Just wanted to post and remind you all that, while The Patriot has gone a bit dormant — for now — you can still keep up with my writing over at The Arkansas Project. I’m posting daily about happenings at the state capitol.
The Arkansas Project <– click it. Read it. Bookmark it.
Oh, and don’t worry — The Patriot will be back, probably around the time the Searcy City Council proposes their monthly tax hike. And that could be sooner rather than later.
Last night, I witnessed the Searcy debate between incumbent Rep. Mark Biviano and his Democrat challenger Kyle Osborne. If the voters make a choice based on the candidates’ performances, Osborne is in serious trouble.
In his opening statement, Osborne began by saying he’s running for state representative because he has 30 years of law enforcement experience and “we need a little law enforcement in Little Rock.” He continued by saying he wants to go to the legislature to “serve alongside our hometown boy Mike Beebe.” You know, the Governor Beebe that’s running around the state calling for “civility” while telling Republicans to “shut their mouths” and accusing AFP of “trashing Arkansas.”
He also repeated the tired talking point that “Arkansas is 5th in education” (again, this claim has been fully debunked here at The Arkansas Project). Osborne also said he wanted to help Beebe finish eliminating the grocery tax and that, as police chief, “I’ve done everything I could to double the training budget for the city police.”
Biviano began by asking the moderator if the altitude had been properly adjusted in the room before the debate: “You’ve gotta love Al Gore,” he quipped. He then began the substantive portion of his remarks by saying he was running for reelection to give his children better opportunities. He said that,
“To be an effective legislator, you have to want to serve. We have too many rubber stamp legislators.”
As for his platform, Biviano espoused his belief in lower taxes, education reform, and a business-friendly regulatory climate. Citing the statistic that Arkansas has lost 30,000 private sector jobs in the last 5 years, he ended his remarks by saying, “It’s time for Arkansas to do better.”
Read the full story from The Arkansas Project.
The Searcy police chief created quite a stir over the weekend after his comments in the Sunday paper. According to the article, published by the Daily Citizen, Kyle Osborne called incumbent state Rep. Mark Biviano “desperate” for signing Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Osborne is challenging Biviano for his seat in this fall’s election.
“My first thought was, ‘Desperate.’ How desperate are you to get re-elected to lock yourself into something like that?”
But then we get to the crux of the matter–Osborne realizes he’s been backed into a political corner, and so he spins:
“I don’t want to lock myself into signing a pledge for a special interest group out of Washington, D.C., that has no concerns for the state of Arkansas. Once you sign that, whatever the circumstances are, you can’t change your mind.”
Osborne said that, were he elected and were a tax increase proposed, he would meet with his constituents to see what they wanted him to do.
“If they say yes, then that’s what I’ll support. If they say no, then I’ll oppose it.”
A layman’s translation: “I will vote for tax increases if people tell me to.”
It occurs to me that Osborne lacks a basic understanding of governance. Governance is not (or should not be) a game where government raises taxes every time it overspends or has a new idea for a fun project. Governance should be about operating within a budget.
Furthermore, we do not live in a direct democracy–candidates should be elected based on their values, and their constituents should be able to trust them to act based on those values. For example, Rep. Biviano says he is against tax increases and will oppose them. People who vote for him know when they cast their ballot that this is the case. Unfortunately, those who vote for Mr. Osborne are not so lucky. They’ll have to wait and see what the legislative session brings and then hope to gain Osborne’s attention long enough to find out where he stands.
Osborne also fails to consider the possibility that the interests of “the special interest group in DC” are the same interests of the people of Arkansas–and that they are furthered by a refusal to give government more money to waste. Osborne lives in a city and a county full of people that have repeatedly voted down unnecessary tax increases over the last several years–the same region that elected Mark Biviano in 2010, a champion of limited government. Continue reading
We mentioned the debate between state rep. Charlie Collins & columnist John Brummett last week. I attended the debate and wrote a review for The Arkansas Project.
Here’s an excerpt:
Today, one day after the debate, Brummett has set fire to the blogosphere, demonstrating his ability to play fast and loose with facts by publishing this dazzling analysis of the debate that reads more like a red carpet review, with a tinge of Brantley-esque Koch conspiracy. He managed to make at least two demonstrably false statements in the article; they deserve to be corrected. So let’s do that!
Read the full story at The Arkansas Project.
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.
I posted a story this morning that was originally titled “Searcy Mayor, White County Judge Support Diesel Tax Increase.” Then a reader so politely commented that the diesel tax wasn’t going to be on the ballot in November. So I updated the story to let everyone know that I was looking into it and that I may have made a mistake.
Here’s what I’ve learned after talking to a fellow Arkansas blogger & a contact in the Secretary of State’s office:
The Diesel Tax, HB 1898, may or may not be on the November ballot. Governor Beebe could still call a special election if he chooses to, although it appears unlikely. However, the Diesel Tax is no longer relevant to this discussion because the tax that Judge Lincoln & Searcy Mayor Morris are supporting is Issue 1, or the ‘Highway Tax.’ It is a general sales & use tax that would impose a half -percent tax on all sales in the state, not just diesel, according to the SOS’s office. Which is kind of worse, in my opinion.
Sorry for identifying the wrong tax, but it doesn’t change the focal point of my article: Judge Lincoln is supporting a tax hike while telling White County voters that the county desperately needs the money. These claims are provably false, as county revenues have been higher than ever under Judge Lincoln’s reign.
Read the full story here.