Zeno was an appointee of Gov. Mike Huckabee and Huckabee had refused to release the papers, even after losing a lawsuit on the matter. He had appealed. Beebe dropped the governor's office appeal and released the papers.
Dicky Johnson, internal affairs administrator of the Department of Community Corrections, conducted the investigation. His report summary May 1 said interviews of members of the unit staff resulted in the following "isclosure of facts" (all numbered items are direct quotes of Johnson's report):
1. On more than one occasion during parole hearings, Commissoner Zeno has told supporters of inmates to "shut up."
2. On one occasion, during a parole hearing, Commissioner Zeno verbally "dressed down" an inmate's wife about chewing gum to the point that she began crying.
3. During parole hearings, unit staff provides snack foods like cakes and doughnuts for the commissioners. Commissioner Zeno brings a box and gathers the snacks and takes them with him when he leaves. According to some members of staff, Commissioner Zeno has stated that he takes the snacks to the nursing home for his mother. Other members of the staff said that Commissioner Zeno has stated to them that he takes the snacks to his office for staff. Commissioner Zeno becomes very angry if snacks are not provided at the hearings.
4. When Commissioner Zeno comes to one particular unit he routinely hugs a certain female staff member and pats her on the buttocks. The staff member who provided this information stated that she never reported this behavior because he was a governor-appointed commissioner.
5. On one occasion, Commissioner Zeno told a female staff member that he has two favorite things, “pussy and pussy.”
6. A check of Commissioner Zeno’s state-owned computer revealed the materials at Tab # 11 and the materials on the attached compact disc at Tab #12, which include off-color jokes and sexually explicit nude photographs of females and males.
7. A tape recorded interview of Commissioner Zeno resulted in his denying all of the allegations in their entirety.
Parole Board chairman Leroy Brownlee had said Zeno was investigated in response to complaints about his performance. Brownlee said he turned over the only copy of the investigation to Gov. Huckabee, who contended it then became one of his working papers and was exempt from disclosure. He apparently hoped to protect Zeno from further embarrassment. We tried to call Zeno but got his answering machine.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sued and Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that the information should be released. Huckabee appealed, but Beebe, who took office Jan. 9, decided to drop the appeal. Piazza had commented after reviewing the file that it was much ado about nothing. The female employees who believe Zeno harassed them might feel otherwise.
Huckabee has been quoted as saying he had seen nothing that required Zeno's resignation, but thought if he moved on it might prevent other "unfounded" allegations.
On the jump, you can find Gov. Mike Beebe's news release on his decision to release the papers .
He's not conceding that the papers aren't gubernatorial working papers. But he's saying the public's right to know outweighs the office's claim to that protection. This was always a distinction that Mike Huckabee refused to draw, even if he understood it. Just because a paper MAY be kept secret under FOI exemptions, it doesn't mean it MUST be kept secret. Thus Beebe has set an example that I suspect he'll follow on such matters as accounting of Governor's Mansion expenditures and the like. Even if it is a gubernatorial working paper (which those records are not) public interest is more important.
PS -- The internal investigation also involved a check of all other parole board computers. Internal Affairs Administrator Dicky Johnson reported that he had checked Zeno's statement that he had shared some of the computer files with others. "While we found some jokes and cartoons that were somewhat off color we did not find any nude pictures or sexually graphic material ..."
BEEBE'S NEWS RELEASE
(LITTLE ROCK) – Governor Mike Beebe today announced the release of documents from an investigation of Lary Zeno, former Arkansas Parole Board member. Zeno resigned his position in May.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sued former Governor Mike Huckabee and the state Parole Board for withholding documents regarding the resignation.
“I believe in the transparency of government and I support the strength and integrity of the Freedom of Information Act,” Beebe said. “If this document is a working paper, the public’s right to know outweighs any exemption from the reach of the FOIA.”
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza heard the case and ruled that the “exemption in this case is outweighed by the need for public scrutiny.” However, the documents remained under seal pending appeal by the state.
This appeal has now come under the authority of Governor Mike Beebe. Pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 25 (d)(1), “when a public officer is a part to an action in his official capacity and during its pendency…ceases to hold office, the action does not abate and his successor is automatically substituted as a party.”
Accordingly, Governor Beebe has asked the Attorney General’s Office to file a motion to dismiss the appeal as the claims on appeal are now moot.