Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has issued some advice to the new independent commission that is going to recommend pay for state elected officials, including judges and legislators (plus expenses for legislators).

He’s also designated a staff member to help the commission with any legal questions. A new constitutional amendment established the commission, which must make recommendations within roughly two months on pay for seven statewide officers, legislators and judges. In the first year of the commission, it has no limit on the size of pay raises it may recommend — if any. McDaniel’s letter said, in part:

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The Independent Citizens Commission is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. For your convenience, I’ve included a copy of a reference handbook on the Act.

According to the Act, if you communicate with other commissioners about commission business, even by telephone, you could be violating the open-meetings provision of the law. Your emails, texts and written communications about commission business may be subject to disclosure even if you’re using a personal account.

Complying with the Freedom of Information Act can prove challenging for members of newly formed commissions. The State Auditor, as per the amendment, will provide support staff to your commission. The Constitution, however, requires that the Attorney General represent all state boards, commissions and agencies.
Your communication with the Attorney General’s Office by telephone does not constitute a meeting of the commission and is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act as long as members communicate with their counsel individually. I recommend that you make contact with Mr. Robinson, if he hasn’t already spoken with you, at your earliest convenience.

I’m sure that the Secretary of State will make every effort to provide adequate meeting space at the Capitol, but the approaching legislative session may limit availability. Many boards and commissions use meeting space at the Attorney General’s Office because our facilities are sizable, meet security needs and are well-equipped for public meetings, private meetings and executive sessions.

McDaniel should send that passage about board communications to every member of every public board in Arkansas. It is routinely ignored and the law routinely violated. Just this week, an FOI request I made to the Lottery Commission showed one member essentially polling another member about a potential vote on a new vendor contract. Not supposed to happen in private.

The Little Rock City Board routinely hashes out its vote surreptitiously — see the outrageous sellout of Heights neighborhood zoning last Tuesday when the Board overrode a unanimous Planning Commission vote to allow a Regions Bank branch in an area zoned residential. The fix on that vote was in before any of the many comments made in opposition. Opponents wasted their breath.

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