Executive director Marilyn Heifner lied when asked if the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission had received a counter-offer in its bid to lease or buy the old post office in the town square.
She should resign. Failing that, the commission should fire her.
You see, the document Heifner possessed, but refused to release to a Northwest Arkansas Times reporter, was legally disclosable to the publicthrough the state’s Freedom of Information Act. She knew that, but instead of releasing the document as required by law, she said she didn’t have it. Then she claimed she’d “foundit on her desk.” Then she admitted she had it all along, but didn’t want it to become public.
Think about that for a moment: Heifner, a public official, didn’t want a legally public document to become public, so she pretended she didn’t have it.
How can she be trusted with other public business?
We do not call for her resignation hastily, lightly or in anger. Those who think we’re being harsh are invited to read the email exchange between Heifner and the reporter on our website at nwaonline.com.
Reading it won’t take long.
Lying is the only word that describes what Heifner did.
These were not confusing circumstances. This wasn’t a mistake. This wasn’t a lapse. And she only admitted to having the counter-offer after the reporter had confirmed it had been given to her.
We’ll get into the nuts, bolts and consequences of state law on withholding public documents another day. That shouldn’t have been necessary: Heifner has been a public official for years. She’s a former mayor of Fayetteville. In her years at the helm of the A&P Commission, she’s been responsible for keeping the city-appointed commission informed as it administers $2.3 million in tax revenue.
It’s beyond ludicrous for Heifner to assert after all these years in the public sector she didn’t realize a spoken or emailed request constitutes a legitimate and legal request for a public document.
Her purported interpretation of Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act flies in the face of the law, fundamental transparency in government and common sense.
The overarching issue facing the commission and the public it serves is Marilyn Heifner’s credibility is damaged, perhaps irreparably so. If she remains employed by the commission, its credibility will meet the same fate. The judicial system will determine whether she violated the law. The commission is the public’s representative in judging whether lying to hide information from the public is viewed as acceptable behavior in Fayetteville.
There are those who believe a government entity’s real estate negotiations are too sensitive to be subject to public scrutiny. Let’s consider the absurdity of that remark in light of this case. We should trust our public officials to get the best deal. This public official couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth when asked about a package lying on her desk, even when legally required to do so. Why would we trust such an agent with our dollars and our interests?
Opinion, Pages 12 on 02/12/2012