There’s a short and sweet version for everything.  It either is or isn’t and the same goes for the state’s Freedom of Information Act, lovingly called the FOIA. 


There’s a short and sweet version for everything. It either is or isn’t and the same goes for the state’s Freedom of Information Act, lovingly called the FOIA.

Allegations are whirling left and right about whose breaking it and why. Who cares about the why? Let’s just focus on whom.

People are “fired up” over the politics of the why that they forget about the people whose rights are violated. The most important aspect of the FOIA is that it is to be narrowly construed in favor of openness for the public. I repeat, for the public.

Events have happened that for a long time have not been corrected when it comes to the public’s right to know. Council members, and probably even school board members, have discussed business without the public or media being notified. The law plainly prohibits two or more getting together and discussing business that should be discussed at a meeting.

That same law says a mayor is considered part of the council when it comes to the FOIA.  What we have here in Helena-West Helena is a failure to understand the FOIA. No, you may not get with another member and discuss business and that means that a radio show, telephone conversation or telephone conference all fall in that category.

On several occasions the attorney general has said the mayor counts the same as the council when it comes to the FOIA. On several occasions, the same entity has said that council members cannot discuss business that may eventually be voted on outside a legal meeting.

I could go on and on about a variety of FOIA violations that hurt the citizens of this county and their right to access these discussions. These type situations crop up all the time and those who violate the issue are always the first to cry wolf.

Have school boards conducted the same sort of business that city council’s have?

The answer is yes. The big problem is proving it. I know a couple of instances that would not be too hard to prove but let’s not go there.

The real question here is does it do us, the citizens, any good?

Are the elected few going to cease their actions? Are the meetings, some of them recorded one day and aired another, going to cease?

Are the elected few going to stop discussing city business before hand?

Probably not. But do you know why?

Because they really believe they are doing it in the best interest of their community.

I understand why some elected officials would want to gather and record a session discussing city business one day, without notifying the media and air it another day at a scheduled time. It’s called coupling politics with entertainment and a sure ratings grabber.

I understand why some elected officials would want to get ready and team together on an issue if they thought it was important. They then have their minds on the same page and ducks all in a row when it comes time for the real session. That little bit of “politicking” has been the way things have happened here for centuries.

I clearly see both sides of the issue but in truth, there is only one side to this whole issue and that’s the one side where the public is involved. There’s a whole section of the Arkansas Code dedicated to the issue. Seminars are held for the media and elected officials. I know, I’ve been to a few and encourage all of our elected in this county to schedule a trip to one ASAP.

Recently, I’ve been chastised for not keeping a tight rope on those that don’t adhere to the FOIA. I confess, I’ve been guilty of not policing the area for FOIA violators but please forgive me for I have no clue where to start and which elected official deserves to be the first to have a complaint logged with the 1st Judicial Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. I have one or two in mind that have thumbed their nose at the FOIA but the process is long, tedious and expensive. It’s only right to take those people to task. I’m sure the list is long but maybe the radio spots will stop and the “meeting before meetings” cease.

It’s all in the best interest of the public, after all.