The Democrat-Gazette's Alison Sider today talked to Secretary of State Mark Martin about that $54,000-plus-expenses consulting contract he signed with the Soderquist Center of Siloam Springs for "values-based" strategic planning. We wrote first about the contract a week ago.
Note this in the article: Mark Martin cited his own incompetence as a reason for the need for a consultant.
Martin said his office’s expenditure of state Board of Apportionment funds last month is “one small indication of some of the structural difficulties that we aim to improve on.”
He refers to his improper expenditures on a new car and hiring of a couple of Republican operatives without approval of the Board of Apportionment, which controlled the public money.
No mention was made in the article of the recent resignation of Martin's executive assistant, Teresa Belew, over what she believes were Freedom of Information Act violations in trying to keep information about this contract from reaching the Arkansas Times.
Another Arkansas journalist wrote me over the weekend, understandably confused by the recitations of serial FOI requests and the grudging, incomplete fulfillment of those requests by Martin's office. Finally, the journalist said, he just didn't understand the fuss.
Let me clarify. The old Washington saying fits: Sometimes it's the coverup that's the crime. Depending on your view, the consulting contract was a smart move by Martin's office, a waste of taxpayer money or a matter too insignificant to worry about. It does not appear to be illegal. But, for some reason, the office badly wanted to keep it secret. And in resisting requests for the information, Belew's resignation letter indicates, the FOI law was abused by public employees. That sounds like news to me, whether it involved the Arkansas Times or not.