Circuit Judge Mary McGowan this week rejected the Arkansas Republican Party’s efforts to see Gov. Mike Beebe’s records on appointments to state boards and commission. She cited a past Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that protected working papers of the attorney general and said a balancing test was necessary to protect the privacy of people who might apply for state positions.
It comports with opinions issued over the years by the attorney general’s office.
I’m not prepared to argue with the decision on legal grounds. But I’m sorry about it.
Nobody has argued longer than I about the sweeping secrecy afforded the executive branch under the “working papers” exception to the Freedom of Information Act. In practice in Arkansas, it’s nearly absolute. That’s not the case in many other states. It has been abused routinely by every governor since I arrived in Arkansas in 1973. All have been guilty of hiding behind it, but probably none was worse than Republican Mike Huckabee. Think what a treasure trove his records on clemency decisions and appointments and computer destruction and press relations might have produced.
We need more sunshine, not less. For the governor’s records. For the attorney general’s. For legislators’. Every judicial decision that runs counter to openness is regrettable, even if legally justified by precedent. Even if in turning down a Republican Party that cares more about witch hunts — see its unrelenting attack on a Democratic candidate’s four-year-old son’s school choice — than about sound policy.
Here’s an idea for the Republican legislative majority and it would test their sincerity about sunshine. Let’s amend the FOI to allow a reasonable means of access to the decision-making process (as reflected in correspondence and other records) of all branches of government, including legislators.