Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. announces overhaul of how officials process open case requests

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Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. at a meeting of the city’s board of directors announced an overhaul on Tuesday to how the city handles requests for open records under the Freedom Act information from Arkansas.

Scott’s administration has faced criticism for transparency, most recently from Jimmie Cavin, a Conway man who frequently digs into the activities of local government officials.

At the start of the meeting on Tuesday, Scott said he was “unhappy with some of the inefficiencies and delays in getting some information out.”

Little Rock City Chief Assistant Attorney Alex Betton would now oversee the Freedom of Information Act division, he said, along with other changes that will be implemented immediately.

Communication with citizens requesting public records about the status of their request had previously taken place within the human resources department, “and there were blockages and inefficiencies there,” Scott said.

Updates to the city’s website will go live this week, he said. The changes will include new features that will allow residents to see applications received so far this year and whether any or all are still pending, Scott said.

The site will also allow residents to directly submit a Freedom of Information Act request or contact the coordinator, he said.

At this time, inquiries to the City of Little Rock are being accepted through a dedicated email address, [email protected], although the city’s website says applications can also be made in person or by phone, fax, or mail. Requests under the Freedom of Information Act can be made to any city employee, the website says.

Although Scott said he approved earlier this year the purchase of new software called NextRequest intended to provide faster responses to FOIA requesters, the implementation of the software within the human resources department has been delayed, according to the mayor.

Going forward, Scott said the city’s Freedom of Information Law division will be a “stand-alone division” outside of HR and led by Betton.

Additional “refresher” training for all department heads will take place in the coming days, he said. Additionally, Scott said he “directed staff to eliminate certain internal procedural steps that unintentionally slowed the process of responding to requesters.”

A city press release on Tuesday said Betton would oversee the implementation of NextRequest software by September 1.

Arkansas Open Records Law requires government entities, including cities, to make records available to citizens upon request and allow citizens to inspect or obtain copies of those records, within exceptions.

If public records are “actively used or stored and therefore unavailable” when a citizen requests to review them, officials must notify the requester in writing and set a date and time within three working days to return the documents available, according to the law.

At a board meeting on August 2, Cavin, 60, accused Scott of ‘playing king’ and criticized the mayor’s use of a police security service as well as his spending in trips and dinners.

He suggested Scott’s administration violated FOIA. Cavin said he had requested Scott’s credit card statements from the city’s chief financial officer, but had not yet received them after being informed of the delays.

On Sunday, Cavin wrote on Facebook that he had received recordings in response to the request, which he said he originally submitted on July 22.

He shared images of credit card statements, describing them as “proof that Scott is spending taxpayers’ money lavishly like a drunken king.”

In a statement posted on social media on Monday, Scott slammed Cavin for launching “political attacks” on the city administration.

“We will not sit idly by while lies and false narratives are created by a politically charged effort to roll back the progress we are making,” Scott said in the statement.

Scott said expenses submitted to the finance department must obtain an explanation and list of attendees before being paid, adding that “all meetings or expenses reflected in our expenses were strictly for city business, in accordance with guidelines of the city’s longstanding practice”.

He also indicated that the expenses charged to an executive’s credit card might reflect the expenses of other team members — not just the executive’s — because other team members do not have Cards.

“So we can charge the card for a purchase at a community school, and then the bill is paid from the community school budget,” Scott wrote. “It is unfortunate that the political climate calls for this type of deceptive behavior regarding official business, so we must acknowledge the false narratives that threaten the integrity of your city government and this administration.”

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