Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I’m a fierce advocate for the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
And anyone who pays attention to the Eureka Springs city government knows that the FOIA — a state law — seems to be viewed more as an annoying suggestion among city officials.
Eureka Springs’ various and sundry city commissions violate the FOIA with alarming regularity — from the parks commission firing its director without a public vote to the hospital commission deciding in executive session to terminate a management contract. But of course the most egregious offender is the Eureka Springs City Advertising and Promotion Commission.
The CAPC breaks the law at every turn, both procedurally and practically, despite our repeated attempts to stop it. I’ve personally emailed copies of the state’s FOIA handbook to several current commissioners, I’ve discussed the issue in person with Mayor Butch Berry’s administrative assistant, and I’ve implored Berry and city attorney Tim Weaver to please ensure the commission operates within the law. I may as well have been talking to a wall.
I’ve filed two complaints with our local prosecutor, first in early 2020 and the second two months ago. Both complaints were referred to a Little Rock-based special prosecutor, Jack McQuary. I never heard a word from Mr. McQuary regarding my first complaint. I’ve called his office probably a dozen times regarding the latest complaint. He returned my call once, on a day when I was out of the office.
Finally, I obtained a cell phone number for Mr. McQuary last week. We had a brief conversation before Mr. McQuary had to take another call. He explained that he was working with Eureka Springs city officials and the state attorney general’s office to set up a training session in February.
“It’s my belief that several people are just ignorant to the FOIA law on it,” Mr. McQuary said.
Well, it’s my belief that several people know full well what the law requires, because I’ve been kicking and screaming about it for the better part of two years.
The CAPC is inept at best, intentionally corrupt at worst, and neither Berry nor Weaver seem to have the moral or intestinal fortitude to step in and set things right.
On another CAPC-related topic, the Eureka Springs Police Department seems to be investigating the Crime of the Century.
On Feb. 24, CAPC chair Jeff Carter announced during a commission meeting that he met with police chief Bryan Young on Feb. 8 “to discuss the possibility of misconduct within the CAPC.” At the same commission meeting, the commission voted to fire interim director Gina Rambo.
More than nine months later, no arrests have been made and no charges have been filed. Yet, when I filed a formal request for the case file last Friday pursuant to the FOIA, Young responded to tell me that the investigation remains active and therefore is not subject to the FOIA.
I asked Young via email if it was common for an investigation to remain active for more than nine months. He replied that it “depends on the type of investigation.”
Asked if he could give me an example of another ESPD investigation remaining active for more than nine months, Young replied: “Not offhand.”
One might easily surmise that whatever “misconduct” has been alleged, and investigated for nearly 10 months now by the Eureka Springs Police Department, was the basis for the commission’s decision to fire Rambo.
One also might easily speculate that the lengthy investigation will remain “active” until the adjudication of Rambo’s lawsuit against several commissioners and other city officials, shielding the case file from public view.
Could it be that someone is intentionally trying to cover up the fact that the alleged “misconduct” never actually occurred? Or am I just that cynical?