“The basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.” United States Supreme Court in NLRB v. Robbins Tire Co., 437 U.S. 214, 242 (1978)
“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” Patrick Henry
While I wholeheartedly approve attempts by the Governor to open new markets for Arkansas businesses and to create new trade agreements with China and maybe even Cuba; I don’t think that we should be imitating their methods of governing. Arkansas governors shouldn’t attempt to turn our state into the Peoples Republic of Arkansas.
It is downright un-American to govern in secrecy and to deny citizens their right to know. To take taxpayer money as salaries, to use taxpayer equipment in a taxpayer bought building, doing the citizen’s business and representing the people’s needs should not give anyone, including the Governor, the right to exempt him/herself from public accountability. But that is exactly what has happened and it has been the law for many years now. And it’s all legal.
Arkansas annotated § 25-19-105(b)(7) exempts the “unpublished memoranda, working papers, and correspondence of the Governor, members of the General Assembly, Supreme Court Justices, Court of Appeals Judges, and the Attorney General” from the reach of the public (including the press).
So the Governor, state legislators, Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges and the Attorney General are to be blindly trusted and are above being questioned by voters and the press. Hmm. That sounds more like an oppressive regime than a representative democracy where “the people rule.” [See state motto].
But it actually gets worse. Not only must our God given freedoms of press and our rights-to-know take a bow to a disgusting extra wall of privacy for those special office holders, but they must also take a bow to their staff as well.
I became aware of this when I made a FOIA request of the Governor’s Office this week requesting emails from any/all governor’s staff members that may have attempted to limit Jan Morgan’s right to speak publicly in Blytheville and was in essence told “heck no, we’re special.”
The reason I made the request is because Ark. Code Ann. §7-1-103 makes it illegal for any public servant (defined in §21-8-402 as public officials, public employees, and public appointees) to campaign on the clock [during “usual office hours”] or to use government resources [such as government offices, phones, computers and email system] in any way to do the campaigning. The only way to prove if this law has been broken is to see those emails. Were they written on government computers, using government email and/or during usual office hours? We’ll never know.
To show how ridiculous this law is, when I researched the Governor’s Office on transparency.arkansas.gov, I learned that the Governor’s Office (not including himself or the Governor’s Mansion staff) employs 55 people with a total salary budget of $3,169,871.84 (with annual salaries ranging from $117,740.68 to $36,529.52) and an average full-time salary of $59,518.89 per employee.
The website lists extremely vague and ambiguous job titles such as “management assistant”, “management specialist” and “executive assistant” at varying pay grade levels. The job titles give no indications of their functions; therefore one must guess what they do.
Apparently someone has to open the mail, type the letters, answer the phones, schedule the appointments, provide legal advice, advise on trade, advise on politics, liaise with the legislature, liaise with state agencies, advice on budgeting, drive the governor around, take pictures, make coffee and turn off the lights. That is certainly oversimplifying things, but since the Governor’s Office apparently likes to remain a mystery, I can only guess.
One must presume that there are sensitive top secret matters of national security when it comes to the ones that answers the mail, types the letters, chauffeurs the governor, makes the coffee and etcetera.
These abominable exemptions were put into place during the regimes of Bill Clinton and other democrats and Arkansas Republicans complained for decades about the corruption and unfairness. But as proof that power corrupts, now that the Republicans have succeeded in their electoral coup, they are now the ones that use those un-American exemptions to further their power. Shame on them!
Office holders, its beyond time to remove these exemptions. I’ll be watching.