Blue Hog Report provides a report today on a lack of transparency at City Hall under the administration of Mayor Frank Scott Jr.
The long and short: Blue Hog (lawyer Matt Campbell) asked for records of people who’d asked through the city website to participate in “Scott Strolls” in city neighborhoods. He was told there was no information responsive to that request. Through a source, Campbell was provided about 80 such requests to participate in walks with the mayor. He shared several of them. A subsequent explanation from the mayor’s staff didn’t directly address Campbell’s point that he’d asked for information that appeared to exist, despite being told it didn’t.
His experience tracks my own and that of others. Time and again, questioners have been told there are no records responsive to requests. The city proposal to put a sports bar in War Memorial Park produced not a single email, document or text message related to a request for bids. No records existed of mayoral meetings with interested parties for an idea his administration talked up? It seemed unlikely that such an idea would appear as if by magic.
More recently, I asked for information related to a study of police personnel practices by an Arkansas Tech faculty member. I was initially told there were no records responsive to my request when, at that very moment, the city had a request pending before the attorney general for a ruling on whether that very nformation should be open. It existed, in other words. In time, excuses emerged — the study was incomplete, it was not releasable, and so forth. But the initial response was that no such records existed. A lawyer for police in disputes with the chief is currently battling the city in court for access to these records. The city is fighting it, likely because it finds some flaws in the chief’s management.
I have been told, but cannot prove, that Scott administration information is being exchanged by text messages and that some in city government don’t believe communications about city business exchanged on personal cell phones or on a server separate from the city’s must be revealed. They are wrong if they believe that. The law is clear. But it is also hard to get this information if there’s a systematic effort to erase it.
Others have complained of difficulty in getting a full accounting for the mayor’s staged publicity events and the cost of the security detail he’s added for the mayor’s office. To one request for financial data (monthly state revenue distributions), I was initially told the person in charge was too busy to provide it.
The creation of a city FOIA liaison has seemed to me to be more of an impediment to speedy response than a help. Must you go through an FOI process, for example, to get a city official to immediately reveal the salary of a new city hire?
Blue Hog observes that trust in the mayor is an important factor in the current special election on a one-cent tax.
Sure. Voters are being asked to go from a 1.5-cent city sales tax, with 3/8ths of a cent dedicated to capital projects, to a 2.125-cent tax with no dedicated spending and no explicit guarantees on how the money will be spent. Delivery on past promises influences how people decide to vote on the promises that have been made about a 10-year plan for spending a half-billion new dollars (and perhaps a good deal more depending on continued sales tax revenue growth.)