Margaret Darter, the Faulkner County clerk, pleaded not guilty today to a felony charge of tampering with public records for allegedly (though there seems little dispute on the basics) that she backdated annual financial statements required of county officials.
A pre-trial hearing was set Jan.25.
The prosecution — local Prosecutor Cody Hiland called in Saline prosecutor Ken Casady, another Republican, to handle the case — had proposed a plea deal. She could plead to a misdemeanor rather than a felony in return for an immediate resignation. Darter, who filed for re-election, did not take the deal today and it’s unclear whether it’s still on the table.
This case has the political complications that seem to attend everything in Faulkner these days. Darter is new this year. The old clerk used to give officials notice it was time to file their annual statements of financial interest. Darter didn’t give the notice. So reports weren’t done in time. Rather than have the officials suffer for filing a late report, Darter reportedly volunteered to fix things by backdating them. Bad idea, particularly since the worst a public official probably could expect for a late filing of these pro forma statements was a cautionary letter from the Ethics Commission. Anyway, Darter was read the riot act by at least one justice of the peace for the lack of notice and then turned in for good measure.
Some election officials reportedly don’t want Darter to leave immediately because she’s in charge of running the March 1 election.