The controversy over a new provider of medical care for University of Arkansas athletes simmers on.
Judging by a statement released today, the UA was gigged more by a recent editorial in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette than the reporting in Arkansas Business that put the issue in play. An extensive explanation is offered today by Athletic Director Jeff Long, including a complaint that the editorialist hadn't sought a comment before blasting Long.
Here's Arkansas Business coverage today, then some background and commentary:
Arkansas Business reported that, in the course of working out deals for medical services, the UA raised the issue of "sponsorships" -- kickbacks of cash contributions to the athletic department -- from the providers. But an Arkansas Business FOI request to Athletic Director Long was fulfilled by the university's legal counsel with information that did not include a part of an athletic department presentation that specifically mentioned the "sponsorships." Ark. Business had obtained that independently. UA Chancellor David Gearhart has since defended the university's incomplete response to the FOI as an oversight.
1) A statement from Long about his intentions to get the best medical care for athletes, to operate with integrity, etc. As for failure to provide a relevant bit of information:
Contrary to published assertions that the final slide was “omitted” from my FOIA response, I want to be unequivocal in stating that I did not omit or intentionally withhold any record. In this instance, I did not have a copy of the final presentation in my records. I released an earlier version of the document that was the only copy contained in my records. The suggestion that I would have purposefully withheld such a record from a presentation prepared by a member of my staff many months ago is absurd because the document was distributed and given to potential health care providers.
2) An e-mail Long sent to Gearhart in April about the medical services contract. Similar verbiage.
Check them out. The basics haven't changed. Long did talk to medical providers about a "sponsorship." When Arkansas Business asked about it, Long denied sponsorships had been sought. Long responded to an FOI request with information that did not include a piece of evidence that "sponsorships" were discussed. Only when confronted did he admit sponsorships had been discussed.
I don't think there's a silk purse to be made out of this sow's ear.
NOTE: The April e-mail from Long to Gearhart was NOT provided to reporters who made an FOI request for all information related to the medical contracts. Another innocent oversight, no doubt, that also would have proved conclusively the discussion about medical providers.
ALSO: The following is a letter UA counsel Scott Varady sent to reporters Noah Trister and Chris Bahn of Arkansas Business, who have been working on this story. His assertion that the UA has always responded in good faith to FOI requests is, in a word, bullshit. I won't bore you with a recitation of the Arkansas Times' inability to get honest dealings from UA over other athletic department matters during the John White era.
Dear Noah and Chris,
During the summer, Noah submitted a FOIA request for certain records pertaining to the University's new healthcare provider arrangements for our student-athletes. The University responded to that request and provided Noah with approximately 70 pages of responsive records. Subsequently, Chris requested the same records previously released to the Associated Press, and Kevin Trainor sent the University's response to Chris. Chris also contacted me by phone on two different occasions to inquire about the status of any contracts with the new providers. Each time, I informed Chris that I had been requested to prepare contracts but had not done so due to the press of other business and deadlines.
I recently learned that a Memorandum of Agreement had been signed with each of the three providers. Although these are not the formal contracts the parties plan to draft and execute, I wanted to provide each of you with copies of the documents in the attached PDF. The bullet points contained in the attached documents were included in the materials previously provided to each of you (from the proposals), and the basis for the redactions to the attached documents, therefore, is the same as previously stated (competitive advantage exemption raised on behalf of the University and each provider). Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-105(b)(9)(A) (Supp. 2007).
I would also like to take this opportunity to clarify another issue. The power point presentation initially provided to each of you was dated December 18, 2008. This power point was the only copy or version of the power point possessed by Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Jeff Long prior to and after the release of the document to each of you. Mr. Long (nor anyone else) removed or deleted any slides from the power point presentation prior to providing it for release to each of you. I also recently learned that the December 18th version of the power point was subsequently modified in a second version dated December 22, 2008 (9 pages in length), and a third copy dated January 22, 2009 (9 pages in length). In the December 22, 2008, document, new information was added to the presentation, including a slide regarding the issue of a sponsorship. Mr. Long did not prepare the December 22, 2008, version of the power point or any of the other versions. Mr. Long did not remove any slides from the December 18th version or have copies of the later versions of the document.
It appears from the online story written by Chris and Rob Keys that the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal had a later version of the power point and compared it to the December 18th version of the power point released by the University. The story stated: "The slide, printed on Page 14, was omitted from a six-page group of slides obtained among other documents under the state's Freedom of Information Act by ArkansasSports360.Com." The conclusion that the slide containing a bullet point regarding a sponsorship was "omitted" from the release of documents is erroneous. The December 18th version of the power point slide show released to each of you did not contain that slide or other information added for later presentations. I would be happy to review the slide show that contains 14 pages if you are willing to share it with me. I have not seen and am not aware of any slide show containing 14 pages.
We have a long history of working together over the years, and I value our professional and personal friendships. As you know, I believe that University officials have a long track record of complying with FOIA in good faith and as required by law. Therefore, I wanted to share this additional information with you. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
T. Scott Varady
Office of the General Counsel
421 Administration Building
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701