Some of y’all lied to me.
Worse…you lied to yourselves.
Last fall, when I and others were writing about Mayor Frank Scott’s absolute disdain for transparency and his admitted violations of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, I mentioned repeatedly that his four years of saying “transparency” while being an active opponent of the same was more than enough reason (in my mind) for people not to vote him into a second term. In response, I noticed a lot of people saying some version of “while he might have struggled with transparency so far, I believe he will do better in a second term now that he realizes how important it is to people.”
I didn’t buy that at the time, because those people were talking about a hypothetical Frank Scott Jr. that admits when and where he was wrong about something and proactively changes course in a way that increases transparency even a bit. From what I have seen, that Frank Scott Jr. exists only in fever dreams and as one of the people not getting the $100 bill at the hypothetical four-way intersection that Banky draws for Holden in Chasing Amy.1
Oh sure, I hoped that the folks talking about a more transparent second term for the Scott Administration were right. Just like I hoped that the people who responded to the Think Rubix/LITfest stuff by saying that Scott would not continue to give sweetheart arrangements to buddies and loyalists were correct.
I regret to inform you that the people who said Scott’s second term would be better than his first were just as wrong as the rest of us expected them to be.
When we last encountered Little Rock city employee Derrick Rainey in these pages, he was all tangled up in another of Scott’s shady, back-room deals to benefit campaign donors. What we did not discuss at that time was that Rainey–who is nominally the city’s Assistant Purchasing Manager–was also running for Mayor of Wrightsville. Ultimately, Rainey won that mayoral election, and he was sworn in as the mayor of Wrightsville early this month.
Now, funny thing about being mayor, even in a small town of about 1,500 people: there is actual mayoral work that needs to be done from time to time. It is not–contrary to what Frank Scott Jr. seems to believe–a position that is just for ego stroking, photo ops, and admission to conferences that the public will pay for you to attend. Which means, unfortunately for Derrick Rainey, that it would be basically impossible to keep his full-time city job if he was going to actually do the job to which he was elected.
Early last week, however, a rumor started circulating that Frank Scott Jr. and his Chief of Staff Kendra Pruitt had agreed to let Derrick Rainey continue receiving full-time pay (he grosses roughly $3,000 every two weeks) for part-time work so that Rainey would have time/flexibility to also do his mayoral work during regular business hours. Knowing what we know about Frank Scott Jr.’s willingness to give his friends city money in exchange for minimal effort (see, e.g., Think Rubix), this seemed plausible.
Additionally, a look at Rainey’s Facebook page did show political/mayoral stuff being done during hours that the Little Rock Assistant Purchasing Manager should have been doing Assistant Purchasing Manager stuff.
So, like I said, the rumor about Rainey having his hours reduced seemed plausible on its face. And the fact that Frank Scott Jr. is the mayor made it similarly plausible that Rainey’s reduction in hours would not have a reduction in pay as well.
Even better, sources confirmed that all of this was in writing between Rainey and Scott/Pruitt. Meaning…
On Tuesday, January 24, at 2:40PM, I sent an AFOIA request to the City of Little Rock, requesting electronic copies of:
- All emails, texts, Asana communications or comments, or any other written communication (regardless of the medium) to or from Kendra Pruitt regarding Derrick Rainey;
- All emails, texts, Asana communications or comments, or any other written communication (regardless of the medium) to or from Frank Scott Jr. regarding Derrick Rainey;
- All emails, texts, Asana communications or comments, or any other written communication (regardless of the medium) to or from Derrick Rainey regarding his schedule, weekly hours, and/or pay;
- The entire personnel file for Derrick Rainey;
- All payroll records for Derrick Rainey, including time sheets.
As AFOIA requests go, this one was pretty straightforward. All of the requested records are undoubtedly public records subject to release under the AFOIA, there are definitely payroll records and an employee file, and I had confirmation that there was written communication about all of this as well.
It should have been simple to fulfill this request is my point. That’s doubly true if, as was the conventional wisdom in November, Mayor Scott really is going to be more transparent in his second term.
For whatever reason–chalk it up to continued incompetence or something more nefarious, because it almost has to be one of those–the city did not respond to my 1/24/23 AFOIA request on January 24, despite receiving it before 3PM on a day when the office was open until 5PM. (The first red flag that maybe Mayor Scott and Co. were not going to improve in 2023.)
On January 25, at 9:19AM, Little Rock city employee Monique Fields emailed, informing that they had received my request (duh) and that the city’s paralegal division was working on it. This last part was interesting, mainly because it’s insane that the city is so bad at AFOIA compliance that even a very straightforward request for emails and an employee file have to be routed through the city attorney’s office, rather than allowing the custodian of records to respond like the statute actually requires.
The whole response was also interesting for a slightly more abstract reason as well: the city’s initial responses to AFOIA requests continue to not comply with the AFOIA, since they do not provide the requested records or certify in writing that additional time is needed, which is what the statute actually requires. The city has even admitted in court that these responses do not comply with the AFOIA. Yet…that’s what they continue to do? Odd approach, but ok.
As I’ve noted many times in this blog, contrary to popular belief, the AFOIA does not give an agency a blanket three days to respond to AFOIA requests. The records must be provided–even if they are in storage or active use at the time of the request–as they are received by the custodian, with three business days being the outer limit of that acceptable time frame in most instances. Sometimes, that “you don’t actually have three days” things is worth fighting about; other times it is not. This was one of those situations where it didn’t feel worth arguing about.
So I waited. Assuming for the sake of argument that they had a full three days to provide the records, I should have received everything by Friday, January 27, at 2:40PM.
Care to hazard a guess as to what percentage of the requested records I received by that deadline?
Spoiler: Zero. Which is to say, despite the city’s having to pay me over $8,000 just a few months ago for playing games with AFOIA responses and not turning over responsive records, I received literally zero records or further communications from the city about this request by the January 27 deadline.
So, Friday afternoon, I filed a lawsuit against the city.
Because it was late Friday afternoon and I knew the new lawsuit would not post to the CourtConnect system until Monday morning, I sent the complaint to City Attorney Tom Carpenter, Mayor Scott, and the Little Rock Board of Directors on Friday evening, just so they would be aware of it.
I assumed at that point that the whole situation would not be able to get much more ridiculous, at least until Mayor Scott testified at a future court date.
By this point, I should know better than to underestimate this administration’s ability to take a bad situation and make it worse.
At 10:20 this morning, just a few minutes after I started writing this post, I received an email from Monique Fields re: the AFOIA request. In that email, Ms. Fields did not provide or reference Mr. Rainey’s personnel file. She referred to an attached document as being the fulfillment of my request for “all payroll records, including time sheets,” and we’ll come back to that festering pile of non-responsive garbage in just a minute. And, regarding the requests for emails and other written communications, she wrote that there were none.
Now, again, at the time that I made the AFOIA request, I was already aware of written records in existence that were responsive. There are only two possible ways that there could be no emails or other written communications, regardless of format, that were responsive to my request: 1. Someone (or multiple someones) are lying and did not turn them over. 2. The records were deleted after my request was made. Neither answer is good from the city’s perspective, but the second option is literally a crime, so I’ll leave it to them to choose which route they want to travel down as this case moves along.
As for that attached document that was supposed to fulfill my request for payroll records? I am starting to think that there are a LOT of people in Little Rock city government that have no understanding of the AFOIA whatsoever. The AFOIA and the cases and Attorney General opinions that have shaped how the law is applied have all been clear from the outset that the AFOIA does not require a custodian of records to create a document to answer a request. “The AFOIA applies to records, not to information,” is a common refrain that, more simply, just means that the AFOIA grants you access to existing public records, but it does not provide access to information that is not already written down somewhere. Literally anyone who deal with the AFOIA in any context should be aware of this.
Yet, rather than provide what I actually requested–Mr. Rainey’s actual payroll records, including copies of his time sheets–what I received was this non-responsive nonsense:
A document created by the payroll manager after my request was made is, by definition, not a document that the AFOIA covers. This is also not Mr. Rainey’s actual payroll records. Hell, even if this is the easiest way to provide the overview of the information, this production still lacks all documentation related to PTO requests. In a more honest administration, I might be willing to accept this in lieu of the actual underlying documents from which it was allegedly derived. But Frank Scott Jr.’s administration has done nothing whatsoever to deserve that kind of trusting acceptance.
Hell, just compare the “record” above with the screenshots of Rainey’s Facebook account. The document says that Rainey took 8 hours of PTO on January 6, but there are multiple other days just in those few images where he was obviously doing Wrightsville business during Little Rock business hours. So I have my doubts about an unsupported document that someone created solely to try to respond to an AFOIA request.
To Tom Carpenter’s credit, when I responded to Ms. Field’s email by pointing out that they had provided nothing and that her statement about there being no written communications was absurd considering there were written communications existing at the time that I submitted my request, Carpenter responded and directed the city’s IT department to try to recover anything that had been deleted. (Sounds familiar, huh?)
There was never a chance that Frank Scott Jr. was going to be more transparent in 2023 any beyond, just like there was never a chance that he was going to actually be transparent in his first four years. “Transparency” to Mayor Scott is a meaningless concept, like “intentionality” or “accountability” or “Kendra Pruitt as Chief of Staff,” that he uses as clothing to hide how naked the Emperor really is.
Maybe Frank Scott Jr. will eventually become more transparent and stop acting like complying with the AFOIA is an optional thing that only has to be done when the records don’t show how unequipped his administration is for any kind of scrutiny. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath waiting for that day, however.
I’m just glad I didn’t get fooled into voting for him based on that false hope.
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Not linking the scene because some of the language has not aged well.↩