About three weeks ago, before real life got in the way and ate up any free time that I had for posting on this blog, I was briefly fascinated by the attempts of Stacy Hurst (R-Little Rock) to use a four-year-old’s Pre-K placement as a “gotcha” moment. Because Hurst is running for the seat currently held by John Edwards, who I have been proud to call my State Rep for the last six years, and because the whole reference to LRSD emails and the like struck me as a bit out of left field, I decided to do some more digging around. Heck, maybe I would get lucky and find some highly ironic twist that would cause me to dig even more until I found something really interesting!
foreshadowing, n.: a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story.
Stacy Hurst’s campaign consultants are Impact Management. One of the partners at Impact is Robert Coon. Mr. Coon and I have a number of things in common: we are both 40-Under-40 winners (2010 and 2014, respectively); we both wound up in Little Rock by virtue of marrying someone from Arkansas; and we both do not live in the Forest Park district of the LRSD.
A major difference between us, however, is that, despite living in the Brady Elementary district, Mr. Coon’s children go to school at Forest Park.
[Author’s note: Here is where I would have put a Facebook photo of Mr. Coon’s daughters in their Forest Park outfits, but I don’t see any need for that unless there’s a dispute over whether they actually attend that school.]
How do his daughters go to Forest Park? Because his sister-in-law lives in the Forest Park district, and the Coons use that address for school-assignment purposes.
Wait a second…Forest Park? The school that Clarke Tucker and his wife hoped to get their son into for Pre-K, which was the backstory that led to all of this in the first place? Hello, irony! But if that were all there was to this story, it wouldn’t really be worth writing about. 1
No, the deeper story here is that Stacy Hurst is lying about why the FOIA request was made to try to hide the fact that current and former LRSD School Board members and current LRSD employees tried to use the Pre-K placement system to set up Clarke Tucker.
As David Ramsey mentioned in one of the earlier posts about this story, there was a somewhat odd email from LRSD Senior Director of Student Services, Dr. Frederick Fields, to School Board Member Leslie Fisken in early August:
Max David Ramsey wrote, “Why is Fisken in the middle of these discussions about Ellis’s placement?” It’s a good question, especially since Fisken was one of the signors on a campaign mailer in support of Hurst that went out 8 days after Fisken’s email exchange with Fields. What in the world is Fields doing forwarding an email about Clark Tucker’s son to Fisken literally less than a minute after he sent it to Clarke’s mother-in-law?
But an even better question might be, “Why did Fisken then turn around and start including Melanie Fox in these email chains?”
Melanie Fox is, of course, the former LRSD Board Member who did not run for reelection in 2012 and was replaced on the board by Leslie Fisken (running unopposed). More importantly, at least for these purposes, Fox is also a big supporter of — and donor to — Hurst’s campaign.
Also a donor to Stacy Hurst? Leslie Fisken.
Now, to avoid getting too far into the weeds on this, let’s take a step back and consider two things: Stacy Hurst’s rationale for the FOIA request about Clarke Tucker’s son and a timeline of events.
According to Hurst, as explained by Max David Ramsey:
When I specifically asked about the reason for the FOI request prior to the release of Tuckers’s mailer, Hurst said “it speaks to vetting, special privilege regarding the pre-k program.” Hurst thought it was “at least possible” that the Tuckers were trying to throw their weight around to get in to Forest Park. Hurst said she didn’t know whether there was any evidence of that (though of course the Tuckers’ child didn’t get in to Forest Park, so it’s not clear to me that the “special privilege” theory scans).
Hurst said that “rumors” that the Tuckers might be trying to game the Pre-K-selection system and use family ties to get into the school of their choice had been a “topic of discussion for many months…in social circles and cocktail party conversations” (emphasis added). Except, if you were trying to see if someone had been doing anything for many months, and you thought you could prove that fact through public records, wouldn’t you request public records that covered a timeframe that might be described as “many months” or (at the very least) “quite a few days”? I know I would.
With that in mind, consider the following timeline:
- On April 29, the Tuckers were told that their son was not placed in a Pre-K assignment and was placed on a waiting list.
- On August 13, at 2:30PM, Frederick Fields emails Toni Tucker, falsely telling her that there was an opening for the Tucker’s son at Fair Park, but saying he needed to know immediately. There was not an opening for the Tuckers’ son at Fair Park at the time this email was sent.
- At 2:33PM, Fields emails Toni Tucker’s parents with the same false information.
- At 2:34PM, Fields forwards that second email to Leslie Fisken — who has no role in the Pre-K placement process — with a smiley face.
- At 6:36PM, still on August 13, Fisken forwards the email chain from Fields to Hurst supporter and former LRSD Board Member — who has even less reason to know about the Pre-K selection than Fisken does — Melanie Fox.
- On August 15, the ARGOP sends a FOIA request to the LRSD, seeking all communications from 2/1/14 to present between Dexter Suggs and Toni Tucker’s parents, Leslie Fisken, Teresa Ketcher, and “Freddie Fields,” “with Clarke Tucker or regarding Clarke Tucker.”
- On August 20, Tucker sent out this mailer.
- Also on August 20, Hurst’s campaign people took to social media to claim that Tucker’s mailer was false, despite having nothing in writing that suggested that it was.
- On August 22 — likely because her first FOIA request was worded so poorly as to be completely useless, which is a very ARGOP thing to do — Megan Tollett sent another FOIA request to Dexter Suggs, this time requesting emails related to the placement of the Tucker’s son that were sent or received by Toni Tucker’s parents, the Tuckers, Leslie Fisken, Teresa Ketcher, and “Freddie Fields”2 from 2/1/2014 to present.
- On August 25, Megan Tollett sent a FOIA request to Dexter Suggs, asking specifically for emails between Toni Tucker and Frederick Fields on August 12, 13, and/or 14. Nothing in those emails relates to the Tuckers’ attempting to get special favors for placement at Forest Park.
Look, it is one thing to catch your opponent in an actual lie and try to make something of it for campaign purposes. That’s totally valid. Here, however, that’s not what happened.
Instead, Frederick Fields lied to Toni Tucker about a spot for their son at Fair Park and immediately notified Leslie Fisken, who notified Melanie Fox. Either Fox or Fisken (whether directly or indirectly) then notified Hurst and/or the ARGOP. Had the Tuckers taken that spot, I have zero doubt that Hurst run with a story about the Tuckers’ gaming the system and getting bumped above other families who were higher on the waiting list for Fair Park.
Instead, the Tuckers turned that “offer” down, and Hurst, with an assist from the ARGOP, chose to embrace Fields’ (and, it appears, Leslie Fisken’s) attempted setup as a way to make an issue of Clarke Tucker’s factually correct mailer. Hurst talks out of both sides of her mouth on this, suggesting on hand that it was about whether the Tuckers tried to curry special favor and, on the other, that they were offered a Pre-K spot and the mailer was a lie. Neither of these explanations makes sense in light of both the timeline of the requests and the specificity of the dates requested.
In the end, however, this whole story makes a person realize how lucky he or she has been to have John Edwards as a state rep for the past six years. More to the point, it makes absolutely clear how much of a change for the worse replacing Edwards with Hurst would be. As a resident of the district, I sincerely hope that we don’t collectively make that mistake.