edited and the half-second worth of footage deleted and then re-uploaded.” 

Clifton responded: “Who did that? Who removed the video?”

“Mike Maloney and the office staff,” Paulk responded. 

“Who told them to remove the video?” David Avanzino asked. 

“Who has the authority to make them do anything on this commission?” Clifton responded. 

Holifield then made a motion to have the commercial reinstated “as it was” with David Avanzino quickly seconding. Clifton, however interrupted, saying the contract for the commercial was invalid, asking when the contract was signed and who signed it.

“I’m going to remind you that you have a motion and a second on the floor,” David Avanzino said. 

“And I’m going to remind you that this contract is not valid,” Clifton answered, indicating that the contract was signed before it was approved. 

“Chris, there is a motion and a second on the floor,” David Avanzino repeated. “A vote is in order.” 

Clifton responded by asking what the motion was for. 

“Eureka Springs Culinary Landscape Commercial to go back on the way it was before, including drag queens or anybody else,” Holifield responded, leading to a loud applause and whistles. 

A few moments later, the motion was approved unanimously. 

During commissioner comments to close the meeting, Clifton said that he respected everyone in the room. 

“And I love each one of you,” Clifton said. “We did not have a trial. I did not get an opportunity to give my side of what happened and the facts. I did not do anything to exclude someone. That was not the purpose at all. 

“… We’ve had discussions in this body about our advertising method and we’ve always followed a certain method. And I respect if the commission wants to change things …”

The commission has scheduled a special meeting at 1 p.m. Friday, June 28, in the Auditorium. The agenda item is “HR Action Review.”