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Arkansas governor allows access to funding applications

By The Associated Press

09.03.02

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Gov. Mike Huckabee has decided, after all, to make public the papers used to decide which projects out of 157 applications would be recommended for funding by the Delta Regional Authority.

Huckabee's office agreed Aug. 30 to send copies of the documents he used to select projects for Delta funding to the state agency that created them, where they would be available for review.

The announcement came a day after an attorney general's opinion said copies of the documents were required by law to be kept available to the public at the state Economic Development Department.

On July 30, the governor's office recommended 16 of the 157 projects for funding with Arkansas' $4.5 million share of available Delta authority money.

Camden's application was not one of those chosen, and Camden Mayor Chris Claybaker asked to review documents used to make the selections, to compare Camden's application with others. But the governor's office said the documents were private "working papers" and exempt from the state Freedom of Information Act.

Eventually, Claybaker was allowed to review documents relating only to Camden's application, but not others.

But now copies of the documents are to be sent back to the Economic Development Department, where the applications were analyzed and rated.

"If that satisfies people who want to see them, we don't have a problem with it. As we have contended all along, we had a very fair process and kept the politics out of it," said Huckabee spokesman Rex Nelson. "Unfortunately there were others who chose to make this process political football. And hopefully they can now see that this has been a very fair process from the start."

State Rep. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann, requested an attorney general's opinion to clarify the status of the documents. On Aug. 29, Attorney General Mark Pryor released an opinion written by Senior Assistant Attorney General Elana Wills that said the Economic Development Department was required by law to keep as public records copies of its analysis.

Nelson had said at first on Aug. 30 that the governor disagreed with the opinion and said the documents would not be returned to the department. But later in the day that position changed, and Nelson said the governor "did not personally have a problem with making copies of those records and placing them at (the Economic Development Department)."

State Treasurer Jimmie Lou Fisher, the Democrat who is opposing the re-election of Huckabee, a Republican, welcomed the turnabout in a news release Aug. 31.

"This information is public property," Fisher said. "There is no reason not to release them unless he is trying to hide something."

If she had been governor, Fisher said, the situation wouldn't have arisen.

"Every state in the Delta Regional Authority had made their awards process public," she said. "Arkansas was the only state holding back. Huckabee should have known better. It was a bad judgment call."

Related

Governor's office rebuffs idea of limiting Arkansas' FOI law
'[L]et me be clear on this: Your efforts to amend the FOI are NOT authorized by the governor,' Mike Huckabee's liaison tells agency director.  08.12.02

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