Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fayetteville School Board violates FOIA once again

Times editorial today -- FOIA violations by School Board -- why open government is important‏
Please visit

Fayetteville Government Channel
for list of Cox Channel 16 programs this week, including reruns of public-comment session on Future of Fayetteville High School.

Time to study harder – (School Board FOIA Violation)
Greg Harton

Posted on Sunday, March 30, 2008


School board editorial in NWA Times

The Fayetteville School Board violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Thursday night.

Some of them will probably be surprised to learn that.

The state’s open meetings law, designed to make sure decisions about public matters are made in public, permits public bodies to go into closed-door sessions to consider personnel matters.

That’s what the Fayetteville Board of Education did (absent members Susan Heil and Howard Hamilton ) to review the roster of 11 applicants to replace retiring Superintendent Bobby New. The school board previously released the names of all the applicants, as required by state law.

But after discussing the matter behind closed doors for more than an hour, school board President Steve Percival emerged to tell two reporters that they had narrowed the list to four finalists, but he didn’t want to reveal them to the public immediately. The reporters accepted that.

Everyone involved, instead, should have abided by state law.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is clear: “ No resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation, or motion considered or arrived at in executive session will be legal unless, following the executive session, the public body reconvenes in public session and presents and votes on the resolution, ordinance, rule, contract, regulation or motion. ”

In laymen’s terms, executive sessions are about shielding certain exempted discussions from public view, but not decisions.

How can the school board narrow the list to four people without taking a vote ? Maybe they didn’t formally propose a motion in their executive session, but through some sort of process unseen by the public, the board absolutely reached a decision. That demands reconvening in public and taking a vote so that the public can have a record of how its representatives voted on the matter.

Once Thursday’s executive session was over, the school board emerged only to say they were adjourning. No votes were taken.

What’s the problem ? The public, state law and openness insists, must be able to see how its elected leaders vote. Perhaps this was a unanimous decision by the five school board members who were there — Tim Kring, Tim Hudson, Percival, Becky Purcell and John DeLap. Perhaps one or two preferred another collection of candidates and didn’t support the four finally selected. We will never know.

Without a vote in the open, the public is denied its right to see the decision-making conducted on its behalf. Perhaps some may see the winnowing of this list to four people as unimportant, but public bodies must be held to a standard of openness with each decision. No decision of a public body is insignificant.

Last July, as the school board discussed the qualifications it wants in its next superintendent, Percival called an executive session to discuss “ employment of the superintendent, ” even though no applications had been taken for the position. The discussion could not have been about specific personnel, and thus the entire discussion was a violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

In that matter, I asked Percival and the school district’s attorney to refrain from illegal executive sessions and to pay close attention to what can be legally discussed within sessions that exclude the public.

Thursday night’s actions indicate a little more vigilance is in order. Percival, who is director of human resources for Washington Regional Medical Center, is no doubt trained to follow the letter of the law when it comes to WRMC’s employment practices. There is no reason to believe a clear understanding of the law regarding executive sessions and the conduct of public meetings is beyond his, or any school board member’s, grasp. Percival, though, has from the start wished to keep the superintendent search more private than Arkansas law allows,

Some folks — perhaps even the elected school board members — might say “ what’s the harm ? ” in all this. Percival said he wanted to contact the finalists first and their names would be revealed to the public. Does it matter to the public whether they learn of the decision Thursday night or Friday ?

Perhaps not, but one must remain steadfast in his respect for the public decision-making process. It is not for the school board president or school board members to decide when decision-making can happen behind close doors. It is a long-standing tenet of Arkansas’ laws that decisions affecting the public should be made in public.

It’s pretty simple: No decision reached in executive session can be valid unless and until the members of the board emerge and put themselves on record either in support of or opposition to the matter.

The school board’s decision to narrow the list to four candidates is no different than the vote its members will ultimately take to hire a new superintendent. Is there some assumption on the part of the school board that the superintendent decision can be reached in executive session, but announced a day, a week or a month later when the board president is comfortable with revealing the information ?

Such an assumption would fly in the face of open government and state law.

I’d bet money that the school board members reading this would say “ we didn’t know” or “ we didn’t mean to, ” and I don’t doubt them. They probably also would decry getting kicked around because of one error when they pride themselves on openness.

The problem is these violations of the law always flair up at critical decision-making moments. School board members will never violate open-meetings laws when they’re voting to support a resolution praising the district’s national merit semifinalists. The violations will always happen on crucial decisions when the public’s right to observe the decision-making process is most important, and when, perhaps, school board members are less comfortable rendering public decisions.

It shouldn’t require a newspaper editor to remind the school board president of his responsibilities to the public. Every time school board members veer toward secrecy on an issue, they should recognize their responsibility to determine whether they are within the law, and part of each member’s leadership should be staunch advocacy for very public decision-making.

Greg Harton is executive editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times. His columns appear on Sunday.

Copyright © 2001-2008 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact:

Friday, March 28, 2008

People fed up with developers who are fed up with being asked to do the right thing!

A March 28, 2008, article in the Northwest Arkansas Times quotes developers who say they are fed up with Fayetteville's planning process. See link below:

Developers fed up?

The real message is that residents of the city are fed up with developers who take plans to the city planning department that ignore the terrain and the existing uses of the property and of surrounding property and DEMAND exceptions to zoning and include attempts to stretch the limits of sound use of the land.

Some clear the trees from property and then go in much later and claim to be preserving the few remaining trees, or worse, asking to clear the remaining trees and plant saplings to replace them under the terms of the gutted tree ordinance put in place after the Kohl's debacle. Some just clear the land and fill the wetland with red dirt or other less-than-absorbent soil and expect forgiveness as a property right.

There is no complete list of land that has been purchased and graded and cleared but left to erode and pollute the Illinois River and White River watersheds. But a few developers have control of several such parcels.

They pretend that their projects will benefit the city. They show far too little concern about those who will be hurt by their projects.

Their projects are for their benefit. The burden of proof is on them. The total expense of their projects is always underestimated.

The city must institute impact fees for all modes of transportation, for watershed pollution and potential flooding that may result downstream.

Existing residents aren't going to benefit and they should not be inconvenienced by anything a developer chooses to do. Some who "develop" as a professional activity are capable of finding employment that is at least harmless to society. Some could actually learn to earn their living by doing beneficial things.

At a minimum, they should learn everything possible about soil and air and water and vegetation and wildlife and OTHER HUMAN BEINGS' needs before coming up with money-making schemes and demanding to be treated with the respect that teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, farmers and the vast array of ordinary working people get because of their service to mankind.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Drake field from google

View Larger Map

The aerial photo map linked is here to complement the discussion titled
Another lost opportunity by Jonah Tebbetts

on the Iconoclast Web log.
Please follow directions to ENLARGE and navigate. The enlarged version offers controls to zoom further and to hide or show labels and other features. Starting here, a person can navigate the globe, thanks to Google. Every member of the City Council and of the Planning Commission needs a laptop at his desk during meetings to get a true idea of land being considered for development. There is no way they can all visit every site, and this kind of resource can give them a reasonable idea of what they are dealing with. Developers seem to avoid bringing predevelopment photos to the public camera's eye.

Crowd favors keeping Fayetteville High School where it is

Northwest Arkansas Times story on FHS meeting

Please click on image to ENLARGE.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Upper White River Basin Foundation CANCELLED

March 27, 2008, update: EVENT CANCELED FOR LACK of adequate early registration to cover cost.
NOT TOO LATE. Rooms and conference seats remain available as of March 18, 2008.

Jordan, Smith honored by Sierra Club; Lioneld Jordan announcement speech to be on CAT Channel 18 five times this week

Local 965 Members Honored by Sierra Club

Two members of AFSCME Local 965 were among those honored with Conservation Awards at the Arkansas Sierra Club's annual banquet last month.

Ward Four Alderman Lioneld Jordan received recognition as the sate's Outstanding City Official on environmental issues. The awards committee cited his tireless work on the Fayetteville City Council in promoting transportation impact fees to reduce the public cost of sprawl, his support for the Ozark Botanical Garden, acquisition of the Mt. Sequoyah Woods and the Brooks-Hummel Nature Preserve, his backing for the city's trail system, and his leadership in advocating bike lanes and a landscaped median on the Crossover Road project.

State Representative Lindsley Smith received recognition as a state official for having a 100% Environmental Voting Record on the Sierra Club Legislative Scorecard for the second consecutive session. The awards committee also noted her sponsorship of the Citizen Participation in Government Act that protects activists from expensive SLAPP lawsuits, an appropriation of state funds for construction of Scull Creek Trail, her legislation expanding the Wetlands Mitigation Bank Act to include additional aquatic resources, and the Net Metering Act to promote conservation and alternative energy resources.

Alderman Jordan is a supervisor with UA Facilities Management, and Representative Smith is a Research Assistant Professor of Communication. We add our congratulations to that from the Arkansas Sierra Club.

See for this week's schedule on Cable Access Television in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Channel 18 on Cox.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lioneld Jordan announcement speech to be on CAT Channel 18 at 4:30 PM Thursday March 13 and at 2:25 a.m. Fri, March 14.

For those who missed Lioneld Jordan's speech on the square Sunday, it will run again on Cable Access Television on Channel 18 from Cox Cable at 4:30 PM Thursday March 13 and at 2:25 a.m. Fri, March 14.
So tune to the CAT and listen, watch and gather information beyond what you read in a newspaper or on one of the blogs.
Let your friends know it will be running and let them develop their own opinions.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Lioneld Jordan to announce candidacy for mayor of Fayetteville on the town square Sunday afternoon

You are invited to attend Lioneld Jordan's announcement of his candidacy for Mayor of Fayetteville at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 9th, 2008, at the Fayetteville Downtown Square.

Parking is free on the weekend at the Parking Lots across from City Hall, metered spots near the square and the Town Center Parking Deck.