Recently, I submitted a FOIA request to the Secretary of State’s Office for documents related to the implementation of the new Voter ID law. The result was 870+ pages of emails, bids, and the like. A story about that whole thing — working title: Operation Charlie Foxtrot — is coming at some point.
The thing about a records request of that size, however, is that it requires a very competent custodian of records to keep track of what is being provided and to make sure that the finished product contains only documents that are actually responsive to the request. With a less-competent custodian, you run the risk of providing the requesting party with something embarrassing.
For example, you might accidentally include an email that shows one of your employees engaging in political activity on state time, via his state email address.
Yes, it appears that the Secretary of State’s Research Manager[foot]More on this title in a second.[/foot], Rett Hatcher, sent an email from his SoS email address on Monday, August 12, 2013, at 8:43am, in which he copied-and-pasted three articles about political issues having absolutely nothing to do with the scope or duty of the Secretary of State’s Office. There was an article about gun control/ownership, one about parole issues in Arkansas, and Brummett piece about the AR-Sen race between Pryor and Cotton that discussed how rural Arkansans see the Democratic party of 2013 as one of Obama/Pelosi. This email was sent, at the very least, to Chief Deputy Doug Matayo as a bcc.
If you are thinking that there is an absurd amount of irony in my receiving this email, given what transpired in 2011, you are absolutely correct. If only one office in the whole state should make extra sure that none of its employees are engaging in political activity on state time and/or from state computers, you would expect it to be the Secretary of State, considering how they whined to the Arkansas GOP and never acknowledged that they came up empty-handed.
The hilarious irony doesn’t stop there, however. As fate would have it, Rett Hatcher is the son of Everette Hatcher III, author of one of the least-readable blogs in Arkansas. Back in 2011, EH3[foot]Which I am pretty sure is not his nickname.[/foot] wrote seven (7) posts about the whole FOIA ordeal, opining at length about how it was “pretty clear” that I’d done something wrong (again, despite any evidence) and demonstrating his ignorance by suggesting that commenting on the Arkansas Blog was a prohibited activity for a state employee. (It’s not.)
Other odds and ends about this email:
- Why would Hatcher be sending this info to Doug Matayo? Well, this email is dated less than a week after Tom Cotton formally entered the race for U.S. Senate, and there was (brief) speculation that Matayo might make a run for Cotton’s Fourth District seat. If that was indeed the case, the email makes sense from a “do some background on issues that might be relevant” perspective, but it also means that Matayo was asking other SoS employees to do political work for him on state time.
- If the research wasn’t done for Matayo, it makes even less sense. Literally none of the stories that Hatcher sent had anything to do with any aspect of the Secretary of State’s Office.
- Hatcher’s email lists his title as “Research Director.” Yet the Secretary’s website lists him as an “Outreach Coordinator,” and the Online Checkbook lists him as a “Customer Services Coordinator III.” Oh, also, there is no “Research Director” position in the Secretary’s appropriation, and the only money in that appropriation that is specifically for research is money related to “research and development on providing ballot access to Arkansas voters stationed overseas.” This research obviously wasn’t related to that goal. So…yeah.
- Writing that last bullet point, I was reminded of something that a source told me last year: that whole “Outreach” department (which consists of Hatcher as well Tyler Dunegan, Mark Myers, Dr. Carolyn A. Smith, and Shira Kelley) exists solely to campaign for Mark Martin. Given that Mark Myers is classified as a Department Director but doesn’t even have job title listed on the Secretary’s website, while the rest of the Outreach staff is all classified as Customer Services Coordinators, it does smell sort of fishy. I mean, why would a Customer Services Coordinator be calling himself “Research Director” and engaging in political research? And what department does Myers actually direct, considering how often he seems to be away from the Capitol?