The campaign for AR-House District 35, which encompasses my house in the People’s Glorious Republic of Cammackistan, has quickly become one of those events where my own curiosity in the details has given way to a desire to see a specific outcome based on what I’ve found out. You see, for my entire time in Arkansas, I’ve had the pleasure of being represented at the House level by David Johnson and then John Edwards; it would be nice to have the 2014 winner be in the same vein as those gentlemen.
I mean, as opposed to winding up represented by someone who would coordinate with certain board members and employees of Little Rock School District in an effort to manipulate Pre-K placement and deceive voters.
Following the previous post on the strange timeline of Stacy Hurst, Dr. Frederick Fields, Leslie Fisken, and the ARGOP’s Adventures in Freedom of Information Act requests, I wondered what, if anything, further AFOIA digging would uncover. So I sent a request to Dr. Dexter Suggs for, among other things, all emails between Dr. Fields and Toni Tucker, “sent or received between February 1, 2014, and September 26, 2014.”
My reasoning for this date range was because the previous AFOIA requests from the ARGOP had been for emails that would have cut off around August 21st, since Megan Tollett’s August 22nd request was for emails “to present” and her August 25th request was specifically for the August 12-14 range. So, long story short, I was wondering if there was any further communication between Dr. Fields and Toni Tucker (or anyone else related to the original story).
Last week, I got the response from LRSD. In addition to the same emails that had been provided to the ARGOP and others in the previous requests, I got an August 27 email from Dr. Fields to several people regarding an AFOIA request from Michael Cook, which requested (among other things), all emails between Fields and Toni Tucker. Fields responded, “I have no additional documents are records in response to the request.” Now, based on this response, we are apparently supposed to believe that the last email communication between Dr. Fields and Mrs. Tucker was the August 13 exchange in which he (falsely) offered her son a spot at Fair Park, which she declined, and which he ended with “I will keep you updated if there is any movement on the Forest Park list.”
Which is to say, we are supposed to believe that a mother who had expressed a clear, unequivocal desire for her son to go to Pre-K at Forest Park, and who had contacted Dr. Fields regularly through August 13, suddenly ceased to contact him at all, even as the first day of school rapidly approached.
Yeah…I didn’t buy it.
As luck would have it, however, emails frequently exist on more than one person’s account.1 So I got Mrs. Tucker’s email address from one of the emails, and I contacted her to verify that there had been no additional communications after August 13 between herself and Dr. Fields regarding Pre-K placement.
Except, there had been, just a week later, and in that same email chain, no less. That’s…concerning, both from an AFOIA-response standpoint and because of the content of what Dr. Fields did not provide, which we’ll just screenshot and put right here to save you from having to click:
Huh? How can that be right? School started in the LRSD on August 18. As of August 20, Dr. Fields said they had “not begun looking at P4s at [that] point”?
Yet, only a week before, he had contacted Mrs. Tucker to tell her that her P4 son had a spot at Fair Park if she wanted it. If they had not begun looking at P4s on 8/20, why was he looking at P4s on 8/13?
Perhaps a more pointed question would be, why was Mrs. Tucker offered a spot at Fair Park on 8/13 when her son was still 24th on the Fair Park waiting list, if the LRSD was not even looking at P4 waiting lists at that point?
And an even better question would be, why — despite at least three requests that should have encompassed this email with Mrs. Tucker (one from the ARGOP, one from Michael Cook, and one from me) — was this 8/20 email exchange not provided? As I see it, there are two possible answers to this last question.
First, it could be that Dr. Fields, who appears to keep every email from all parents regarding school placement and waiting lists, somehow managed to accidentally delete only this exchange — but not to delete the remainder of that chain of messages — and it is total coincidence that the deleted email is the only one that really looks like Dr. Fields had lied to Mrs. Tucker when he offered a spot on 8/13. Plausible, perhaps, but unlikely.
The second explanation is that Dr. Fields intentionally withheld or deleted this email because he knew it made the 8/13 “offer” an obvious lie. This explanation is particularly troubling, though, because the 8/13 offer is the same one that Dr. Fields forwarded to Leslie Fisken with an emoticon and no explanation:
If the 8/20 email was withheld because it destroyed the Hurst camp’s narrative about the Tuckers’ being offered a spot, that would mean that Dr. Fields was complicit in the attempt to trick the Tuckers into taking a spot that did not exist, and he is trying to hide that fact.
At this point, if you are hesitant to buy this whole theory, the reluctance probably stems from a question of why the LRSD/Forest Park would screw around with a Pre-K placement for political gains. And, if you are asking that question, you probably do not hail from Little Rock, so, greetings, and welcome to The Heights!
The story of why begins back in the halcyon days of 2006, when Melanie Fox’s run for LRSD School Board was helped along immensely by a well-organized ground game orchestrated by her connections within the Forest Park PTA.
In 2008, Kelly Eichler, then President of the Forest Park PTA, decided to jump into the District 38 (now 35) race, where she ultimately squared off against John Charles Edwards. The conventional wisdom at the time was that, if Eichler could organize the Forest Park contingent and dominate The Heights segment of the voting, she could win as a Republican in a Democratic district. And she almost pulled it off, with Edwards squeaking by on a margin of only 78 votes.
By 2012, Melanie Fox did not want to run for re-election to the LRSD board, and Leslie Fisken, running unopposed, took that Zone 3 seat easily. This is the same Leslie Fisken who had her own issues with Pre-K registration at Forest Park in 2008, for which Melanie Fox went to bat for her.
So, when you fast-forward to early 2014, you have Clarke Tucker getting into the District 35 race in February, right around the same time that registration for LRSD Pre-K was due, and only a few weeks after Stacy Hurst had announced that she was running. Three of Hurst’s supporters — Melanie Fox, Kelly Eichler, and Leslie Fisken — were all aware of the importance of the Forest Park bloc if a Republican was going to have a chance in the district. They were also almost certainly aware that Toni Tucker’s parents are Sandra Register, a principal in the LRSD, and Ellis “Scooter” Register, longtime LR Central football coach, just as they had to be aware that Clarke Tucker’s parents had deep roots in the Heights.
So, if the one thing that they could not risk was that Hurst would lose an appreciable amount of the Forest Park PTA bloc, about the only way to try to prevent that would be to keep the Tuckers’ son from attending Forest Park and, by extension, keep the Tuckers from having easy access to the Forest Park PTA and the rest of the bloc. And, as it just so happened, Fox and Fisken figured they could make that happen by rigging the system.
A source with knowledge of the LRSD placement system, who understandably asked to not have her name included in this story, writes:
According to the numbers from the scramble provided by Fields, 45 children (22 with siblings, 23 without siblings) were zoned for Forest Park, 40 spots were filled, and 5 were put on a waiting list. From the beginning Ellis was 6th or higher on the waiting list.
In the beginning, Toni would get a different answer about Ellis’ place on the waiting list every time she called. But once she started asking Fields directly the information became more consistent. On several occasions, Fields told Toni that Ellis was 6th on the list but he got bumped back to 8th because supposedly 2 families moved into the zone that had other children in K-5, giving their Pre-K child sibling priority over Ellis. By the end of the summer, 3 children with siblings had moved ahead of Ellis making him 9th on the waiting list. School began, and 3 spots opened up in Pre-K, when 2 children (twins) moved to another state and a 3rd child withdrew to attend private school. The 3 children that were placed in those spots from the waiting list DO NOT have a sibling in the school.
The first week of school (before any spots were filled) of a child on the waiting list whose parents did not register her until April I believe. In addition to registering late, the family had since moved out of the zone as well. According to LRSD rules, parents are supposed to register during the open enrollment period (Jan 27-Feb 11). If they register after that time period, they will automatically be placed on the waiting list. So the child that was registered in April (the same month the placement letters were mailed out) should have been behind Ellis on the waiting list. This child was one of the 3 children placed in Pre-K from the waiting list after school began.
That certainly fits with the overall narrative that is coming together here. Three women, all with ties to the LRSD school board and Forest Park, are backing a woman for District 35 who has to win the Heights/Forest Park vote handily to win the race. A couple strings are pulled, Dr. Fields is roped into the whole mess, and he takes it upon himself to ensure that Ellis Tucker does not get into Forest Park. Rumor even has it, unconfirmed at this point (though told to me by two different people), that Melanie Fox went to Forest Park principal Theresa Ketcher soon after the Pre-K roster was released and talked to Ms. Ketcher specifically about Ellis Tucker’s non-placement there, which makes no sense except in a meddling way, given the complete lack of any ties between Fox and the Tuckers.
By August, this same group knows, via Dr. Fields, that the Tuckers have continued to check on Ellis’ place on the waiting list. Dr. Fields — either of his own accord, or under the direction of someone else — makes an improper offer to the Tuckers of a seat at Fair Park, in an attempt to trick the Tuckers into accepting the seat so that Hurst can then crow about how the Tuckers used their connections to get Ellis into a school where he was not at the top of the waiting list. (Hence the smiley emoticon in Fields’ email to Fisken on 8/13.)
That plan falls through, so Hurst runs with the bizarre narrative that they were attempting to pull strings to get Ellis into Forest Park (despite not actually getting him into Forest Park). The same day that Hurst is dropping that story, Toni Tucker happens to contact Dr. Fields to again check on the waiting list. Fields screws up and answers honestly that they are not even looking at Pre-K lists on 8/20, but would look at them after 8/22. Realizing this screw up, he either deletes the 8/20 email or withholds it from all AFOIA responses, since it undercuts Hurst’s story.[foot]Since destruction of that email when there is a pending AFOIA request would be a felony, I’ll assume that he just withheld it.[/foot]
Does that sound anything like the backstory of someone that you can trust to put the entire district’s priorities first, rather than the priorities and wants of a few select people? Of course not. Which is why Clarke Tucker is, without question, the only good choice in District 35.
Unless you are dealing with the Fort Smith Police Department.↩