Prosecutor: Executive session not warranted

PINE BLUFF -- Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter has issued a letter of admonishment and caution to Jefferson County Election Commission Chairman Ted Davis, ruling that Davis violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by holding an illegal executive session during an Aug. 25 election commission meeting.

Hunter was asked to investigate the matter at the request of Jefferson County Election Commission member Stu Soffer.

Soffer walked out of the Aug. 25 election commission meeting after Davis called for the executive session, protesting that it was being held illegally. After the executive session, Davis announced that the meeting dealt with complaints against four people who worked the May primary election.

Soffer said that Davis did not announce the purpose for the executive session before he called it, which is required by Arkansas Code Annotated 25-19-106 (c) (1).

Davis insists that he did announce the reason and that he did nothing wrong.

"I did not violate the FOIA law," Davis said. "Everything we discussed in that executive session was absolutely related to personnel issues. There was nothing outside of that. I absolutely want to make sure the election commission has the highest integrity, and I continue to make sure it does."

Executive sessions are permitted only for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of any public officer or employee, according to Arkansas Code Annotated 25-19-106 (c) (1).

Hunter said in his letter, which was addressed to Davis, Soffer and commission member Cynthia Sims, that "after review, it is clear that the issues addressed by Mr. Davis in the executive session were not appropriate for the very limited purposes of an executive session.

"Mr. Davis should now understand the very limited purpose of an executive session and if not, should read the law. ... Giving Mr. Davis the benefit of the doubt, he didn't understand the very limited purpose of the executive session."

Unbeknownst to anyone else and before he walked out of the Aug. 25 meeting, Soffer activated a recording device that captured audio of the executive session. Soffer played the tape for Hunter and others, and the prosecutor said that "nothing on the tape indicated that the meeting included private information that should have been discussed outside of the public eye."

Davis disagreed.

"Everything we talked about in that executive session was absolutely related to personnel issues," he said. "And it came as a shock to me that the prosecutor ruled otherwise."

Davis further said that he thought recording an executive session was illegal, though the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act does not address the issue. Hunter said he was unaware of any law prohibiting the recording of an executive session.

"I have not investigated the matter [of taping executive sessions] fully and have not been asked to do so," Hunter said.

State Desk on 09/12/2014

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