The Leader has an editorial this week on a story that has also drawn attention from the Searcy newspaper about small-town politics in Beebe, where a mayor seems intent on prosecuting a local family and hiding information about the case.
It’s another one of those cases that show why news media matter.
Beebe Mayor Mike (not Mark as I originally wrote) Robertson, the Leader writes, has been using a bogus excuse to withhold reports on the arrest of members of the Dillin family for having a graduation party in May 2018 at which minors were said to have consumed alcohol and marijuana. A court clerk has been relying on a non-existent FOI exemption to refuse to release court documents to the Leader.
A lawsuit has been filed for the family by Little Rock attorney John Walker.
The Beebe city attorney has quit.
Former City Attorney Scott Bles resigned two weeks ago after he filed a motion in court to drop charges against Brandy Dillin and her husband Mickey because he said [witness Sheila] Johnson and another witness were not truthful.
Bles’ motion also alleges that Robertson offered him a pay raise to continue prosecution despite learning about the unreliability of those witnesses.
Robertson is alleged to have repeatedly expressed his concerns about his liability in the civil suit if Bles dropped the charges. Johnson’s husband, Larry, expressed that same concern explicitly to the judge in a letter asking him to deny the motion to drop charges.
The lawsuit contends the mayor has tried to get Brandy Dillin fired from the local school district, but the superintendent has vouched for her good character.
It’s a big small-town mess that smells a lot like a vendetta by the mayor against a family that happens to have a different skin tone. As the editorial says, it’s time for a judge to spread a little sunshine on the court records. Or throw this misdemeanor case out of court.
The city hired a new attorney to pick up where Bles left. At a court hearing yesterday, according to a Searcy Daily Citizen account, that attorney asked for more time. There apparently are some questions about whether the case CAN proceed at all. The Daily Citizen account details ins and outs of the party and the communication between the mayor, a court clerk and others that led to charges.
In a world where news reporting is becoming hard to find, it’s great to see not one, but two, newspapers watching over Mike Robertson.