Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Southwest Times Record. July 15, 2018.
The ongoing lawsuit regarding city directors who violated the Freedom of Information Act continues, despite relatively easy ways to end the entire mess: 1. Admit you messed up. 2. Agree not to do it again. 3. Stop appealing judgments that have found you in violation of Arkansas state law.
It’s really that easy. By doing those basic things, which all seem to be in the spirit of serving the public, the city saves taxpayer money and can focus time, energy and money on more pressing things.
The city of Fort Smith recently appealed a ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court in a case involving FOIA violations. We thought this had been decided in January when a judge granted a summary judgment against the city, saying a series of emails exchanged between Fort Smith city directors and the city administrator in May and August 2017 constituted a violation of the act. The judge’s order states members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors held “informal meetings subject to the FOIA.”
Instead of fighting the law, why not spend that time moving forward and learning how to abide by the law?
It’s unclear what the city hopes to gain by appealing the ruling. But what it has to lose is clear: taxpayer money, time away from other matters and, in our view, additional trust of constituents. What is gained by fighting for the right to hold more discussions away from public view?
The city believes it’s correct in its assertion that the email exchange did not constitute a meeting, but spending thousands of dollars to prove that is wasteful and pointless. As of the end of June, more than $40,000 has been billed to the city by City Attorney Jerry Canfield so far in the matter, and we imagine that bill will continue to grow as the appeals process continues. There are far greater issues in the city that need time, attention and money (the $480 million EPA-mandated sewer upgrades come to mind).
Working on an appeal seems like a big waste of time. Instead, we suggest spending that time brushing up on how to better conduct the public’s business in public. Last year’s Sheriff’s Office report on the case states that “FOIA training still appears to be relevant to the issue at hand.” We have advocated before for regular training on FOIA laws — at least once per year and following any election where new members join a local governing body. As communication continues to evolve (think texting and social media), it’s important that our elected leaders stay informed on the laws surrounding it. It can be awfully costly and time-consuming when they don’t.
The city followed the January ruling by rejecting a settlement offer in which plaintiff Bruce Wade’s attorney, Joey McCutchen, would waive legal fees if the board admitted it had violated FOIA and “agree to not to do it again,” and if it agreed not to appeal the court’s decision.
Instead, the case moves on, this time to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
The subject of the emails revolved around Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark’s request to amend the rules of the Civil Service Commission to allow the hiring or appointment of officer positions to include “external applicants,” or those from outside the city force. (The chief later withdrew the request.) City Directors Andre Good, Keith Lau and Mike Lorenz are co-defendants in the case.
Canfield maintains there is no law that keeps the city directors from exchanging “pre-meeting information,” as it did in last year’s email exchanges, and even if there was one, “it’s not a meeting if no decision is made.”
What he’s saying is it’s OK to discuss public business outside of a public meeting as long as no decision is made during that discussion.
We disagree, as did the judge in January who granted a summary judgment in favour of the plaintiff. Public officials cannot discuss public business outside of an open forum, whether a decision is to be made or not. That’s been long established. Furthermore, notice of a meeting must be provided to anyone who has asked to be notified, and notice of special meetings must be provided to members of the media in the county who have requested notice of such meetings, as well as media elsewhere who cover regular meetings and have requested notice, according to the Arkansas attorney general.
Others have agreed that the emails are an FOIA violation, including Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue, who wrote a letter to the board dated Aug. 28 in which he says he found he emails to be in violation of FOIA and that he agreed with the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office that “the information, discussion, and declaration of votes make the matter a meeting to which the public and media had no knowledge.”
? … no violation like the ones that have occurred should be allowed to occur in the future. The public deserves to be privy to all of the Board’s hard work, not just some of it,” Shue says in his letter.
Following the judge’s January ruling, the Board of Directors’ emails were made more accessible to anyone who wants to download them from the city’s website. That seems to be an acknowledgement that the city agrees email exchanges are, in fact, discussions. Or perhaps they’re just hoping they won’t find themselves in the same legal predicament they’re currently in. Either way, directors work for the public, and it’s the public’s right to know what’s going on within the city.
We’ll continue to say it as long as it continues to be true: You can’t conduct the public’s business outside of the public’s eye. The city should admit that occurred and stop wasting time and money trying to prove it didn’t. We’re disappointed city leaders have let this issue linger for so long. It’s time to move past these FOIA discussions, and we hope the city will be more proactive in making sure we aren’t having them again anytime soon.
Texarkana Gazette. July 15, 2018.
The glory days of railroading are being recreated in Texarkana — in a manner of speaking.
David Peavy, owner of the Ritchie Grocery building on Front Street near the Bi-State Justice Building, has relocated a vintage Pullman lounge car to a spot beside his building where it is slated to become a stylish and nostalgic restaurant.
The car, dubbed “Concho,” was modern for its time. It’s 80 feet long, clad in stainless steel and has an art-deco lounge, bar, dining area and kitchen. There is even a dormitory area for train staff.
Back in the days before airlines began to dominate, passenger train travel was the thing for those who needed to get away for business trips, visit with family or vacations. The rail lines competed with each other to offer the best accommodations and most luxurious service.
Peavy’s car was a feature on one of the best-known passenger trains, the Santa Fe Super Chief, which travelled between Chicago and Los Angeles. The Super Chief was the train of choice for the rich and famous. Many times Hollywood stars travelling from New York back to California would transfer to the Super Chief after arriving on the equally famous 20th Century Limited of the New York Central Line, which offered service from the Big Apple to Chicago.
From 1940 to the late 1970s, the Concho saw service on the Super Chief, the Chief and the Texas Chief. There is no telling how many household names of the time enjoyed a drink, a snack and conversation in the car. And after extensive renovations, it will again welcome the public.
And we welcome the Concho to downtown. We’re sure it will be well received by locals and visitors alike.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. July 17, 2018.
Ah, but American politics make for strange bedfellows. That font of conservative reckoning, that bastion of traditionalist thinking — the Washington, D.C., City Council — might overturn the people’s wishes and keep the minimum wage in that district from going up for tipped workers.
The ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus gives its blessings. And we’re not kidding.
One never knows, do one?
The voters in (what the founders called) the Federal City decided last month, on a 56 per cent vote, to increase wages for tipped workers so that those workers would earn what other workers receive. It was called Initiative 77, and millions were spent in the election fight. Now that the rule is on the books and the restaurant industry is looking down the barrel of the consequences, seven of the city council’s 13 members have co-introduced legislation to overturn Initiative 77, which the council can do in the district.
Tipped workers at restaurants in D.C. can get as little as $3.89 an hour now. But, like all tipped workers, they can make that up with good service and diners who understand the rules. Under the initiative, restaurant and bar owners are supposed to gradually increase the salaried pay until everybody makes at least $15 an hour by 2025.
Restaurant owners, however, argue that their cost of doing business will go up. But not only that: They say that diners will soon stop tipping altogether, thinking that waitresses and bartenders are making good money now.
Hear a council member for the district, one Jack Evans (Very-D), as he explains his position, and reality:
“Initiative 77 is something I believe will be very harmful to our restaurants and, more importantly, our restaurant workers.” Which is basically Econ 101.
Call it the rule of good intentions, which leads to you-know-where: Higher minimum wages push people, especially young people, out of the workplace.
Teens and younger adults tend to have the jobs that pay minimum wage. Think of the high school kid at the pizza joint. Or the 22-year-old waitress who wants to (1) get a regular paycheque and (2) gain experience for the next, better-paying job. But it’s exactly those kinds of people who might be pushed out of the job market if the minimum wage goes up too high. Why? Because employers might have to cut the number of workers if payroll expenses jump.
Economists will tell you that when the minimum wage goes up, black teens are hurt the worst. (What else is new?) And in D.C., there are a lot of unemployed black youths.
Those who think about these things say a lot of crime among young people, especially in the cities, can be blamed partly on high unemployment. So why exacerbate the problem?
Of course, the policymakers and Deep Thinkers who proposed this $15 an hour won’t be hurt much. They have jobs.
For best example, take Diana Ramirez, spokeswoman for some outfit called One Fair Wage DC: “It would be deeply undemocratic for (the) council to overturn the will of the people. D.C. voters don’t like it when Republicans in Congress do it, and we trust council will not stoop to that level. In our pre-election poll, over 80 per cent of D.C. voters said they would be concerned if council overturned their vote. The people are watching. Council must set any sour grapes aside and push ahead.”
Speaking of Republicans, two members of the House Freedom Caucus — Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Gary Palmer of Alabama — gave their approval to the city council. They moved last week to block Initiative 77, too.
City council members have told those Republicans, in so many words, please don’t help.
Imagine, if you’re a Washington D.C., city council member, having to explain your being on the same side as (shudder) Republicans! It’s as if Republican members of Congress also understand that Initiative 77 will eat away at thin profit margins in the service industries, possibly force layoffs, and obviously raise prices for everybody who eats or drinks in Washington, D.C.
Supporters of Initiative 77, however, say it’s only fair. Having a two-tiered pay system isn’t equitable. Wage theft is a problem. And something about how this measure will work against sexual harassment. How a higher minimum wage works against sexual harassment hasn’t been explained. Must be some theory, though.
What’s not theory: When a business’ expenses go up, owners look for ways to cut them.
Besides, if it is the Lord’s work to make the minimum wage $15 an hour, why not raise it to $30 or $40? Because this is what’s known as inflation–a hidden tax that destroys the value of our currency. And a $30 minimum wage would probably throw twice as many people out of work in the service industries.
But fear not. Somebody will propose that $30 minimum wage soon enough. Just let the $15 catch on first.