Today's Paper State News LEARNS Guide Newsletters Opinion Sports Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

In public interest

by Mike Masterson | March 12, 2023 at 1:44 a.m.

Three important and necessary bills filed by Sen. Alan Clark of Lonsdale have been introduced in the Arkansas Senate. Each are needed to strengthen our Freedom of Information Act.

They also symbolize good government in the public interest: what we need more of.

The most significant of those, SB382, finally will define the term "meeting" as it applies in FOIA to ensure the public's right to know what their elected representatives are up to on our behalf.

The bill would define a meeting as the convening of two or more "members of a governing body of a public entity for which a quorum is required to make a decision, discuss public business, or deliberate toward a decision on any matter."

This is necessary after previous instances in which unscrupulous elected officials avoided the current FOIA by gathering in smaller informal groups and carrying on public matters before convening in a quorum to vote.

It doesn't mean a couple of board members can't hang out together; only that when they do, chatting about board matters is a definite no-no.

SB380 will require the records custodian at any public institution to notify the person requesting material through the FOIA within three days whether relevant or responsive records exist, or if the records are subject to an exemption under FOIA, or if the custodian lacks administrative control over the documents. That being the case, the appropriate custodian must be identified.

SB381 would make certain all public servants and governing bodies understand provisions of the FOIA along with any updates and judicial precedents through annual two-hour-minimum training sessions. This would include requirements for public meetings and records, as well as the rules and best practices governing a custodian's response for public records.

So no more pretending you don't know the law when you receive an FOIA request you'd rather not deal with.

I asked Joey McCutchen, the bulldog FOIA attorney from Fort Smith, for his thoughts. "We must get these bills passed if we want to have the strongest FOIA in Arkansas and open government," he said.

"The Arkansas Municipal League and the Association of Arkansas Counties are busily working to defeat these bills. ... The three bills are simple and straightforward. Training. Written notice when government doesn't have records. Defining a meeting."

It would take a self-serving Legislature whose members don't care much for their constituents' right to know not to see the need for each of Senator Clark's bills.

How can any thinking Arkansan (short of those with obvious special interests to resist reforms that affect them) not agree?

So please keep a close eye on them and your legislator's vote, valued readers.

I've also heard, but have yet to see, supposed legislation that would actually weaken the FOIA. Believe I'll wait to see if some legislator has the chutzpah to propose that (supposedly in the public interest).

Will he show up?

Wonder if the oddsmakers in Vegas have set the line on whether Hunter Biden will show up July 24-25 in Circuit Judge Holly Meyer's Independence County courtroom at Heber Springs to answer the paternity suit filed against him by Lunden Roberts of Batesville.

The nationally publicized case, which had originally been closed in March 2020, was reopened last September when Biden submitted a filing requesting that his child support payments be altered due to a "substantial material change" in his financial circumstances.

I can't imagine Biden having a difficult time financially, all privileges considered, especially toward paying child support.

Our news account about the pending bench trial said the child was born in August 2018; the paternity suit followed in May 2019, days after Biden's wedding to South African filmmaker Melissa Cohen.

Meyer declared in a January 2020 order that a DNA test showed Biden is the father. Temporary child support was agreed on until the issue was resolved.

Reporter Daniel McFadin wrote, "In his 2021 book 'Beautiful Things,' Biden claimed he fought Roberts' paternity suit because he had no memory of the incident that led to the pregnancy. The book chronicles his struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, which intensified after the death of his brother, Beau, in May 2015 and after his divorce was finalized two years later.

"'The other women I'd been with during rampages since my divorce were hardly the dating type. We would satisfy our immediate needs and little else,' Hunter Biden wrote, adding, 'I'm not proud of it," McFadin's story reported.

Whether he is proud of his behavior, he fathered this child. Along with that comes the responsibilities of any parent, including your last name (that's opened endless doors for you) and your financial support.

That's the way responsible 53-year-old adults behave.

My bet is he settles and files it all away in his spanking new briefcase. We'll wait to see if he obeys the order.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

Print Headline: In public interest


Sponsor Content