Political Aesthetics and the Freedom of Information Act | Street Jazz

Political Aesthetics and the Freedom of Information Act



For almost a month I have had on my desk a column written by Doug Thompson of the Northwest Arkansas Times from June 3 - “A Shadow Looms Over Fayetteville.” The opening paragraph of his piece is one of the most politically stark and discomfiting I have read in some time:

“Fayetteville: The most hostile spot to the public’s right to know in Northwest Arkansas.”

What’s that you say? The New York City of the Ozarks hostile to the public’s right to know? Say it ain’t so, Joe.

But maybe, just maybe . . .

Thompson began by discussing the matter of the shoving out the door of the Fayetteville Public Library Director. Oh, she was she paid $42,500, in addition to a few benefits and expenses (what sort of expenses?) to leave without making a fuss. Some folks on staff made a fuss, though.

The library board claimed her departure came under the “personnel” exemption of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Marilyn Heifner, of Fayetteville’s Advertising and Promotion Commission flat-out lied to a reporter, and as a punishment was forced to keep her job. Okay, they took away her pay raise.

The Fayetteville School District found itself under scrutiny because of an email written by a teacher, claiming the “personnel” clause again.

The West Fork city government has sometimes treated the the Freedom Information Act as though it was written for the inhabitants of another country altogether.

And a couple of times over the years I have wondered about all of those those emails that former UA Chancellor John White bragged about deleting during yet another past football scandal. Were they part of the public record we’ll never see?

The Heifner/FOIA matter is the most troubling for Fayetteville.

More than any other community in Northwest Arkansas, Fayetteville has set a standard over the years for expecting a certain level of behavior from those we elect to positions of trust. We are the city we are largely because of the citizen activists among us, many of whom have used the FOIA for the causes they believed in.

What was disconcerting about the Heifner affair was that so many people (and some were liberals - go figure) not only publicly supported her, but implied that the FOIA was a bullying tool, and that reporters (and ultimately activists, if you follow the reasoning to its logical conclusion) should simply rely on the word of people in power, and not make waves.

Ph, the occasional ripple is okay. But actual waves? Haven’t we as a city evolved beyond that point?

It’s okay to have the FOIA, but to actually use it? To make people uncomfortable? Why on earth would you want to do that? Can’t we all just get along?


A gentle reminder to the Northwest Arkansas Times about City Council resolutions on such things as “Corporate Personhood”

Recently the Northwest Arkansas Times was a tad critical of the Fayetteville City Council for taking a stand on the issue of “corporate personhood.” The paper has been critical of such a move, even plaintively asking in in the June 12 editorial (“Fayetteville Takes Shot at Personhood”):

“Now that the Fayetteville City Council has announced its position to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling related to corporate personhood, what issue will it tackle next?

“The war in Afghanistan? Immigration? Bashar Assad’s oppressive regime in Syria? Coke vs. Pepsi?”

That was actually the second time a writer in the Times mentioned the Coke/Pepsi question. That’s especially intriguing, in light of the fact the the University of Arkansas has switched soft drink loyalties in recent days.

Climbing out of the Chasm of Digression, though, perhaps it’s time - yet again - to remind the NWA Times that city councils across this great nation of ours have been voting on such resolutions for quite some time.

Fayetteville is far from being the only city in the United States to take a stance on this issue. In Arkansas, fact, our comrades in Eureka Springs have also done the same thing.

But going through my old blogs for my new book, I discovered a gem - okay, I think a lot of my writing falls under the “gem” category” - written in December of 2008, when the City Council voted on a resolution that the NWA Times derided as “toothless.” I’ll just pass on part of that today:

Fayetteville is not alone among cities that are willing to take a stand on issues facing Americans today. In fact, we are, in anything, following a national trend.

1998: Fayetteville City Council honors Tibetans

October 2, 2003: The Chicago City Council passes a resolution condemning the USA Patriot Act.

June 21, 2005: Oakland, California: City Council passes resolution endorsing Department of Peace.

April, 2006 - Salt lake City: City Council supported and passed a “natural family resolution.”

May 22, 2007: City Council of Portland, Oregon, voted a resolution urging the US not to bomb Iran.

December 7, 2007: Indianapolis City Council Passes a resolution that "urges a moratorium on home foreclosures and for Congressional enactment of a Homeowners and Bank Protection Act."

Over 150 local governments across the United States have passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions.

These resolutions are the result of citizens coming forward to their city council, and making their case. Those opposed to the action are free to make their case, as well. But when cities pass these resolutions, other cities across the country take notice. And state and national leaders also take notice.

Toothless? I don’t think so.


And all of that “speaking truth to power” nonsense”

Every so often I’ll turn on a cable news show and I’ll hear one one of the inane talking heads going on and on about somebody who “speaks truth to power.”

Except . . .

They always seem to be talking about rich people talking to other rich people. In other words, the powerful taking shots at other powerful people.

They aren’t talking about the nuns who are willing to stand up for social justice, or citizen activists in civil rights or labor movements. They aren’t talking about public access producers or alternative newspaper writers.

No, those people are usually referred to as “gadflies.”


Quote of the Day

A good snapshot stops a moment from running away. - Eudora Welty


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