OPINION: Guest writer


Help get FOIA on November ballot

There's been a lot of talk lately about the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and most of it's been done by lawyers, lawmakers, and the press. I'm one of the talkers. And just like lawyers do, I've gotten so caught up in lawyering that I almost forgot I'm an Arkansan and a Momma first.

Earlier this month, two frustrated little boys demanded I put down my phone, and asked me why I was working on their spring break. (How do you explain the FOIA to 7- and 9-year-old boys?) So, I put down my phone, I took a deep breath, and refocused on why I joined Arkansas Citizens for Transparency to help draft the Arkansas Government Disclosure Amendment and Act of 2024. This was my answer:

So, you know how we elect the people in charge, and they make the rules for us? (Little heads shake yes.) Sometimes those people make mistakes. Now when someone makes a mistake, we don't get mad. Right? (Little heads shake no.) Mistakes are how we learn. (Little heads shake yes.) So, if the people in charge come to you and say, "I'm so sorry. I messed up. Can you help me fix this?" what do we do?

Little boys: We help them fix it!

But if the people in charge try to hide that mistake, and try to change the rules to keep you from finding out about other mistakes, what does that tell you about the people in charge?

And that opened the floodgates of wisdom from these two little boys.

The FOIA is not owned by lawyers, lawmakers, or the press. It is owned by the people. When a new development is being built near your home, you get to see the plans and requests because the FOIA tells the city it has to give them to you when you ask. When you call the local animal shelter to find out if the dog down the street has a bite history, the shelter gives you the reports because the FOIA tells it to give them to you. When you read about an upcoming school board meeting in the paper, that date has been published because the FOIA says the schools can't have secret meetings.

I am a native Arkansan, born in Pine Bluff, raised in Rogers, worked in Little Rock, and raising my family in Bentonville. The one thing I know to be true of all Arkansans, right and left, northwest to southeast, is that we like our government small and our people strong. We are the fourth branch of government in this state, and when the executive, legislative, and judicial branches fail to check and balance themselves, Arkansans will use our constitutional and statutory powers to remind the politicians who they work for.

The FOIA is how we know what our government is doing. It is how we hold politicians accountable, and we should do a whole lot more than question any politician who says that we should sacrifice our rights under the FOIA in the name of "efficiency." It is not efficient for an employee to do his job with no oversight from his boss.

The Arkansas Government Disclosure Amendment and Act of 2024 will guarantee your right to government transparency by putting it in the Constitution, and will protect the FOIA from those politicians that want to hide their mistakes. We need your help getting it on the ballot for you to make the choice.

Sign the petitions. Volunteer. Donate. arcitizens4transparency.org

Jennifer A. Waymack Standerfer is on the Ballot Question Committee for Arkansas Citizens for Transparency, and was the lead drafter of the two measures.

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