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Two of my grandchildren attend Little Rock's Carver Magnet Elementary School. My daughter, Barbara Cockrell, was among the parents who attended meetings at the school early this year, after the PTA's president reported that a facility for probationers was to be located a few blocks away.
The parents wanted to know how many probationers would be assigned to the facility, what kind of activities would go on there, the general seriousness of the probationers' crimes, and if any sex offenders would be included.
In February, when answers to their questions were not forthcoming, Cockrell, a member of the PTA, submitted Freedom of Information requests to the director of Cycle Breakers Inc. seeking records on its operations.
Uncertain of the relationship between the corporation and Pulaski County's Fifth Division Circuit Court, she addressed a similar request to Judge Willard Proctor Jr.
The only response she received was from Pulaski County attorney, Karla Burnett, who informed her that that the county did not possess financial reports for Cycle Breakers Inc., any “centralized records” containing the numbers of probationers assigned to the program, or records that measured the program's success.
Cockrell persisted and was eventually told to contact Mark D. Leverett, the attorney for Cycle Breakers Inc. Leverett told her that he did not believe the corporation was subject to the state FOI law, but he said he would provide her with its most recent tax return. She said that was not enough.
When Leverett refused Cockrell's third request for Cycle Breaker Inc.'s records, including its application for tax-exempt status, Cockrell, who is not an attorney, decided to take the matter to court herself. June 29 was Cockrell's day in court. I stayed home with her children while she went to argue her case before Judge John Plegge.
Leverett began by saying that, after further consideration, Cycle Breakers had decided it would provide Cockrell with the records she requested. However, he said, some documents were not available because they had been taken for a legislative audit that was currently underway.
Plegge asked Cockrell if she accepted what Leverett offered. She told the judge no; that she also wanted an acknowledgment from Cycle Breakers Inc. that it was subject to the state's FOI laws, “so that if future records are requested, citizens would not need to pursue it in court.”
After noting that 99.4 percent of Cycle Breakers' money was public funds, Plegge ruled that the organization was subject to the FOI law and he instructed its attorney to produce the records.
Some of the information in the accompanying article on the relationship between Cycle Breakers Inc. and Judge Willard Proctor Jr.'s court is based on records Cockrell obtained as the result of her lawsuit. Those records also were obtained independently by the Arkansas Times.
Other information in the article is based on records obtained through a second FOI request to Cycle Breakers Inc. — this one filed by me. My request related specifically to the corporation's purchase of the building near Carver school.
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