Opinion: Keep Public Business Open to the Public
“Is our public business here in Clarksville and Johnson County always being conducted in the open? Sadly, this apparently is not the case.”
After Governor Winthrop Rockefeller signed the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into law in 1967, he commented that the law had “taken the government out of the smoke-filled rooms and returned it to the people.”
Often referred to as “the people’s law,” Arkansas’ version of the Freedom of Information Act is one of the nation’s strongest. Its intent is to ensure transparency in government, to provide that public business is conducted in the open. Our elected officials and public bodies in Johnson County work hard to serve the citizens they represent, and The Graphic has cooperative, working relationships with all of them and appreciates the willingness they have to share information with us and the public. We look forward to continuing those relationships in the same way. It is, however, our duty as the press to ask hard questions. We take this very seriously, which is why we feel it is our responsibility to ask this question…
Is our public business here in Clarksville and Johnson County always being conducted in the open? Sadly, this apparently is not the case.
Clarksville’s 76-year-old utility company was recently stripped of its governing body by a vote of the city Council, at the recommendation of the mayor, during a specially called meeting. In a recent poll on www.thegraphic.org, 91 percent of respondents said that they did not think the action taken by the Council on April 3 to abolish the CCU Commission was done with adequate deliberation, transparency, and notice to the public — and we agree.
A number of questions have arisen as a result of the way this meeting was conducted. After consultation with the Arkansas Press Association’s legal counsel over the last three weeks, it appears as though there were three potential FOIA violations committed leading up to and during the course of this meeting, as well as Clarksville City Code violations pertaining to meetings. Our desire is to point out what we believe might have been violations, to ask our readers and officials to look closely at the process that has been put in place to ensure that the public interest is protected and that our tax money, which funds the government, is spent responsibly and in the interest of those represented.
Below is a list assembled from a transcription of the meeting detailing the actions taken by the Council and the related FOIA regulations or Clarksville city ordinances pertaining to each….
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Someone whether city or state needed to step up the action on CCU. They were running our city utility further and further in the red. I’ve never know the Clarksville Light and Water to be in such serious financial problems. Writing hot checks to local businesses is just outrageous.