Video cameras and audit papers: Will legislature move to make them secret? | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Video cameras and audit papers: Will legislature move to make them secret?

Posted By on Sat, Nov 16, 2013 at 7:21 AM

THE UNBLINKING EYE: Will state Capitol security cameras that produce images such as this always be a public eye?
  • THE UNBLINKING EYE: Will state Capitol security cameras that produce images such as this always be a public eye?

A politico of reasonable honesty tells me that a concern of mine might be legitimate.

The political tempest that developed between Republican candidates for state treasurerDennis Milligan and Duncan Baird — never would have happened but for the many security cameras in the state Capitol, whose operation is under the authority of Secretary of State Mark Martin. Martin enjoys no exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act (though he frequently resists it.)

When Milligan heard a group of legislators including Baird made a late-night visit to the Capitol a few weeks ago and that a police officer had made a couple of insinuating remarks about the visitors, his campaign aide Jim Harris made a request for the police communications and the video. The video didn't show much. But Milligan has made much of a couple of remarks by a police sergeant and the issue has blown up, in part because Milligan baldly tried to push Baird out of the race.

I'll admit that my first interest in pursuing the story we broke was whether the secretary of state's office would release the relevant material. It did. The question now is whether that will always be the case.

Rumors say some legislators would like to put power over the video cameras in the Bureau of Legislative Research. Thus, a theory goes, the material could become part of the working papers of the legislature, which are exempt. No more fear of a potentially embarrassing moment being shared on what Milligan referred to as the "seven o'clock news."

Worse than this even is a companion possibility, which I fully expect to come to pass. This would be a Republican-led effort to close the working papers of the Legislative Audit Division. I and others have used the FOI to find some of the behind-the-scenes activities in some recent high-profile audits that had strong partisan overtones, including the special probe of former Treasurer Martha Shoffner. The Audit Division — its chief legal counsel an ardent Republican partisan of long standing, Frank Arey — has come up with all manner of excuses to refuse to provide information that should be open. Chuck Banks, Shoffner's attorney, defeated one such roadblock in court.

As I've written before, Audit has become a SWAT team for Republican co-chairs Bryan King and Kim Hammer, along with others. This was evident again last week when King ordered up an unnecessary special report on signups for the expansion of Medicaid under the private option. It's a time-waster at this juncture and based on no indication that anything is amiss. It's a witch hunt. King hopes the division he now runs will find some material he can use in his continuing battle to undo the Arkansas version of Obamacare. A partisan majority allowed him to go forward.

This same partisan majority would love to seal any background information, particularly including any encouragement from legislators to pursue various lines of inquiry. 

Look for an effort to block the sunshine at the first opportunity. Pay close attention to the places, such as special language subcommittee, where crafty gimmicks can produce terrible consequences.

Cockroaches hate bright lights.

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