Two new ads are hitting the airwaves in White County on Friday, in lieu of the upcoming primary election on May 22nd.
Hear the ads for yourself:
OEM credit card:
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.
I received a tip on Saturday afternoon that White County Judge Mike Lincoln was using the “White County Cleanup”–a time for county residents to bring garbage to the county fairgrounds and have it disposed of, at the expense of the taxpayers–as a campaign event. I arrived at the event to find this sign in front of the gate, on public property:
Here is a zoomed-in look at the figures you see in the background. In yellow is OEM Director Tamara Jenkins, the judge’s favorite county employee who used taxpayer money to purchase Thanksgiving dinner for her family, a heat pump, and a couple of trailers. Mike Lincoln is pictured leaning down, apparently looking at the truck’s tires. And Jenkins’ assistant is laying down in the back of the truck. I am not sure who the young lady is. There is also an older gentleman sitting down in the lawn chair next to Jenkins:
Here is another photo. At the far left you can see a sign that says “White County Cleanup ENTRANCE–>”
Here’s a zoomed in look at that photo. This was after the judge noticed my presence on county property and began yelling at me. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he began charging at me and so to avoid conflict, I left. His shirt features his campaign logo. You can see him front and center, facing the camera:
So what does the law say about using public property/publicly-funded items for campaign use? Well, let’s just say Judge Lincoln has several questions to answer.
1. Was the judge using publicly-funded property for campaigning?
(e) No public servant shall use for campaign purposes any item of personal property provided with public funds. “Campaign purposes” refers to the campaign of a candidate for public office and not efforts to support or oppose a ballot measure.
See the Suburban with the hatch popped? And the truck with the lights on top? Both county vehicles, paid for by you. Being used for campaign purposes.
2. Were the two county employees pictured here asked to attend the event and were they being paid by the taxpayers? We can’t say for sure, but it’s certainly a question worth asking.
Again, from the Commission:
(c) No public servant shall coerce by threats or otherwise any public employee into devoting time or labor toward the campaign of any candidate for office or for the nomination to any office. 
(f) No person shall assess any public employee for any political purpose whatever or coerce by threats or otherwise any public employee into making a subscription or contribution for any political purpose.
I think the words “or otherwise” in Section (c) are problematic for the judge here. Were the employees asked to attend? Were they being paid?
Also, in Section (f), “No person shall assess any public employee for any political purpose whatever.” The judge can say that this was not a “political” or campaign event, but by putting up a sign & wearing a campaign t-shirt, didn’t he make it one?
3. There is a clear double standard in Judge Lincoln displaying his sign on public property. I remember just a few short years ago when we had a rally on the courthouse lawn. Someone attending the event asked the judge if they could display campaign signs. He said yes, and then once they put them up, he went ballistic. He even went so far as to call the police and tried to have the whole event shutdown. He said, “I”m the keeper of the county grounds! You can’t do this!”
Well judge, you may be the keeper of the county grounds, but that doesn’t excuse you from unethical activities. You were probably right back in 2010 to not let the demonstrators post their signs on public property. So do you still agree that this is an unethical practice? If you do, then why would you do it? Would you allow your opponent to do it? Or do these special provisions only apply to yourself and those you support?
Keep in mind, this is a judge who has already been charged with a violation by the Arkansas Ethics Commission for breaking the law, but he said he ‘still didn’t think he did anything wrong’ after the ruling was handed down.
And a judge who is pictured here with Tamara Jenkins, who misused hundreds of taxpayer dollars, who he consequently rewarded with the purchase of a $320,000 building at the all-time high price of $590,000!
And he is still defending her nobility. So don’t expect any remorse from him after this incident.
And don’t think this is the first or only time that Judge Lincoln has used public property to promote his campaign.
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.
[Note to the reader: I took these in a hurry, as the debate was happening. They may seem jumbled and confused at points, and I tried to only use quotation marks when I could get down most or all of a direct quote. I have tried to clean them up and make them easier to follow.]
Winston Collier begins at 7:07.
Terms/housekeeping: All were discussed and agreed to by both candidates. Five minutes each for opening remarks. Two minutes per answer followed by 2 minute response followed by 30 second rebuttal. Five questions each. Nobody knows the questions but the moderator. 7.5 minutes each for closing remarks.
Intros finally over after 5 minutes.
Thanks to all. (his microphone isn’t centered on his podium and it seems to be making it a little difficult to hear him)
- Inequity of road program
- Lack of accountability of employees
- Poor administration
- County government is a business that needs to be run like a business. Haynie has a background in business, law enforcement, communications, construction make him well suited.
- Background with heavy equipment makes him more qualified to judge when and whether to fix versus replace equipment.
- People and employees need to be treated fairly. Open door approach to leadership.
- FOI act is expected to be followed, records have been “destroyed” and info not provided when he has made FOI requests of the judge’s office.
- I’m a blessed man.
- I’m willing to discuss any issue with anyone at any time.
- First administrative job was at Judsonia/Riverview.
- “Government can’t always be run like a business.” Rural water and electric coops.
- “Government is to serve the people.”
- “I don’t have any conflicts of interest.”
- Thank veterans.
You’ve publicly stated that transparency is something you’d like to see improved and lack of trust exists. What lack of transparency exists and what would you do to improve it?
- There are no answers to way tax dollars are spent. No online system for agendas of quorum court, expenditures, upcoming ordinances. He wants everyone to see these things online. Transparency is seeing what’s out there, seeing the truth. Don’t charge people different things for the same thing.
Response from Lincoln:
- You can request any of these documents at the County Clerk’s office and go to the meetings. Money is all spent after appropriation by JPs. Amendment 55 sets the standard. If you want info, go to the clerk’s office.
Rebuttal by Haynie
- My idea of transparency is to put it on the web site. Why don’t you want this?
Significant surplus in general fund. How will you use it if re-elected?
- JPs are legislative authority to appropriate money. They are in charge of finances. There are several different funds in the county and many don’t have surplus. Roads fund and Sheriff’s fund don’t have surplus. General fund revenue comes from turnback, millage, etc. We have set aside $1M for bypass and $2M for “special projects”.
Response by Haynie
- Money from general can be appropriated to road fund. The county can’t keep taking in small gravel roads that haven’t been done the right way from the beginning.
Rebuttal by Lincoln
- “I believe in progress.” We don’t have all the roads we need.
If elected, what would you do, and what facts do you have to support allegations of political favors for Lincoln’s supporters?
- All should be equal. All charged equally. County records have been FOI’ed and shown that roads are chipsealed by the county that aren’t county roads. They were chipsealed before the tax vote.
Response by Lincoln
- We do charge $20k per mile, but we don’t charge by cemeteries and we do “state aid” projects. We have only chipsealed county roads, but we have partnered with cities to “help them” (Beebe, Searcy, Rosebud, and others specifically listed)
Rebuttal by Haynie
- Cities have their own budgets, grants, etc. They should pay for their own road work. I will list specific roads in my closing comments.
In 2011, citizens voted down tax. Your office came under scrutiny for the way you handled this. Do you stand by your actions and would you do anything different?
- Governor Beebe wanted us to form a strategic plan, and the tax/bypass was part of our strategic plan. Mayor LaForce and I got together and decided we wanted to do this. I proposed a countywide tax to support all of the cities. I stand by the effort and the way we promoted the tax.
- I have no problem with the southern bypass. I did have a problem with the north bypass because I don’t see the traffic load to justify it. I’d much rather they spend that money on something like Joy Mountain. How many people are going to have to be injured, lose their lives, etc. before we do something? I wasn’t against the tax, I was against the fact that it was for four times as much as was needed so they could hang a carrot in front of the cities’ noses.
- My opponent said “no new taxes” during the county tax election but didn’t oppose Searcy’s city tax.
April 1st Citizen story talked about personnel changes you would make if elected, what personnel changes would you make and why?
- I plan on keeping every county employee employed except for one. There is no need to sugar coat it, hide it, or lie about it. I have in my hands a report by the Arkansas State Police. In the 144 pages of report, the Arkansas State Police classified it as Theft of Property and turned it over to the county attorney for possible prosecution.
- Thank God we live in a country where it is innocent until proven guilty. We have “nothing missing from the county”, so we have no theft. No charges were filed. “Aren’t we entitled to correct our mistakes?” Why did Mr. Haynie go to the State Police when he was given information about this?
- If this were a mistake, why would they make full restitution of $7,000 two years after the fact and only after it was brought to the attention of the media and the State Police? I went to the state police because when a citizen is told of a crime being committed, they should go to the police.
Over the past few years, the gas industry changed things. Discuss positive and negative impact and what you’ll do to address that.
- Restitution was only $30, not $7,000. (Haynie says “Lowes”) moderator says “stay on topic”. We have many jobs and roads because of natural gas industry when the economy was suffering. Gas price has dropped, so gas drilling is down.
- You can’t make natural gas prices go up unless you have a cold winter up north. I don’t foresee the prices going any higher. I don’t want us to keep depending on natural gas to make our County better.
- It’s a matter of supply and demand. We need other economic development.
Conflicts of Interest?
You are owner of Haynie Utility Construction and the Judge says he has no other interests and conflicts. Can you run your business and county, or will there be conflicts?
- We very seldom work with the public. We often do work for cities/churches for no charge. We are a utility construction company and we set poles, run cables, gas distribution lines. We did a lot of work for Chesapeake, but if I am elected, I think it is a conflict of interest if I do any work with any gas company, and I won’t do any work for them.
- Having been a judge for 3 terms, I would find it challenging to have another job and be judge. With all these responsibilities, meetings, mayors, fire departments, I don’t see how anyone could have any outside interests. Would Mr. Haynie not do any work with those companies anywhere?
- No, I will not do any work for any gas company. Is it a conflict for JPs to work with gas companies? (judge is allowed to reply to this direct question and says that is not a conflict for JPs to work with gas companies)
What has your administration done for veterans, and what would you do better?
- 10 percent of the population of our county is veterans. 8,000 and growing. I have hired a VA officer. We acquired a veterans clinic in Searcy.
- These people are true heroes. There is money for folks like this, and we will do whatever it takes.
- I think we agree 100 percent. Whatever we need to do for our veterans, we’ll do.
Personal Health Issues
Share with us information regarding current health and ability to perform tasks if elected.
- Before 2007, I had severe headaches and it was discovered I had a non-malignant tumor. I had surgery and they successfully removed 90% of the tumor. They didn’t go any further because of the possibility of causing a stroke. The headaches came back, and they found a problem with the superorbital nerve. It is fine now with treatment.
- On January 12, 2010 I had a stroke, and I have no left peripheral vision in both eyes. It has made me unable to drive, but I can get anywhere I want any time I want. I was conducting quorum court a week after the stroke. I watch my health and what I eat. I am fine.
- Neither of us is using health as a campaign issue.
Problems facing the county
What is the biggest problem facing the county, and what will you do to overcome it?
- I am interested in the future of White County. The issues are economic development and infrastructure. The tax would have addressed that, but we still have to work on it now. Several one lane wooden bridges have been replaced by two lane concrete bridges, and we are continuing to do that. Infrastructure is improving our road system. When the quorum court gives me that extra money, they trust me to be fair and “spread it around” the county as appropriate.
- Number one thing I hear about when I talk to people around the county is roads and bridges. I’m not going to say the judge is all wrong, but we differ on how things should be done. I’ll address some specific things in my closing comments.
- It appears I’m in for a lot of surprises in the closing statement, and I won’t have a chance to respond. Ask me about those surprises later.
Lincoln closing statement:
- County government is the best governmental process in existence.
- There is “so much accountability” in county government. Amendment 55 has set up a “beautiful system”. I am honored to be a part of that system.
- I believe my record speaks for itself. Go out and see the bridges we’ve replaced.
- We’ve continued to chipseal what the weather and our funds have allowed us to do. JPs have looked at ways to do special projects.
- We are considering putting in a new 911 dispatch center near Law Enforcement Center. It would be state of the art. High Tech.
- We’ve assisted all the cities in doing their roads.
- The state police and my office found no charges to Lowes that the county paid for Jenkins.
Haynie closing statement:
- True, the county was not out any money over OEM thing. This was because it was all paid back after two years when the story broke. I’ve got Lowe’s receipts with White County OEM account and Tamara Jenkins name on them for her home improvements.
- If elected I will be: fair, equal, and consistent with all county residents; full-time judge.
- I will bring true transparency to county government. Agendas, budgets, and expenditures will be available online for free. It’s your money, you have the right to know how it is being spent.
- I will create fair and equal chipseal system. All roads will meet same standards, like under 99-9 that was repealed when judge Lincoln took office. Morris School road has been done 1.4 miles, not the .5 miles we authorized paying for.
- The county should buy towers and radios for EMS folks instead of holding fundraisers.
- I will hold county employees accountable for their actions.
Side note: Four people are holding signs complaining about corruption in Higginson (pertaining to Randall Homsley) and why Prosecuting Attorney Chris Raff won’t prosecute.
Editor’s note: We will have more analysis of the debate this afternoon.