Despite a new system for handling Freedom of Information Act requests in the city attorney’s office, they are stacking up unanswered at Little Rock City Hall.
Jimmie Cavin, a critic of the mayor, went public at the City Board meeting last night with questions about a State Police traffic stop in which Mayor Frank Scott Jr. was apparently involved in 2016 before he became mayor but was a state highway commissioner. No court records exist for the stop, which arose as an issue in Scott’s 2018 election campaign. Cavin has unearthed records of State Police contact with Scott on the day in question and has been seeking responses from the mayor. A spokesman for Scott says he’s never been convicted of anything. This, by the way, can honestly be said of a conviction that was expunged after completion of a probationary period. Police may not release reports on such cases or even confirm that they once existed.
That, strictly speaking, isn’t an FOI request. But Matt Campbell, the Little Rock lawyer who publishes Blue Hog Report, has been issuing a series of FOI requests about the inaugural LITFest — scheduled in October as a showcase for the mayor — and the work done by Think Rubix, a consulting firm hired by the city for $45,000 to stage the event. Its employees include the mayor’s former chief of staff, Charles Blake.
We’ve reported previously about a scarcity of information about LITFest events and about the city putting under the LITFest umbrella some musical events scheduled at Little Rock venues before the creation of the festival.
Campbell has dug deeper and to date has received little by way of response from the city.
He notes that the city contract with Think Rubix requires the company to provide written reports and status updates. He’s asked for such reports. None has been provided. He also asked to see applications from bands and vendors that have sought to participate. A news release said there had been several applications. He’s not received any. He has received a message from Mac Norton, a lawyer for Think Rubix, disputing that Think Rubix communications to the city are open under FOI, but offering some voluntary production of materials. Campbell has noted the contract with Think Rubix says that all documents created belong to the city, must be maintained for 5 years and must be provided to the city upon request.
Campbell today reiterated questions that get at the heart of an ongoing problem with the Scott administration.
Campbell asked for communications between anyone with the city and anyone with Think Rubix and any communications sent by Think Rubix about the festival.
He’s gotten nothing. Is it credible that a hired consultant has had no communications with anyone at City Hall about this event?
This has become standard procedure with the Scott administration. Matters of city importance — think giving part of War Memorial Park to Topgolf or a similar business — arise as if by magic. Ask for communications — emails, memos, text messages — and you are told nothing responsive exists. It seems likely that emails and texts are being deleted to avoid having to produce them. No law specifically requires retention of some records. There’s also been an indication that some in City Hall hold the erroneous belief that FOI requests can be dodged by saying they require “creation” of a record. Asking for records that exist — even if on a phone company or internal City Hall server — is not asking that a record be created. It is simply asking for records.
The Scott administration has thrown a cloak over its operations and fiercely protects secrecy. The mayor feels he’s being subjected to scrutiny others haven’t felt (Mark Stodola likely would disagree). His defenders say he’s a victim of racial bias. Race is also used to defend his refusal to reveal the cost of the police chauffeur detail that he’s used throughout his first term, something no other mayor used.
Campbell has threatened to sue over FOI compliance. A court ruling on the defenses offered by the city for non-disclosure would be useful for both sides.
Blue Hog reports here on his examination of the Think Rubix contract. He has criticism, including that Think Rubix doesn’t appear on the secretary of state’s registry of those who may do business in Arkansas.
And at 3 p.m. today, he told the city:
You have two hours.
I mean, surely the city isn’t going to let Think Rubix get the city sued just because they don’t want to provide records that they’re legally required to provide, is it? That would be amazingly bad optics, I’d imagine. Not to mention, considering Think Rubix is a former client of Mr. Phillips and is still a client of his firm, allowing their position regarding the records to influence whether the city chooses to get sued over this seems like a terrible idea on a number of levels. But I digress.
Anyway, like I said, you have two hours.