Letter to the Editor

Transparency in government

Friday, May 18, 2018

During the (2017) Arkansas General Assembly we were constantly told to, “telephone your congressman,” “write your legislator,” “talk to your senator.” So, on Wednesday, March 15, I got in my car and headed to the Capitol at 5:00 o’clock in the morning. On that day, a legislative house committee was scheduled to vote on a “do pass” or “don’t pass” on SB373.

Because I am the Chairman of the Benton County Chapter of Transparency in Government (TIG) we are adamantly against any proposal that would water down the current provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The term often applied to SB373 is that it would “gut” the provisions of FOIA.

Starting at 10:00 a.m. Speakers went one after the other to the microphone to plead their case “For” or “Against” the various bills as they were announced. This went on until noon for a lunch break and then picked up again about 3:00 p.m.

Finally at approximately 5:28 p.m. SB373 was announced and my name was called to speak. Chairman of the committee, Representative Bob Ballinger had been presiding over the meeting all day handed the gavel over to his co-chairman and Rep. Ballinger took a seat at a microphone right next to me.

About two paragraphs into my presentation co-chairman told me, “I hate to interrupt you, but we are pressed for time, could you please stay on the bill? We are really pressed for time here.” All day the committee was very courteous to all the speakers and no one else was ever interrupted and asked to shorten their speech or to stay on subject. Because I was the oldest person in the room and I had driven the farthest, I felt like they should have cut me some slack.

Before I spoke Rep. Ballinger, the House sponsor of SB373, was allowed to speak at length his reasons for being “For” the bill. If we were pressed for time, why didn’t he shorten his presentation?

Attorney Joey McCutchen spoke at length against the bill after Rep. Ballinger had his say. I don’t think the co-chair or Rep. Ballinger dared to edit an attorney’s speech in any way.

After I spoke, (or I tried to speak) Dan Greenberg, son of Pulitzer Prize winning Paul Greenberg and Editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette spoke a long time and was, for obvious reasons, not asked to cut his presentation short.

About 5:30 pm. Bob Ballinger asked for a voice vote and he declared a “Do Pass” when there weren’t 11 members left at the table.

The bottom line to this event is that when tyrants find they can silence the opposition, democracy is over and dictatorship can take over. We must exercise our First Amendment Right to free speech and never let elected officials think they can tell us what we can say or not say. The price of freedom has been too great.

— Lt. Colonel, Jim Parsons (Ret)

Benton County Chairman of Transparency in Government (TIG)