Friday, November 16, 2012

Your secretary of state's office at work UPDATE

Posted By on Fri, Nov 16, 2012 at 6:52 AM

I've heard from a deaf voter in Fayetteville, Ava Adams, who's posted a long comment on Facebook about difficulties in voting and her unhappiness about subsequent dealings with Secretary of State Mark Martin's office. I know they think they've responded appropriately. I'm not at a point where I can evaluate the complaint or the office's response.

But I am a little surprised by this: It is the first time I can recall that a taxpayer-financed public employee — criticized over his response to a complaint about a public agency — has threatened to sue the complainant for defamation. He made the threat unless she removed her Facebook post about him. I'd say to the employee in question, Mark Myers, who makes $70,000 a year courtesy of taxpayers and who seems to carry a portfolio as Martin's chief political operator, including with sharp opinions regularly posted on social media like Twitter: Get a thicker skin.

The complainant says she's also heard from Asa Hutchinson as legal rep for Mark Martin. Whether his role is to help the woman with her complaint or to silence her is not yet clear. Will update.

I do know this much: pettiness is a hallmark of the secretary of state's office.

UPDATE: I called former Congressman Asa Hutchinson after several hours of failure to get a response from the secretary of state's office. He graciously came to the phone and said it was actually his son Asa who'd been engaged by the secretary of state. He said his son would be getting in touch with Adams to see what assistance they could offer in addressing her concerns.

Myers referred questions about using outside legal counsel to staff lawyer Martha Adcock and added in response to my question about any plans to sue: "With regards to me, what I intend to do personally is my personal business, but thank you for your concern."

I should jump off the subject to other points in my conversation with the elder Hutchinson. 1) He wanted to emphasize he was not "mad," a word I used in a caption reaching for a "Reefer Madness" allusion, in reporting his remarks about the conflict between the federal government and Colorado on marijuana legalization. He noted that he and President Obama share a position against drug legalization. 2) In response to my question about a race for governor, he said that, with the election now over, he guessed it was time to "look at it."

UPDATE II: Alex Reed of the secretary of state's office said they sought outside counsel (at a rate that has customarily been $200/hr.), despite having at least a couple of lawyers on staff, for several reasons:

We wanted to get Ms. Adams’ situation resolved quickly because time is of the essence. We understand Ms. Adams is a person with a hearing disability, so phone contact is not possible. She lives in Northwest Arkansas. We have used Mr. Hutchinson’s firm before, and have been very happy with the services they provide. Since their firm is in Northwest Arkansas, it makes sense geographically. They can facilitate a face to face meeting quicker than we can in Little Rock.

Sounds reasonable to me. Much more so than, say, threatening to sue someone.

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