Today is primary day in Arkansas. That means it is time to wrap up our “Vet The Judge” series. I hope it has been informative as you have decided who to support for White County judge.
As we conclude today, I wanted to share this letter (seen above, emphasis added) with you. It was sent, as you can see, to JudgeLincoln on November 7th of last year. I received a copy because I was the citizen who filed the request for review with the ethics commission.
Now, Judge Lincoln has been on record saying he ‘did nothing wrong’ and after speaking with several in the community, I have realized that, thanks in large part to our prestigious local media, many have been unaware of these charges against the judge.
[Speaking of prestigious media, did you know the Searcy paper has printed 4.5 pre-election stories about Lincoln's opponent's health, but zip, zero, nada stories about his ethics violations? I know, I'm a conspiracy theorist.]
Two important observations to make about the letter:
1. The letter expressly says that Judge Lincoln violated Arkansas law.
2. The letter expressly says that Judge Lincoln signed a letter acknowledging that he broke the law, while also saying in the paper that ‘he did nothing wrong.’ I can only interpret this to mean: Judge Lincoln sees nothing wrong with breaking the law.
Don’t forget to cast your vote today before the polls close at 7:30 p.m. You can find your polling location here.
The Mayor of Letona, Mr. Sherrel Bennett, called me a little upset after reading Judge Parish’s letter last week outlining how Judge Mike Lincoln has been paving roads inside incorporated cities–a claim that everyone seems to agree on. The disagreement seems to come when we start discussing who is paying for these improvements: Mr. Parish says the county is paying for the improvements, at the expense of all county taxpayers. Mr. Bennett says the city reimbursed the county.
I made a follow-up call to Mr. Parish after talking to Mr. Bennett. He said whether or not the city pays for the improvements is irrelevant, contending that it is illegal for the county to essentially act as a contractor and do jobs-for-hire for cities–something I suspect local contractors might be a little upset about, whether it is legal or not.
Now, I do not pretend to have the answer to these legal questions. It is something I have intended to research but have not had time. Perhaps one of our legal-minded readers can weigh in. But I did tell Mr. Bennett that I would allow him to give his side of the story if he would submit something in writing. Below is the text of his letter. Continue reading
Mike Lincoln, currently serving as White County Judge, stated in his recent debate appearance that he always fully complied with Arkansas’ FOI law and that our county government was a “beautiful system” with “so much accountability” and lots of transparency. We beg to differ.
As questions were swirling around the behavior of a county employee, Tamara Jenkins, The Patriot decided to do a little research into the matter ourselves. We availed ourselves of the public’s greatest tool, the Freedom of Information Act, to request electronic copies of all of Ms. Jenkins emails from January 2009 through November 2011. What followed was extremely disappointing.
Before we go into the details of what transpired, let’s examine our rights under the FOIA. Arkansas 25-19-105 says the following:
- “A citizen may make a request to the custodian to inspect, copy, or receive copies of public records.”
- “The request may be made in person, by telephone, by mail, by facsimile transmission, by electronic mail, or by other electronic means provided by the custodian.”
- “If the person to whom the request is directed is not the custodian of the records, the person shall so notify the requester and identify the custodian, if known to or readily ascertainable by the person.”
- “A citizen may request a copy of a public record in any medium in which the record is readily available or in any format to which it is readily convertible with the custodian’s existing software.”
- “Except as provided in § 25-19-109 or by law, any fee for copies shall not exceed the actual costs of reproduction, including the costs of the medium of reproduction, supplies, equipment, and maintenance, but not including existing agency personnel time associated with searching for, retrieving, reviewing, or copying the records.”
We point all of these out because we sent our requests via email (as specifically allowed under the second bullet above) and we requested electronic copies of emails (as permitted by the fourth bullet point above) and they are only allowed to charge for “actual costs of reproduction”, not personnel time (under the fifth bullet point).
We sent a request to the judge’s office on November 17th, 2011 asking for “electronic copies” of all “Email correspondence between the White County Judge & Tamara Jenkins from January 2009 through November 17, 2011.” And we were told “There is no e-mail correspondence to or from Tamara Jenkins on Judge Lincoln’s computer.” We responded “So you’re saying there has been no email correspondence between the judge and miss Jenkins in the last 2 years?” The Judge’s office replied that they had amazingly suddenly found 43 emails that Ms. Jenkins had forwarded to the judge, but that there was still no correspondence between the two and that we should stop by their office and pay for the physical copies they would provide us. We then decided to take a different approach since the judge’s office seemed intent on ignoring state law.
We sent a request to Ms. Jenkins herself on November 21, 2011 asking for “All emails sent from your county email address from January 2009 to November 21, 2011.” She replied that “All FOI’s for this office must go through the White County Judge’s Office.” And we were back to the judge’s office.
At this point, we cited the specific, pertinent portions of the actual law (and the portions listed above) to the county, and they had an attorney from Little Rock contact us. After we told the attorney our specific request and informed him that we knew our rights under state law, we were informed that they were gathering the emails but would be redacting “sensitive” information as allowed by law (information like SSN, DOB, etc.). Even with this, the records are supposed to be ready in no more than 3 business days.
The records were finally “ready” on November 28th. “Ready” meant that they had printed several off so they could black out sensitive information with markers instead of following the common sense approach of providing electronic files where an actual SSN is replaced with ***-**-**** and they told us that we would have to pay for these physical copies. We declined and asked for them in the same electronic format we had requested since our initial request, and they finally consented. After weeks of wrangling, we finally had received the emails from Ms. Jenkins, or so we thought.
We began sifting through the hundreds of emails that had been provided, and we soon found some very disturbing things. First of all, we noticed that there was an amazingly sparse amount of email (particularly sent items) for a time period beginning May 16th, 2010. Over the next nine months, Ms. Jenkins records that were turned over per our FOI request indicate she had sent a grand total of five emails and that during the months of June, August, September, December, and January she had not sent any emails. For the nine months that followed that, she allegedly only sent four emails. During the same time periods, she allegedly only received six and four emails respectively. Considering that every other month she provided emails for before that averaged several dozen emails sent per month, this raised our level of curiosity considerably. How can you prove the existence of something that someone claims doesn’t exist? Well, there are a couple of ways.
First of all, the 43 emails that we had previously been told were sent from Ms. Jenkins to the county judge weren’t there. Secondly, we decided to see if we could find another copy of the emails elsewhere. With email, it is a little easier. There are always two parties involved, so we decided to contact some of her frequent correspondents (senders/recipients of her other emails) who are also employed with various government agencies. The judge’s office was ruled out as they had already blatantly ignored the FOIA to avoid providing us with access to public records. An examination of the emails we did receive revealed several other individuals who were employed at state agencies, so we contacted them with FOI requests. These folks should be applauded because they actually complied with the FOIA, perhaps because they had nothing to hide in their emails. We found some interesting things.
The individuals at the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management turned over dozens of emails from Tamara Jenkins that occurred during the time period in question and were sent by Ms. Jenkins to individuals working at the department. The emails in question address mundane things, and they are sent from the same address from which Ms. Jenkins other emails (ostensibly all covered by FOI) are sent. Furthermore, there are many emails that these individuals sent to Ms. Jenkins which were also not included in the response to our FOI request. All of this begs the question:
What happened to Ms. Jenkins’ email? Why is it that dozens of sent and received items mysteriously disappeared and were not passed on to us in response to our FOI request?
If some cataclysmic event had occurred, you would hardly expect to find two messages from February, one message from November, two messages from October etc. left standing amid the wreckage. Why is it that the emails appear to have been systematically purged or withheld dating back to May 2010, which is the time period when much questionable behavior was occurring within Ms. Jenkins’ office?
Is it possible to have any confidence in the transparency of our county government when they refuse to comply with the FOI law for days and weeks before finally turning over incomplete records that have the appearance of an intentional cover-up? According to everyone involved, all these FOI requests were funneled through the county judge’s office, per instructions from the county judge’s office.
The citizens of White County need to ask why their judge is restricting access to public records and they need to demand a judge who believes that the government belongs to the people and should be accountable to the people it represents.
Why do they say this? They ran a poll. Why is the poll crap? I’m about to tell you, because this so called “poll” is an insult to poll-lovers and statisticians everywhere. I would accuse them of being ignorant, but they have been proven to be much more deliberate at their attempts to influence opinion for me to believe they are really just this stupid–or that they think the people of White County are this stupid.
(I know the paper is trying to hide behind a local university political science professor that they mention in their story to loan credibility to their poll, but I can almost guarantee he would agree with my analysis below. He may have drafted the questions, but I am highly confident that he didn’t endorse this methodology.)
I ran this poll by a Republican political consultant who has worked on gubernatorial campaigns, ran targeting on congressional campaigns, and has run a targeted 527. Needless to say he has done more than a few polls. He agreed that the poll “has multiple issues with accuracy, and cannot be used to conclude that Lincoln has any kind of a lead.”
The alleged results of the poll:
- Lincoln: 49%
- Haynie: 34%
- Undecided: 17%
And that huge “15 percent” number the paper tosses around can be a little deceiving. The margin represented by that 15% is only 63 votes. They called 410 folks, who we can only assume are actually registered voters, but based on the rest of their “methodology,” I’m not sure that’s a smart assumption.
1. They didn’t poll ‘likely voters.’ This is kind of a big deal. The paper, according to their own story, didn’t make any effort to identify people who were actually likely to vote in the primary. Sure, they asked people ‘do you definitely plan to vote,’ but that’s essentially crap. There is much more that goes into determining likely voters than asking people on the spot, who will almost all say yes out of fear of being considered a ‘bad citizen.’ ”Likely voters” should only be defined as people who, based on their voting history, are actually likely to vote. I know, I’m a conspiracy theorist.
2. They didn’t poll identified Republicans, meaning those who are either registered as Republicans or have consistently voted in Republican primaries. Oh, I’m sorry, you’re doing a Republican primary poll and including Democrats? I’m sure my ‘ultra-partisanship’ will blind me to why this is a good idea. But seriously guys, this is crap. You aren’t getting meaningful results here and, once again, you are misleading the public by purporting crappy poll results as credible.
3. Lincoln’s name was placed first in the poll question. See, the paper knows this is shady because they preemptively defend any attacks by saying, “Well, he’s going to be first on the ballot!” More bull. This isn’t the same as someone going into a polling booth and looking at two options. The results will be slanted heavily towards the first person identified because people want to get off the phone. The order of the names should be randomized. Lincoln easily gained 5-10% from this trick.
Now, just because the results are ‘crap,’ that doesn’t mean we can’t still glean something from them, both statistically and politically speaking. What have we learned?
1. Despite the attempts to slant this poll, Lincoln doesn’t even receive 50%. This is the real story here. Think about this: a 6-year incumbent judge cannot even break 50%, despite being listed first on the poll which easily gave him 5-10%. Subtract 10-points and a nearly 5% margin of error, it is very possible that this race is actually tied (Lincoln -15%, erasing his “+15%”). As an entrenched incumbent, Judge Lincoln should be easily polling above 60% right now, and my consultant friend agreed.
2. This is a very close race. Look, if this wasn’t a close race, the paper wouldn’t be running sketchy polls in an attempt to help out their favorite judge. It’s really that simple.
Despite what you’ll read in the paper, these poll results are very good news for lovers of liberty & transparent government in White County.
The series will run over the next few weeks leading up to the May primary and will focus on the governing record of White County Judge Mike Lincoln.
Judge Lincoln has been in office for almost a full six years and he’s never really been vetted as a candidate. That is to say, the community, in my opinion, has never really taken an in-depth look at his record in office or his qualifications for the position. He has gone without much serious opposition the last few elections and so, despite his unpopularity, he has remained relatively unscathed.
The judge essentially said in the debate last week that his qualifications to be judge are all based on the fact that he has been judge for the last 5 years. But what has he done and is our county better off than it was when he took power?
These are important questions that need to be asked. We know the local media won’t ask them, either because of fear or because they support him. Or both. On the other hand, we have never been afraid to ask the tough questions here at The Patriot.
We are going to take at thorough look at several key events that have shaped Judge Lincoln’s judgeship, as well as a general overview of his time in office. It is beyond dispute that his administration has been plagued with scandal after scandal, many of which have been documented here on The Patriot.
In this series, we will pose questions, present our analysis, and ultimately, the decision will be yours. You must decide if Judge Lincoln has earned his keep. I think the answer is pretty clear. We will see what you think.
As we undertake this project, I earnestly encourage everyone to put aside your personal experiences and even your political biases. We want to have a conversation about the facts. We want to talk about White County. We want to make White County better. Sometimes in order to do that, we have to put aside our emotions, our preferences, and perhaps even our personal relationships so we can think objectively. What we must never surrender is our principles.
So please, if you can, put aside your preconceived notions of the judge and perhaps even of me. Let’s talk truth.
Look for our first article in the series to roll out this week.