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Transparency wins

'Undisputed' violation by Mike Masterson | June 18, 2017 at 1:50 a.m.

Score a significant victory for the Fort Smith law firm that's been fighting one battle after another to ensure and preserve freedom of information and transparency in that community.

I've written some lately about attorney Joey McCutchen and his law partner Chip Sexton in their lawsuits involving the Fort Smith School Board alleging Freedom of Information Act violations by holding what amounted to business sessions by email exchanges over several days. During those electronic back-and-forths members discussed who would be best to fill their slate of officers for the coming year.

Circuit Judge Stephen Tabor in his order the other day found it was undisputed fact that the board unintentionally conducted what amounted to an extended meeting, all without legally required notice to the public.

Then the judge permanently enjoined the board from repeat performances.

I'm proud of McCutchen and Sexton for taking a stand to defend the Freedom of Information Act and what is clearly the right thing. If only all were so committed to important causes that affect all of us.

And they did it all without expectation of personal aggrandizement or enrichment. Although McCutchen is within his rights now to seek legal fees connected with this months-long battle, he was forgoing that option as long as the board agreed to accept the decision without appeal.

Up in Fayetteville, McCutchen and company continue to use the Freedom of Information Act in an attempt to review relevant financial records maintained by Springdale's beleaguered Ecclesia College. Just how has that tiny college been spending the public money it's received courtesy of our elected lawmakers?

But the private college's attorneys say they won't permit a review because those records supposedly have been sealed in a protective order by a federal court in the ongoing public corruption criminal case against a former state legislator, a business consultant and Ecclesia's president, Oren Paris III. The other former legislator entangled in the case pleaded guilty in January.

However, McCutchen, who represents former Ecclesia board member Jim Parsons of Bella Vista in this quest, is asking Circuit Judge John Threet to find the federal court's sealing of financial information doesn't involve the college as such, only the individual defendants' roles in securing the money.

So the college (or church as it's now suddenly calling itself) financial records, especially those in place before U.S. District Judge Tim Brooks issued his protective order, should be available for inspection since it received about $700,000 in tax monies through General Improvement Funds grants.

And even those awards could be legally challenged if Ecclesia "College" has indeed considered itself a private church all along, since churches aren't legally entitled to taxpayer funds.

Whew! A man gets plum tuckered out trying to 'splain all this.

Anyway, knowing Judge Threet, the former Washington County prosecutor, the way I do, I'll be surprised if he doesn't allow for the records to be inspected in the public interest, even if only in his chambers.

After all, Ecclesia received all those tax dollars thanks in large part to at least two former elected legislators, and supposedly to enlarge the campus on that work-study Christian college with only 209 students and seven athletic teams.

Shake, rattle . . .

What was that rumbling? A freight train? No trains 'round these parts. Thunder? Sky's clear.

Turned out it was the first of what would become seven small earthquakes that struck not far from Bull Shoals Lake in Boone County (Harrison) the other day.

The largest, registering magnitude 3.6, shook windows about 7:40 a.m. The remaining six steadily diminished to about 1.4 by 4:30 p.m. Then another registering just over magnitude 2 struck the same area four days later.

In the month previous, some 185 quakes registering 2.5 had been recorded across the country. The good folks of Marshall had their own registering magnitude 2.4 on May 14.

Here at the house, the only thing I noticed was a shotgun that had been leaning against one closet wall for months inexplicably slid to the floor. I suspected a ghost until I heard about the quake.

Good will equals value

I once sold an item I believed was worth at least $100 for $12. Turned out its actual value was only what someone else was willing to pay for it.

A veteran publisher once told me something that resonates deeply within me as a career journalist who's worked as both an editor and reporter at eight newspapers enormous and small.

He said, "the good will a paper generates within the community it serves represents 80 percent of its value."

Building and maintaining good will in any community is a continuous and ever fluctuating task. Over the years I've come to understand just how true that is. To good will I'd add that its value also lies in the fundamental key to every positive relationship: Earned respect.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at [email protected]

Editorial on 06/18/2017

Print Headline: Transparency wins


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