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story.lead_photo.caption Joe Steinmetz (left), chancellor of the University of Arkansas, speaks Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, alongside Hunter Yurachek after Yurachek was introduced as the new director of athletics at the University of Arkansas during a news conference in the Fowler Family Baseball and Track Indoor Training Center in Fayetteville. - Photo by Andy Shupe

A close and smart friend once said he doesn't care what the Razorback Foundation does with his $20,000 yearly donation.

He doesn't want to vote on anything and doesn't fill out any ballots the Foundation sends him.

He just wants his football and basketball season tickets and decent parking. A sidebar to that is lately he hasn't attended many football games, so one could surmise he hasn't been getting the entertainment bang for his buck.

Other friends have been ticked off about the flow of money going out the front door, feeling they will have to make it up.

With donations ranging from $50 -- which doesn't really get you in the door but you can see it from there -- to the Broyles-Matthews Platinum level of the $20,000-plus, it is going to take some time.

On the front page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday was a story about how the Foundation is refusing to give up documents that had to do with the firing of Jeff Long and Bret Bielema and the more than $16 million they will be paid.

Both were state employees, and their incomes were being supplemented by the Foundation. This isn't a witch hunt by this or any other newspaper or TV station that has requested the information under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

It is simply a desire to present the facts to the Razorbacks Nation and the great people of this state.

That $16 million is a big number, and the financial obligations are growing because new Coach Chad Morris and new Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek mostly will be paid by the Foundation, too.

Every penny in the Foundation is donated by people who want to support the Razorbacks. It is their money.

That said, the Foundation does have a board made up of good, honest people. Executive Director Scott Varady is as honest as the day is long, although he's about as fond of Freedom of Information Act requests as he is losing football seasons.

It just seems for the last few years the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and the Razorback Foundation have fought harder against transparency than for the rights of their fans and alums to know the facts.

Maybe it started to change when David Gearhart was the chancellor and the Advancement Department spent $3.8 million over its budget. That's a lot of money, and in the aftermath of that discovery a lot of reporters from various news outlets filed Freedom of Information Act requests.

Then-vice chancellor John Diamond, the person most responsible for handling the Freedom of Information Act requests, fought for transparency and eventually was fired. Diamond was liked by some and disliked by others. The book he later wrote, Please Delete, could be summed up as written by a disgruntled former employee, but by all accounts he tried to follow the letter of the law on Freedom of Information Act requests.

Yes, the Freedom of Information Act is a state law and the UA received $219 million tax dollars in 2015.

It is the flagship university in the state. It has educated some of the greatest people in this state, but when a school is the richest and biggest that comes with more scrutiny and accountability.

When more than $16 million can be spent to fire one athletic director and one coach -- and the total goes up again when you consider assistant coaches had a year left on their contract -- there is a need for transparency.

There should be extra concern now because President Trump's new tax plan has taken aim at the 80 percent tax write-off for athletic donations. Now is a time to save money and be accountable to those who are being counted on to donate more.

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Comments

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  • hah406
    December 13, 2017 at 7:05 a.m.

    Wally, I completely disagree that the paper isn't on a witch hunt with the Razorbacks and the foundation. It is clear that you are, but it is for some of the reasons that you did not mention. Sure, maybe we ought to know the financial details around the hiring and firing. But why did you request to know who all the applicants for coach and AD were, who was interviewed or offered what, all the information collected by the consulting firms, etc.? That is YOU on a witch hunt, trying to find someone to call out or shame. Until the athletic department is being run on tax payer money, it is none of your or my damn business. Like your friend, I want season tickets and decent parking, not an audit of my donation.

  • Maumellehog59
    December 13, 2017 at 7:11 a.m.

    This column reads more like a sportswriter completely frustrated with the FOI laws as it pertains to the Razorback Foundation. Quite frankly, I don’t care about the details. Somebody determined we could afford it and a change was needed. Attendance proved that. This is over 120M a year business. Details aren’t going to change a thing.

  • george69
    December 13, 2017 at 7:32 a.m.

    Does everyone miss Orville Henry as much as i do?

  • Knuckleball1
    December 13, 2017 at 7:54 a.m.

    George, I do... and I remember when the writer of this column used to take Orville to task about his relationship to Frank... You never know which side of the fence Wally is on and sometimes it changes from day to day.

  • GDB58
    December 13, 2017 at 8:35 a.m.

    Who gives a fire-truck what they do with the money, some things do not need to be known by others, especially a newspaper writer that has about ten percent favorable articles.

  • TexBack
    December 13, 2017 at 9:05 a.m.

    FOI is for public entities. The foundation is private. FOI should be used to monitor and expose the university administration and it's overspending. Forget the foundation.

    Dig into the university records, report the overspending on administrators (who are simply government employees incapable of being productive citizens in the private sector), let the people be outraged, and then eliminate about two thirds of that overspending. That would a very good use of, and outcome from, FOI requests.

  • GeneralMac
    December 13, 2017 at 9:39 a.m.

    Everyone who ever violated the FOI act claims it doesn't apply to them.
    Take it to court and get a legal ruling.

  • drs01
    December 13, 2017 at 10:24 a.m.

    If what Wally is saying that the Trump administration's tax plan will be addressing the "80% tax write off for athletic donations" is true, then the Foundation has more important issues than an FOI request. I'm not as wise as HAH406, so I'll just give my 2 cents worth, he can have the other 98 cents for his comments.
    I quit trying to get Razorback tickets years ago when told that I'd have to "donate" to some damned foundation to get a decent seat. Today, a $20,000 donor gets choice seating, preferred parking, and can DEDUCT 80% of the cost from his income tax.
    And who do you pay for the tickets, the foundation or University? Do you write two checks, one to UofA the other to the foundation. Who owns the athletic facilities, the tax paying people of Arkansas or the foundation? Same for those preferred parking locations, UofA land, or the foundation. I see why this issue is so clouded. Kind of reminds me of the Clinton Foundation's financials, and the quest to track where the money comes from and where it is spent.

  • Whippersnapper
    December 13, 2017 at 10:31 a.m.

    If the Razorback Foundation is truly private, they should hold no sway in the selection, hiring, or firing of state employees. They should hold no sway in determining who gets what seats at events held on state university campuses. They should not get to utilize the state held trademark for the Razorbacks. Claiming that the Razorback Foundation is a "private entity" is a sham that is designed to make it as opaque as possible to any outside scrutiny.

  • Jfish
    December 13, 2017 at 11:38 a.m.

    I would agree with Wally to a point and as Drs and Whipper pointed out, the privacy line becomes gray when you are talking about hiring or firing two of the highest paid State employees. Don't the taxpayers deserve to know who was interviewed? I think Wally is just doing his job.

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