As Gov. Mike Beebe’s administration comes to a close, I wondered about his leave-taking. A spokesman said the hard drives will not be destroyed.
Beebe leaves office Jan. 13. With him will go eight years of gubernatorial papers. They are headed for his alma mater, Arkansas State University, for archiving and eventual public access. Matt DeCample said the archive will primarily be a repository of gubernatorial papers, not all of the governor’s long public tenure, including stints as attorney general and state senator.
It is a shame of Arkansas law that most papers of a governor are inaccessible to the public during office and that’s there no law specifying preservation. Papers have typically gone to educational institutions, but under control of the outgoing governors as to what is transferred. The library in Little Rock is a repository for Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial papers. I’m still not sure if they’ve been fully indexed. Mike Huckabee gave his papers to Ouachita Baptist University, but no word has been forthcoming about access to those records.
Huckabee added a hotly controversial dimension to his departure from office when, on instructions of Chief of Staff Brenda Turner, the Department of Information Services not only wiped the hard drives of the office clean, it destroyed them. He used emergency money for the task and destroyed hard drives from the office, the hangar where the State Police airplane was kept and from the Governor’s Mansion. A lawsuit over the destruction and loss of public records was dismissed, but not before we learned that Turner had kept some copies of the records — perhaps for that OBU archive and inspection at some faraway time when Huckabee’s political life was relevant only to historians.
So what about hard drives of the Beebe administration? Said spokesman Matt DeCample:
Office computers from the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion will be returned to DIS, once archive materials have been saved. Standard procedures will then be followed to clear the computers for re-use or for Marketing & Redistribution.
Again, of course, though records will exist somewhere, it remains to be seen what will be available to the public and when.
The Arkansas law should allow more access to gubernatorial records, both in office and out. The Republican Party, you might remember, sued for access to Beebe documents about gubernatorial appointments, an effort I applauded. It dropped an appeal of a loss of the case at the circuit court level. A Republican is now headed to the governor’s office. Perhaps Asa Hutchinson will volunteer information about his appointment process. GOP Chair Doyle Webb, who sued Beebe over refusal to disclose records, could hardly object.