As Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had hoped, the state Human Services Department has given notice it will appeal Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s ruling that forced the agency to release previously withheld records of Rutledge’s record as a staff attorney in 2006-07 handling foster child and adoption cases.
The issue over the records themselves is moot. Rutledge and DHS have both released the documents sought (though some documents such as e-mails once in DHS files no longer exist.)
DHS was the defendant in the case, not Rutledge, but she had said she hoped the agency would appeal. She has objected she wasn’t told about critical notes added to her file — “do not rehire” and “gross misconduct” — after she quit without notice and refused to stay a few days longer to handle her pending cases. She left to work for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign.
Fox held the records should be released because the file indicated Rutledge had been terminated and thus her work record — mediocre and including disciplinary actions — was clearly open to review. She contends she resigned voluntarily. She says the decision sets a bad precedent for other employees who could be damaged by personnel file additions after the fact. Rutledge is a Republican as is the boss of DHS, Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He hired Cindy Gillespie, the lead defendant, as head of the agency.
The notice of appeal to the Court of Appeals doesn’t outline the coming legal argument or address why the appeal is being made given that the records have already been released. I’m seeking a comment on that.
UPDATE: The DHS response from spokesman Amy Webb:
According to the FOIA, job performance records such as evaluations “shall be open to public inspection only (emphasis added) upon final administrative resolution of any suspension or termination proceeding at which the records form a basis for the decision to suspend or terminate the employee and if there is a compelling public interest in their disclosure.”
Leslie Rutledge was not suspended or fired from DHS so disclosure was prohibited.
The appeal is for the thousands of public employees at state and local agencies who could be adversely affected by the ruling. Though transparency is very important, it also is important that supervisors are able to conduct honest and candid evaluations of an employee’s work without fear that minor issues that needed addressing will be aired for all to see.
Two fouled-up adoptions, late for court, mishandled witness, quitting without notice with pending caseload: Minor issues at DHS. Gives you some idea of standards there. Of
UPDATE: In using the word “minor,” Webb tells me she was referring “to the spirit of the public policy not about any particular case.”