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story.lead_photo.caption City Attorney Tom Carpenter is shown in this file photo. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

Complaints about delays in getting a response from the Little Rock city attorney's office became so frequent that the Little Rock Board of Directors ordered a $15,000 efficiency analysis of the office.

The city contracted with Chicago-based SeyfarthLean Consulting and paid a little more than $1,500 in travel expenses in addition to the $15,000 engagement fee to have a consultant conduct an on-site review of City Attorney Tom Carpenter's office last month.

The firm issued its final report this week.

Among other findings, the study found the department isn't tracking all of its work in a management system; staff members don't have the equipment to work remotely, which results in people working evenings and weekends in the office; and a policy mandating that Carpenter sign off on all work, no matter how routine, before it leaves the office creates low morale and slows response times.

Carpenter was out of the office sick Friday and hadn't yet seen the report, he said.

City directors and staff members often complain that it takes too long for their requests to be completed by the city attorney's office. Carpenter is a direct employee of the Board of Directors.

The city directors were supposed to receive a copy of the report Friday, but they said they hadn't seen it by late Friday afternoon, so it was unclear what action they may take in response to it.

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said Friday that he was traveling and wanted to take more time to digest the report and follow up with the Board of Directors and Carpenter.

Concerns about the organization of Carpenter's office came up during his employee review last year. The review is conducted by the board in executive session, but the mayor announced afterward that the board had asked Carpenter to complete some tasks.

Carpenter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time that the requests included following up on questions about equipment in the office and a report on litigation options.

The board decided during that review to commission an outside audit of the city attorney's office.

The report from SeyfarthLean Consulting says general concerns about the responsiveness of the attorney's office include delays in completing requests and uncertainty about the status of requests.

The firm spent one day, March 21, on site for the review. A consultant interviewed 19 members of the city attorney's office.

"We had little to no actual data to analyze as part of this project; in fact, that is a focus of some of our recommendation. Instead, this report is based almost exclusively on interviews conducted before and during our on-site session," the report says in a section titled "Limitations of Report."

It noted that employees in the city attorney's office seem to be competent, and there is a strong "team culture" in the office.

"The chief complaint is not about the quality or substance of the work performed, but rather about the responsiveness of the department," it said.

The consultant determined that a key factor of the lagging response time is the incompleteness of requests from city departments.

Attorneys often have to follow up with requesters for more information, the consultant said. The report estimated that 85 to 90 percent of incoming "transactional" requests -- those not related to litigation -- are incomplete. The report didn't say how the consulting firm determined that statistic.

Carpenter's office receives work requests from all 14 city departments and the Board of Directors, as well as requests for records and information from the news media, residents and outside attorneys.

Carpenter is aware of the complaints about response time. In emails between Carpenter and city directors, which are obtained routinely by the Democrat-Gazette, the elected officials have regularly complained about requests not being fulfilled and asked for status updates.

At last Tuesday's city board meeting, Carpenter joked about the time it takes him to complete tasks during a conversation about how soon a city director should ask that he have an assignment completed.

She initially asked for it to be finished within two weeks. Carpenter requested four weeks. Then, after more discussion, the city director changed her request to whenever Carpenter could get it ready. Later, another city director sought clarification on the timeline.

Carpenter said, "The actual words were 'In Tom's good time,' and [City Manager] Bruce [Moore] just laughed because that could mean until hell freezes over. I just took it as 'Don't let this gather dust.'"

The consultant's report said the city attorney's office needs to make changes to take control of its image, because others are creating the characterization now.

It pointed out a Finance Department requirement for reports, which the consultant determined did not benefit the city attorney's office and slowed it down. The consultant recommended the office stop the requested reporting and create its own reporting schedule to follow.

The consultant also said a policy that requires Carpenter to approve everything before it leaves the office creates a bottleneck and slows down response time. Low-risk, routine work should be able to leave the office without his review, the report said.

The firm also said attorneys spend a substantial amount of time proofreading the city's requests for proposals for services or products before the city advertises for bids. This review should stop, the firm recommended.

Chief Deputy Attorney Bill Mann oversees the office's work assignment system. Most litigation work goes through the system, and Mann sends out work assignment memos. Many requests -- especially those from city directors and requests made under the state's Freedom of Information Act -- go directly to Carpenter and are never entered into the system.

"This makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of all the work being performed and for whom," the report said.

The practice could lead to understaffing and an unequal distribution of work, and it doesn't allow office staff to discern patterns such as seasonal or situational fluctuations of workload, the report said.

The firm recommended putting all work requests into a single database so performance could be tracked. It also recommended that the office not start counting the time it takes to deliver a request until it receives a complete request.

Another recommendation was to buy iPads for employees, because many noted having to borrow the iPads of code enforcement officers to look up relevant statutes when working in environmental court.

Key team members should have access to their work materials outside the office, the consultant said, because many complained they had to work evenings and weekends to complete assignments.

To get around this, some employees emailed work to their personal email accounts so they could complete it from home. The consultants cautioned against using personal accounts for official work.

Also, the volume of records requests under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act has been increasing, so the consultant recommended the attorney's office designate a "FOIA czar," or a person to funnel all Freedom of Information requests and responses through.

The attorney's office also should purchase case-management and document-management systems, the report said.

The firm also recommended areas of further study, for which it would charge an additional fee beyond the $15,000 paid for this review.

Metro on 04/21/2018

Print Headline: Report details hang-ups in LR's attorney's office

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  • Razrbak
    April 21, 2018 at 6:36 a.m.

    Go girl! That will teach Tommy Boy not to yell at you again. #Karma

  • RBear
    April 21, 2018 at 6:50 a.m.

    This is even MORE reason the current administration in Little Rock needs to be cleaned out, starting with the mayor. The city has become harbor to a host of incompetent city officials and is only dragging the city down further each year it's left to stand. November cannot come soon enough. In looking at the candidates. Warwick Sabin seems to be the best candidate for this office. He has innovation skills and ideas about how to reinvigorate the city and put it on the right path.
    The fact that Stodola tolerated this behavior for SO LONG shows the complacency and good old boy network that has evolved in Little Rock city government. There is no reason to allow him to serve a FOURTH TERM, making him one of the longest serving mayors in the nation.

  • Razrbak
    April 21, 2018 at 7:03 a.m.

    Take note about using personal email accounts for city business. I have spoken before the board about LRBOD remember Doris Wright and other doing just that doing just that. Last FOI request I sent Wright for emails was denied as she claimed she "forgot her password". #TimeForChange #CleanOutLRCityHall

  • RBear
    April 21, 2018 at 7:54 a.m.

    Razrbak really? That's insane. This city really needs a shakeup and it won't happen under the current administration. There is absolutely no reason to give this mayor and leadership another term to fix the wrongs of the past 12 years. Stodola may have started with good ideas, but he's out of them and is essentially retiring in seat. The same for Bruce Moore and Tom Carpenter.

  • drs01
    April 21, 2018 at 8:57 a.m.

    I'm no fan of the mayor, not so much him personally, but the fact we even have one functioning as the office does in our 2 headed government. That said, it's not all on the mayor that the city attorney has 19 member staff. It took the vote of directors to approve that bureaucracy. And it needs to have the fat trimmed, starting with a new city attorney.
    RBear - Sabin is just another politician who will do exactly what we have now. He's no city savior. I'm voting just like the movie BREWSTER'S MILLIONS displayed: None of the above. Rather than support a candidate, we should support a real change in our city government structure. The mayor, and the at-large directors, are good places to start.

  • ZeebronZ
    April 21, 2018 at 11:41 a.m.

    This is hilarious, but it's the way it's always been in politics in Arkansas. A report about inefficiency in the city government can't be responded to by the people in the report because they are unavailable to view it because they are traveling or sick or have some other excuse. Stone walling, and foot dragging. And the system continues...inefficient and outdated as always...because that's the way it's always been. Since Reconstruction. SMH and laughing.

  • railtoler
    April 21, 2018 at 12:28 p.m.

    What a waste of money. If I lived over there I would file a lawsuit. OMG.

  • ArkMan
    April 21, 2018 at 2 p.m.

    Good grief - Buried right in the middle of this story, I'm getting a video advertisement for Absolut Vodka that is pretty much nothing but naked actors,only slightly pixelated for some inadequate semblance of modesty. I have never visited any Absolut sites so can I assume this is a new low in ADG authorized advertisements?

  • RBBrittain
    April 21, 2018 at 2:21 p.m.

    Question: How many of you who keep complaining about LR city politics actually LIVE there? I used to (Warwick Sabin was once my state representative, as was current LR Director Kathy Webb), but I moved to Jacksonville in 2016. I suspect a lot of you complainers don't live in LR anymore, so like me your opinion of the city carries less weight than those CURRENTLY living there. Perhaps you should defer to them once in awhile?

  • RBear
    April 21, 2018 at 2:27 p.m.

    drs never said Sabin was a "savior," but he definitely has more innovative ideas than the current administration. Yes, it's the city's board that approved this city attorney but the mayor can lead the charge for change. At least that's how it's done in most major municipalities I've been involved with. But I do want to address another of your points.
    Yes, Sabin is a politician as anyone running for office is a politician. But based on conversations with him, I've found his ideas to be more realistic in addressing the issues of the city. Having been involved with some pretty amazing mayors in San Antonio, Austin, and Houston, I've already mentioned that you can spot a good mayor in talking to them and getting their perspective on the issues.
    I've tried to talk to Stodola and it was like talking to a brick wall. No real engagement and quite frankly it felt like he didn't have concern to even talk about issues. This has been on a couple of occasions. Talking with others, that feeling seems to be common. But I do have to ask if you've EVER talked to Sabin or are you just writing him off because you're against anything and everything? It sure seems that way based on your comments.
    As I've asked before, how engaged are you or have you been in Little Rock? Ever been to a BoD meeting? Ever volunteered in an LRSD school? Ever sat on a commission as a citizen-volunteer? Or do you just sit on your a** all day and gripe about everything? That's not a jab, but a real question. Because I've seen comments similar to yours in those other cities by folks who did just that.