Sunday, May 26, 2024

Alice In Blunderland

There was a lot of stuff to unpack in Thursday’s D-G article about the Secretary of State’s use of state cars. The biggest thing, however, was the misleading (at best) nature of Alice Stewart’s comments and explanations.

So, with the exception of her one comment that I replied to in the article, I thought I’d offer up some observations and opinions on Stewart’s side of the story.

Spokesman Alice Stewart said keeping a written log of use of the office’s vehicles is neither required by law nor necessary. Supervisors make sure that any time any of the 23 pool vehicles are checked out, they are being used for a work-related reason, not personal business, she said. A written record is not maintained, she said, because there is no need for one.

And we immediately begin with Stewart attempting to hide the ball by talking about regular employees and supervisors and whatnot. I mean, it was Mark Martin and Doug Matayo who I accused of improperly using a state car. Considering Martin has no supervisor and Matayo’s only boss is Martin, it is absolutely without importance that lower-level staff are unable to abuse the cars thanks to the efforts of their supervisors.

“The procedures and policies we have in place are working,” she said. “There’s not a problem, so why change what we’re doing?”

Begging the Question: When a proposition which requires proof is assumed without proof.

Stewart told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the office’s vehicles have not been used for commuting or any other personal business by Martin, Matayo, or any other member of the office staff.

And Stewart knows this … how? Seriously, this is the point of the entire thing: the only “proof” we have that Matayo and Martin have not been improperly using state vehicles is the statement of Martin’s own spokesperson. On the other hand, we have gas-card receipts that paint a very different picture.

Hmm…which one to believe?

Stewart said the office has meetings in the northwest part of the state, such as to interview prospective employees or to make preparations for events, but she could not say who was using the cars at those locations, or what state business they were on. She said use of the vehicles would not have been approved by office supervisors unless it was for state business.

Well, despite the fact that Stewart “could not say” much about the interviews or meetings, I went ahead and submitted a FOIA request for documentation, some of which should just logically be available and some of which is required by law. To wit:

1. All documentation for interviews conducted in Northwest Arkansas (Rogers, Springdale, Fayetteville, Washington County, Crawford County, Sebastian County, Franklin County, Johnson County, Madison County, Newton County, Boone County, Carrol County, Benton County), including, but not limited to:
a. Any resumes or applications for employment collected during these interviews.
b. Any notes taken regarding potential employees.
c. If any of the people interviewed in this geographical area were ultimately hired, a copy of all of their payroll records to date.
d. Any documentation regarding location or time of any interviews in that area, including, but not limited to, emails between the Secretary of State’s Office and the candidate for employment.

2. All documentation for official business conducted in that same geographic area, including, but not limited to:
a. Minutes of all meetings.
b. Information regarding the time and place of all meetings, as required by A.C.A. 25-19-106(b)(1).
c. If any of the meetings were “emergency meetings,” verification that adequate notice was given to newspapers, radio stations, and television stations in the area at least two hours prior to the meeting, as required by A.C.A. 25-19-106(b)(2).
d. If any of the meetings were “executive sessions,” verification that the purpose of those meetings was announced publicly prior to the meeting, as required by A.C.A. 25-19-106(c)(2)(A).

As of this writing — 11:50pm on Thursday, May 19, 2011 — I have not received even a confirmation that the request was received. For today’s free reminder about Arkansas’s FOIA requirements, I note that, upon receipt of a request, the custodian of records has only three possible courses of action. If the material requested is exempt from the FOIA (which my requested information was not), she must notify the requesting party within 24 hours of this fact, either by telephone, in person, or via overnight mail. A.C.A. § 25-19-105(c)(3)(A). If the information is in use or in storage, she must certify this fact in writing to the requesting party and set a date and hour within three (3) working days at which time the record will be available. A.C.A. § 25-19-105(e). Otherwise, she must provide the records as soon as possible (no three-day lag time). A.C.A. § 25-19-105(d)(2)(A).

I suppose it’s possible that Stewart was out of the office yesterday and did not receive my request. Maybe someone should submit a request for her payroll sheet to see if she took leave on May 19.

“There’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of charges that go on our cards every month, and we don’t break it down as to who did it, and who actually made the charge,” Stewart said. The office has close to 170 employees, 85 of whom are authorized to use a state vehicle if needed.

This statement about charges might be the most irritating thing in the entire article, because it’s either an attempt to confuse the issue by lumping the gas cards in with the regular credit cards, or it’s just a lie. I received Shell statements with closing dates of 2-4-11, 3-8-11, and 4-7-11. Those statements had 18, 23, and 16 transactions, respectively. I received Exxon Mobil statements with closing dates of 1-21-11, 2-18-11, 3-21-11, and 4-20-11. Those statements had 10, 11, 14, and 8 transactions, respectively.  Apparently “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” means “100 over a 3+ month period.”

Except for those vehicles, “when someone uses a vehicle, they’re not even allowed to have the keys unless it’s for work-related business. So, we’re confident and we know with all certainty that no one’s even given the vehicle,or the keys to a vehicle, or a card for the vehicle, unless we know with all certainty they’re on work-related business,” she said.

Again, not to keep kicking this poor dead horse in the ribs, but we are not talking about some random employee in Elections or whatever; we are talking about the Secretary of State himself, who has no supervisor to prevent him from taking the keys, and the Chief Deputy, whose only supervisor is the Secretary of State that is riding shotgun with him on the way up to Northwest Arkansas.

All of this talk about supervisor oversight is nothing more than a ridiculous attempt to “prove” that Martin and Matayo are not using a state vehicle for commutes on NWA by claiming that other employees could not do the same. One literally has nothing to do with the other.  I suspect that Stewart (and Martin and Matayo) realize this flaw in their argument, and they are simply hoping that John Q. Public won’t see the flaw.  Or at least that he won’t see it until they are safely down the road in a state-owned car.

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