Friday, December 9, 2022

Frank Scott Jr. Blurs Line Between Office & Campaigning to the Point of Illegality

Wonder how he'll try to blame this on someone else?

As you might recall if you follow us on Twitter, a couple weeks ago, when I finally received the records that Samantha Wilson had deleted in an attempt to prevent them from being released in response to an AFOIA request, I stumbled across this email:

That is an email from Verkeytia Long, who works in Little Rock’s 311 Customer Service department, to Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s Executive Assistant (Bridgitte Newson) and his Chief of Staff (Kendra Pruitt), relaying a request from a Little Rock resident for a Frank Scott Jr. campaign sign. In other words, this is one city employee sending an email from her city email address to two other city employees, at their city email addresses, because a resident contacted 311 for a Scott campaign sign.

The day that I found this email, I drove by the address in question and saw this:

I don’t want to belabor the point here too much, because we have bigger fish to fry, so I’ll just screenshot the part of the Twitter thread where I laid out some of the issues with this (click to enlarge):

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Following the discovery of that email and the yard sign that it begat, I started keeping an eye on Frank Scott Jr.’s Twitter account to see if there were signs that he was using work time, equipment provided with public funds, and/or city property for campaign-related activities or communications.

The results? Well…click to enlarge any of these, I suppose:

Monday, September 12, 2022 at 4:51PM
Thursday, September 15, 2022 at 3:37PM
Friday, September 16, 2022 at 1:20PM
Wednesday, September 21, 2022 at 10:11AM
Friday, September 23, 2022 at 3:00PM
Wednesday, September 28, 2022 at 10:57AM
Friday, October 7, 2022 at 8:44AM
Wednesday, October 12, 2022 at 9:59AM
Wednesday, October 12, 2022 at 3:50PM
Thursday, October 13, 2022 at 10:50AM
Thursday, October 13, 2022 at 2:30PM
Thursday, October 13, 2022 at 3:53PM
Friday, October 14, 2022 at 11:21AM
Friday, October 14, 2022 at 11:21AM
Monday, October 17, 2022 at 10:59AM
Tuesday, October 18, 2022 at 11:19AM
Tuesday, October 18, 2022 at 12:05PM
Wednesday, October 19, 2022 at 11:18AM
Thursday, October 20, 2022 at 8:00AM
Thursday, October 20, 2022 at 9:42AM
Thursday, October 20, 2022 at 11:41AM

Every one of those screenshots represents a time that Frank Scott Jr. was engaging in campaign activities during working hours. That alone would be noteworthy, as we are frequently told how very busy he is doing mayoral activities, yet he is apparently not so busy that he can’t take time out from mayor-ing to do some campaigning. (Most of the Twitter screenshots above are also on Facebook. For the sake of bandwidth, I did not include the screenshots of those in here as well.)

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My guess is that Scott thinks this activity is fine because someone1 read the statute that prohibited devoting usual office hours to campaigning for “another person” and determined that the prohibition did not apply to campaigning for one’s own self.

Assuming that conclusion is correct, it still fails to address multiple other issues with Scott’s campaigning during office hours, whether for himself or for anyone else.

First, the Tweets on 9/21, 9/23, 10/7, 10/13, and 10/19 all say that they were done via “Twitter for iPhone.” Fun fact: Frank Scott Jr.’s cell phone bill is paid by the City of Little Rock. I would show you the records to prove this, but the city has completely failed to provide them, even after City Attorney Tom Carpenter said they should have been.

ANYWAY, maybe you’re already wondering why this matter. The answer is, because of a specific statute: Arkansas Code Annotated § 7-1-103(a)(3)(A).

Scott’s taxpayer-paid-for cell phone certainly amounts to an “item of personal property provided with public funds.” As such, that phone should not be used for any campaign purposes. This is true even where the campaign purposes occur after regular business hours.

Not that use of his city-funded phone is the only issue here. The Tweets that say they were sent via “Twitter web app” or “Tweetdeck” are similarly problematic, for one or both of the following reasons: 1. If they are sent via “Twitter web app” from a computer that was provided at taxpayer expense, they represent the same use of “personal property provided with public funds” for campaign purposes that was a problem above. 2. Regardless of whether they were sent from a city computer or a personal laptop that Scott brought to city hall, they are still being sent via city-provided, city-funded internet service.

But it goes deeper than that. Assume that these messages were sent by the mayor while he was in his office at City Hall. Now we’re butting up against the same thing that Heather Turchi ran into when she used the ASU offices for a fundraiser: “It shall be unlawful for any public servant, as defined in § 21-8-402, to use any office or room furnished at public expense to distribute any letters, circulars, or other campaign materials unless such office or room is regularly used by members of the public for such purposes without regard to political affiliation.” In fact, Scott’s use would be worse than Turchi’s because, while hers was an error for the public servant who agreed to rent the room for her fundraiser, in Scott’s situation, he would be both the person who was improperly using his office for campaign communications and the person who was allowing himself to use that room, in violation of the law. That’s a bad look all the way around.

Of course, what if he was away from city hall when he sent the “Twitter web app” and/or “Tweetdeck” Tweets? Well, far from solving the problems, that excuse actually opens additional cans of worms.

For example, how did he get away from city hall and to wherever it is he was tweeting from? If he had his taxpayer-funded security detail drive him somewhere in his taxpayer-funded vehicle so that he could go send some campaign communications, that’s still a problem for the same reason that the cell phone and the city-owned computer were–campaign use of an item of personal property that was provided by public funds.

On the other hand, even if you pretend like he grabbed a computer and walked somewhere outside of city hall to go send each of those messages, we still have an issue.

Campaigning for mayor is not a mayoral duty. So, if he was leaving his mayoral responsibilities behind for some period of time to go do campaign activities, he is not doing his job (by definition) during those periods. But remember how former Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola received roughly $160,000 from the city when he left office? That was because Stodola had “2,281.23 hours of vacation” that he had not used, since the Mayor of Little Rock–whether Mark Stodola or Frank Scott Jr.–accrues paid vacation days while in office.

I requested Scott’s use of vacation time via the AFOIA on September 28 (along with the vacation time used by Kendra Pruitt and Charles Blake). These records are unequivocally subject to the AFOIA and must be provided. No person with an ounce of understanding would even try to suggest otherwise.

Yet, Frank Scott Jr.’s office has refused to provide these records, despite several follow-up communications, threat of a lawsuit, and now and actual lawsuit for them.2 Why? I have no idea, but Scott will get an opportunity to explain that to Judge Welch next week when he’s called to testify.

But, yeah, the only way that those “web app” and “Tweetdeck” tweets shown above would not be a problem would be if (a) Scott took vacation time consistent with city rules for the time periods that the messages were sent; (b) walked or drove himself, completely separate from his city-provided security and vehicle, to some place outside of Little Rock City Hall; (c) used a computer that was not owned by, or paid for, by the city; and (d) used internet that was not paid for, provided by, the city.

Now ask yourself, based on everything we know about him and how he’s run his office thus far, how likely it is that Scott did any of the steps listed in in the previous paragraph, let alone all of them.

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That last bit reminds me of another potential issue that has been ongoing since well before the Tweets and posts in the screenshots above were made. From all available information that I have found, it appears that Frank Scott Jr. is driven to and from campaign events, canvassing meetups, mayoral debates, and literally everything else by his security detail in a taxpayer-funded, taxpayer-owned vehicle.

I am well aware of the claims that he has a need for a level of heightened security as mayor. Assuming that is true,3 I would simply point out that the statute above, prohibiting campaign use of personal property provided with public funds, does not have an exemption for “…unless you need it.” Statutes are kind of fickle like that.

So that excuse falls flat from the start.

On top of which, even if we take as a given that candidate Frank Scott Jr. needs someone to drive him to, and provide security during, campaign-related activities, that is something that he could pay for out of campaign funds. This isn’t even a close call; the taxpayers should not be on the hook for security guards and a vehicle to run the mayor to a debate, no matter how much Frank Scott Jr. might wish to blur the line between “elected official” and “candidate for re-election.”

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The timeline on the Tweets and Facebook posts above is also morbidly interesting.

Prior to September 15, there was only one instance of Frank Scott Jr.’s campaigning on his social media feeds during work hours. And, to be fair, that one instance on September 12 was just barely during work hours (going up at 4:51PM).

Since September 15, however, there have been /gestures wildly to all of those screenshots.

September 15, as you might recall,4 is literally the day after Mary Hennigan published her first article on the Arkansas Blog regarding the lack of information about LITfest. Which seems to suggest that Frank Scott Jr. saw the first whiff of bad press about LITfest and decided the best way to combat that was…to just start openly campaigning during the hours that he should be doing mayoral stuff instead of campaign activities.

Sure, a more prudent person might have used the initial questions about LITfest as a jumping off point to making sure LITfest was not a dumpster fire that was going to blow up and implicate his Chief of Staff, a board member, and Think Rubix is some sketchy, illegal, and/or unethical actions. But “prudent” is hardly a word that one would apply to Scott’s mayoral tenure to this point, so it’s hardly surprising that he would go this route instead.

Continuing that theme, September 20 was when we put up the first post about how shady the LITfest contract between Think Rubix and the city was. Rather than respond to that in any way, he tweeted the next morning around 10am, encouraging people to join his coffee-and-canvassing event the following weekend.

September 26, around 5pm, I put up a Twitter thread, detailing how the city had lied about Charles Blake’s involvement in Think Rubix’s response to the LITfest request for qualifications. September 27 and 28, the Arkansas Times, among others, reached out to the city and Think Rubix for comment on that revelation. On September 28, just before 11AM, Scott tweeted about another coffee-and-canvassing event that he hoped people would show up for that weekend.

Between September 30 and October 4, there were a series of posts and stories here, at the Times, and in the Democrat-Gazette about the apparent illegality of Kendra Pruitt helping funnel donor money to Think Rubix in violation of the contract, the City Attorney’s concerns with the contract, the City Manager’s cancellation of the contract, and Frank Scott Jr.’s cancellation of LITfest. The morning of October 7, Scott tweeted about another event at campaign headquarters that he hoped people would attend.

October 11, news broke of Mike Huckabee’s backing of a dark-money group running ads against Frank Scott Jr. Since that date, and continuing through today, Scott has not had a single workday where he did not tweet or post something campaign-related during business hours.

Point being, it appears that this campaign activity is not an honest mistake, but is an active attempt to distract people from bad press. Maybe that plan is effective, at least as far as a distraction, but it definitely does not change the underlying fact that it all appears to be being done in violation of state law.

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It is probably worth noting something at this point that I have been talking about in various locations for a while now: Frank Scott Jr.’s continued use of his personal Twitter account (@FrankScottJr) for his official duties, personal interests, and campaign functions. Such a decision may let him feed his ego by combining all into one account, and it may even be easier, but it is a terrible idea generally speaking. Commingling official and campaign-related stuff is, at best, always going to look questionable; at worst, it blurs the lines and makes it seem like campaigning is part of the mayoral duties (which is absolutely is not) and that campaigning when he should be doing his actual job is totally fine (which, again, no).

There is, of course, an easy way to avoid these kinds of own-goal gaffes. A person could–and should!–have a separate cell phone, paid for by the campaign, that is never used for official business. A candidate could lease a car, paid for by campaign funds, and pay a security guard to drive it. A candidate could make sure that they have separate accounts for personal, official, and campaign activities (or at least a separate campaign account), keep access to the personal one for himself (and not tweet campaign stuff during work hours), and allow campaign staff to help with the campaign account.

All of that takes planning, however. More importantly, it takes transparency and a desire to make sure you’re actually complying with the letter and spirit of the law. Scott has already shown repeatedly that he lacks any interest in either of these.

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Looking back over this post before publishing, I know full well that many people will read it and still bend over backward to find some way to justify any illegal actions.5 This post, of course, is not for those folks. This post is for people who still believe that no politician is above the law

I just can’t decide if it is more frustrating to think about how many of those same people would be blowing this up on social media if it was about a Republican politician, or to realize that those same people don’t realize how MAGA-esque it is to ignore (or even justify!) law breaking when it’s their favored candidate doing it.

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  1. I have my suspicions as to who would give such myopic legal advice

  2. Seriously, for the love of god, stop acting like this guy is remotely transparent about anything. He’s not, and everyone who says otherwise sounds like a moron at this point.

  3. Which, I might add, is not something that has ever been substantiated.

  4. If you’ve paid far too much attention to the Little Rock Mayor’s race and the LITfest debacle

  5. Most likely, it will be deflection about “why don’t you look into X” instead, but there will definitely be some people who directly excuse the Mayor’s actions with some idiocy about how this is “no big deal.” And at least one person will claim this is speculative, as if there is a set of circumstances that would make the Mayor’s seemingly illegal acts “actually not illegal.”

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