by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is continuing to complain to the Little Rock School Board about not receiving timely and complete records of e-mails between board members and administrators about school matters, the most recent example being a rundown on storm damage on school campuses last Tuesday. The newspaper's FOI request also claims a right of inspection to all individual members' private e-mail accounts. I think their requests are generally merited, though that last part is far-reaching. I think it's a situation, as I"ve written, that probably applies to every public body in Arkansas. The rise of e-mail has facilitated information exchanges and discussions of public business that amount to meetings of public bodies. Except that these meetings are being conducted out of view of everyone who's not privy to the e-mail. The situation needs to be studied and addressed broadly. Here, however, the interest is more narrow for the D-G. The Arkansas Blog has received some of these e-mails and the D-G has not.
If this evolves into a full-fledged legal challenge, I do hope the newspaper will treat its pet projects with equal rigor in behalf of the public's right to know. For example, take the eStem charter school to be housed in publisher Walter Hussman's building at Third and Louisiana after it is expensively refitted at taxpayer expense. Please. It has also been running a series of normally expensive ads in the Democrat-Gazette. EStem officials rarely respond to calls or e-mails from the Arkansas Times, including our requests for notices of public meetings about the school. They won't reveal the amount of money being spent on the advertising or answer any questions about who prepared the school's grammatically egregious D-G ads (one also had fractured Latin). How can they do this when they will be operating with public money? They contend they are currently only a non-profit operating without benefit of public money and thus under no obligation to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. Not a dime of public money has gone into getting this school off the ground? I don't think so.
D-G editors, fire up your FOI requests! The Roy Brooks Gang is not operating like a public school should.