by Max Brantley
First thing today, we sent an FOI request to the governor's highly paid press secretary, Alice Stewart, for copies of e-mails sent by Republican state treasurer candidate Chris Morris while in the employ of the governor's office that were not related to office business. Democrat-Gazette reporting has suggested that Morris has been separated from the governor's office -- exactly on what terms isn't clear -- for doing campaigning on office machinery and perhaps time.
Can a campaign e-mail be construed as gubernatorial working papers, the stock excuse that the governor's office typically invokes in denying FOI requests? We don't think so. Not that it will stop the Huckster Gang.
Perhaps our lack of a response is because Milton Fine, heretofore the guv's chief legal stooge, has ripped the cord on his golden parachute and now suckles at another government teat over at workers comp, a favorite haven for Huckster hacks. Heck, maybe we haven't gotten a response because Alice has bailed, too. Sightings of Hucksterites glomming onto new public payroll slots are always welcome here.
We renewed our FOI response this afternoon. Still no response from Alice, though the statute requires an answer and requires production of public documents unless they are in active use.
We've sent a query to the D-G on whether they've formally FOI'ed the Morris documents. No response from them yet. We hope so. They can afford the legal help required to fight a lawless, stonewalling governor's office. Eleven weeks of the Huckster to go.
UPDATE: Through the looking glass with Alice in Hucksterland is the response from Kelly Pace, apparently the guv's new chief legal counsel:
I received the e-mail you sent to Alice Stewart this morning requesting "copies of all Chris Morris' e-mail not related to official gubernatorial duties". I also received the second e-mail you sent to her at 3:03 pm today as a "reminder". Your request was pursuant to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act which exempts from disclosure working papers and correspondence of the Governor. The exemption has been extended to include working papers and correspondence of the Governor's staff as well. Therefore, your request must be denied.
Two points: 1) I did not ask for "working papers and correspondence of the governor." 2) The "exemption" has been extended by who or what, exactly? No statute or court case has broadened the exception to apply to non-gubernatorial correspondence of staff. The exemption has been extended unilaterally by scofflaws. They tried this unsuccessfully in the case of documents related to the disgraced parole board member, but continue to use the taxpayers' money to bleed the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette through fees for an appeal of the lower court ruling.
We call now on the gubernatorial candidates to support a punitive provision in the FOI laws on state officials who use taxpayers' attorneys to force people seeking information to pile up ruinous legal expenses to see public documents. I understand, by the way, that the D-G has sought this same material and more and has been rebuffed on similarly specious grounds.