by Max Brantley
Mayor Mark Stodola objected strenuously today to my suggestion that he's not interested in transparency. He thinks I'm unfair in my treatment of City Hall.
Well. To continue a thread begun yesterday:
A tipster said I should call the Planning Department, said to be nearing completion of a proposal for redrawing wards to reflect population changes in the 2010 Census. I did, yesterday morning. Planning Director Tony Bozynski did not return my calls. He did not answer my e-mails. The law REQUIRES a person receiving an FOI request to respond to that request, if only to say someone else has the record being sought or that it is not immediately available because it is in "active use" or storage. Active use means just that — not that work is preliminary in nature and not completed. It doesn't throw a blanket over all copies of material being sought.
I also wrote City Manager Bruce Moore. He said there was no "proposed map." I said, fine, give me whatever materials you have related to reapportionment. He responded again that there was no proposed map. I responded again that he was not answering my question. This morning, I received a map of the city's current wards, with current population data. (Here's a PDF file with a bit more information and easier to read than the map above.) I said that was not fully responsive to my request. I continued to seek information from the Planning Department. No response again today to phone or e-mail messages.
I also wrote City Attorney Tom Carpenter. He responded this afternoon to my various requests:
My understanding is that the material will be provided on Friday to the Board of Directors. This statement was made in response to a Board inquiry at last night’s reconvened meeting. At that time of the meeting, there was no product to be proffered, and the materials that the City has, except for what you have received, were in use. The City will timely respond in accordance with the statute.
Here's the translation. My tip was correct. The materials exist. The city doesn't want me to see them before it gives them to the Board. They will be in "active use" until the board gets the final proposal. No such luxury is provided by law. The city is abusing beyond recognition the "active use" exception to immediate production of records — though it's certain multiple copies of various documents exist for me to see — so as to stymie my request. The custodian of the record is violating the law by not responding at all to my request, when a response is required.
I wish I could say this was atypical. It isn't. I invited the mayor today to encourage the private committee that raised the money (primarily from realtors and the Chamber of Commerce) to pass his $500 million sales tax to follow the clear intent of the state law and disclose specifics of how the campaign money was spent. He has so far declined to do so. The committee has declined to do so. However, under pressure from me, it did amend an earlier report to report spending in broad general categories, still not the specifics the law anticipates. So I have filed an Ethics Commission complaint about that.
I have also asked the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which is currently the apparent operating authority for the new public research park authority, which soon will have $22 million in taxpayer money to spend, for underlying documents on the consultants study done, with public money, on the research authority idea. I'd like to see how the consultants report was shaped and who provided information about potential site development. The Chamber of Commerce said it need only release the final report, none of the internal documents that led up to that report. This is in keeping with the non-specific reports the Chamber provides on how it spends the $200,000 it receives in taxpayer money each year as a general subsidy to its economic development efforts. The Chamber refuses requests for specific spending of that money, too.
The mayor insists the city is — and will be — accountable and transparent. He says the law will be followed. He wonders why I'm so negative.