Laywer/legislative candidate John Walker has filed a Freedom of Information Act request aiming to learn all the city-related business done by every member of a Little Rock board or commission.
What a can of worms.
The city doesn’t really have the tools to fully answer that question. There’s no repository in which every board or commission member reveals work done with the city. Some are more obvious than others, however.
Just the same, the well-known fact that Marcus Devine was a Planning commissioner didn’t stop the city recently from issuing his construction firm a contract for demolition of a building on W 12th street without the required ordinance permitting city business with an appointed city official. He and partner Billy Rouse resigned from the Planning Commission after this was revealed to preserve their firm’s business on a significant Little Rock National Airport construction contract. Since then, the city has been struggling to come up with a new ordinance guiding future business relationships.
Walker wonders why Devine was singled out on a practice that, if not epidemic, is commonplace and of long standing in Little Rock city government. Planning Commissioner Bill Rector noted recently that his publishing company prints city legal notices. Walker’s FOI request took pains to note that Airport Commissioner Virgil Miller is an officer of Metropolitan National Bank, which has many banking relationships with the city. Does every business relationship in which a city official is involved require an approving ordinance? City Attorney Tom Carpenter, in saying a local lawyer need not resign from the Sisters Cities Commission because of her firm’s legal work for city agencies, I think may have stretched the rule too far to say someone has to be a partner for the ordinance to apply. But who knows? Court tests may lie ahead. The city clearly needs better disclosure rules. State legislators must file notice of business interest when legislation arises that touches on their financial interest. That might be one way to go.
Meanwhile, as I reminded yesterday: The city conflict of interest rule is a misdemeanor when violated. A prosecutor need not prove intent when a city official gets work without an ordinance permitting it. It’s possible that there are dozens of potential violations awaiting prosecutions, in addition to the Devine case.