Legislative Audit: Again with the secrecy, this time on UA papers | Arkansas Blog

Legislative Audit: Again with the secrecy, this time on UA papers

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The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today updated the Washington County prosecutor's review of the allegation that University of Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart ordered destruction of documents related to the financial disarray in the advancement division. He has said he didn't.

Much to come on that, including, maybe, a fascinating suggestion I heard in Fayetteville last night. What if notes were taken by people who were in the closed-door November meeting of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees where the advancement subject came up. A discussion of a division's problems shouldn't have been allowed in secret and unannounced in the first place. Gearhart inadvertently let the cat out of the bag months later. Do notes exist? Are they discoverable under the FOI? A prosecutor certainly could discover them by subpoena.

And speaking of subpoenas: I see the chief counsel of Legislative Audit, Frank Arey, has again trotted out an excuse not to disclose public records at his agency under a legal theory discredited just this week by Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce.  Arey claims because the prosecutor has subpoenaed records of payments made by the advancement division, they are subject to an investigation and not releasable to the D-G under the Freedom of Information Act. Judge Pierce ruled the agency is not a law enforcement agency. It is not entitled to claim an exemption for investigations because SOMEBODY ELSE is investigating an agency for which it has records. 

Say the prosecutor subpoenaed the list of salaries of a school district. The school district couldn't withhold those records if requested by the public because somebody else asked for them, too. It's nonsense.

What's being protected here, remember, is simple public business — receipts, essentially, for how a university spent millions of dollars.

What's worse is that this is another reminder of how the UA achieves secrecy of a significant amount of what it does by using private fund-raising arms — the University of Arkansas Foundation and the Razorback Foundation — to raise and spend millions largely out of public view. The UA Foundation has copies of the records the D-G is seeking. It won't release them.


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