Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce’s clear indication yesterday he wouldn’t buy Legislative Audit’s excuse for keeping secret the working papers on the audit of former Treasurer Martha Shoffner’s office prompted the state to fold yesterday in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by her attorneys and agree to provide most of the documents sought
A routine audit grew into a special investigative audit, apparently at the instigation of Republican legislators who had legitimate questions about Shoffner’s steering of a big amount of state investment business to one particular broker. When audits are completed, working papers are supposed to be open. This report was presented early this year.
I’d written earlier about my own interest — and Legislative Audit’s stonewalling — in the genesis of this probe and the guidance given to audit by legislators in shaping the probe and presentation of the findings (which turned up no wrongdoing on the transactions, only continuing suspicion about favoritism and criticism of the investment decisions). Shoffner eventually came to grief later for taking money from the broker, wired by the FBI when he delivered a cash payment to her in a pie box.
I renewed ny FOI request this morning in light of yesterday’s court happenings. I got a prompt response from the devoted Republican and former Mike Huckabee aide, Frank Arey, who’s chief counsel for Legislative Audit. He now says he’ll respond to my FOI, on which he’d earlier issued a blanket denial on account of an ongoing “investigation.” That investigation was not by his agency, but by federal authorities, a spurious argument that Pierce indicated yesterday he intended to reject.
But …. Arey indicates he likely will keep secret any communication from legislators under a law exemption that allows legislative “drafting” requests and requests for “information” from legislators to be kept secret. He also said other “exemptions” might become apparent in review of records to respond to my request. No drafting or “information” requests are sought in my request. I’m looking for instructions and stage management, particularly the misleading visual presentation on investment returns put on the big TV screen at the audit show trial of Shoffner. Legislators may also release the agency from confidentiality, by the way. If Sen. Bryan King or Rep. Kim Hammer, the Republican co-chairs of the audit committee and orchestrators of this probe, are really interested in government transparency, they should have nothing to hide. They should open the books.