Dr. Bill Ray Lewis
TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT GROUP (TIGG) OF BOONE COUNTY
It is vital in a democratic society that the public’s business be transacted in an open and transparent manner. Citizens in such a society have the right to be advised of the qualifications and performances of public officials and of the decisions made by those officials.
The mission of the Transparency in Government Group (TIGG) of Boone County is to ensure maximum transparency in governmental affairs involving taxpayer funds.
Members of TIGG of Boone County desire that County citizens are informed about their rights under Arkansas law and that they are willing to assert those rights, without apology, as well as being willing to encourage others to do the same.
The following pertinent items are indicative of some of the activities and issues addressed by members of the Transparency in Government Group (TIGG) of Boone County since its formation in December of 2010, in Harrison, Arkansas.
1. advised a staff member at the local Junior College who had been terminated for a Family Medical Leave Act related absence and helped her select an attorney who represented her in later litigation which resulted in her winning $360,500.00 from the College and her job back.
2. helped a lady in a nearby county win her pro se lawsuit against her respective water association board for the board’s refusal to provide her with the names of all of the association members. Her complaint resulted in the association expending nearly $9,000.00 on legal fees.
3. served to warn a large water association in another county that its board members needed to familiarize themselves with the mandates of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act of Arkansas (FOIA) or it could be sued for statute violations and quite possibly lose such litigation.
4. assisted a teacher in a nearby school district to win an out of court settlement after she was terminated for--among other frivolous charges--wearing “a see-through blouse” to school. The entire termination hearing was filmed by the TIGG chapter’s videographer.
5. served as a volunteer representative for an elementary teacher in a local school district who was being recommended for termination for texting a message about another district staff member. Texting was done off campus, on her own time and while utilizing her own cell phone. The teacher won an out of court settlement after the TIGG chapter advised her and assisted her in locating an out of the area attorney to file her complaint with the local circuit court.
6. utilized the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act statute while assisting a teacher/coach employed by a local school district win an almost $100,000.00 out of court settlement. The District superintendent had previously charged that the staff member had missed too many days of school during the respective school year. A member of the TIGG chapter filed an FOIA request with the superintendent asking for the number of days every district staff member had missed for that year. After first refusing to honor the FOIA request, the superintendent reluctantly responded and was forced to divulge that two other staff members had missed more days than had the teacher/coach. An out of the area attorney represented the plaintiff during the litigation process.
7. sponsored two workshops/study sessions dealing with “Church Rights” as they pertain to governmental direction and/or control of politically related activities conducted by houses of worship.
8. conducted eight public forums concerning the management and operation of the local incorporated non-profit hospital. The hospital originated as a County owned facility but was subsequently released by the County Quorum Court to a local non-profit Board of Trustees. The Board pays the County $25.00 per year to lease the original health care facility and grounds.
9. organized and conducted numerous FOIA workshops for the purpose of teaching the general public about the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and all of its benefits to the citizens of Arkansas.
10. four TIGG chapter members have filed an FOIA complaint against the local hospital for failure to produce documentation concerning the expenditure of State grant funds after being asked to do so per numerous FOIA requests.
11. held two public forums to allow in-depth discussions of the political and religious aspects of ISLAM.
12. represented a teacher/coach employed by a local school district who had been recommended for termination by the superintendent. The efforts of the staff member’s attorney and TIGG chapter members resulted in the school district’s board of education refusing to honor the major provision of the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate the individual. The teacher/coach continues to be productively employed as a district staff member.
13. assisted a school nurse being recommended for termination by the superintendent of a large school district in northwest Arkansas. After helping the staff member locate a suitable out of town attorney, TIGG chapter members attended the termination hearing, served as witnesses and provided resource materials concerning State statutes related to non-licensed educational employees. The nurse chose not to litigate further, and was promptly employedin a nearby municipality with a sizeable increase in salary. TIGG chapter members believe they had uncovered numerous violations of district policies and State statutes as they attempted to assist the healthcare worker. It is anticipated, that, by petition, the district’s board of education may be forced, in the future, to hear more discussions concerning termination hearings for employees.
14. until her death in a tragic flooding accident, helped a woman litigate her complaint against the local Housing Authority. After recommending to her an out of the area attorney--and after serving as a resource person to her, when feasible--it appeared to TIGG chapter members that she and her co-plaintiff were well on their way to become successful litigators when she and her husband were killed as their vehicle was suddenly and swiftly swept off a low water bridge inside the city limits of her residence.
15. served as a representative for a local school district counselor who was being mandated to pay back approximately $6,000.00 of her salary by the district’s superintendent. The TIGG chapter was able to convince the District’s Board of Education that the staff member’s grievance was grievable and that the assessed salary amount did not have to be paid.
16. filed several FOIA requests on behalf of a teacher/coach employed by a local school district for personnel leave records after the superintendent of schools refused to supply documentation concerning records related to sick leave, personal leave and professional leave, by name, for each district staff member.
17. after receiving notification that the County Quorum Court was making taxpayer dollars available to the local Chamber of Commerce, filed FOIA requests with both entities for a full accounting of the monies and for what they were expended.
18. discovered that approximately $140,000.00 of public dollars had been given to local school district staff members as pay for “unused vacation days” when such policy had not been approved by the District’s Board of Education, did not appear on the District’s salary schedule and such action had not been distributed to all District staff members as a personnel policy. TIGG chapter efforts resulted in the District’s procedure for such payout of funds being revamped and made in accordance with established State law.
19. divulged that the County Quorum Court--over a period of approximately 20 years--had expended almost 1.4 million dollars on nonpublic entities whose activities, evidently, were not related, in any way, to the legal mandates placed against the Count by State statutes. TIGG chapter members also discovered the fact that valid contracts had not been signed between the County and the various entities it had helped to fund with taxpayer dollars. The provisions of the State’s FOIA proved valuable during the data gathering process related to this chapter endeavor.
20. served as a resource to an elderly woman while encouraging her to involve the local County Sheriff and an attorney to finalize the eviction process of a step relative.
21. sponsored two public forums concerning the City of Harrison’s proposal to construct and operate a youth and adult recreation center for a cost of $50,000,000.00.
22. sponsored a public forum against a proposed “jail tax” designed for the construction of a new County jail. It was discovered by TIGG chapter members that the County was allowing prisoners from other County municipalities be housed, free of charge, in the County jail.
23. organized and sponsored three US Constitutional Workshops--one two-hour session per month--for approximately 8 months each. Designed to inform citizens of the important federal document, each workshop focused on the Declaration of Independence, the 7 Articles and the 27 Constitutional amendments.
24. recommended the names, telephone numbers and addresses of attorneys to many individuals seeking assistance and directions in their various litiginous efforts.
25. coordinated the scheduling of a public forum related to a local school district’s proposal to increase its school millage rate for the construction of new upper elementary and junior high facilities. The district also desired to construct additional facilities at the local high school.
26. advised a County resident as she sought to acquire legal guardianship of a step granddaughter. An out of town attorney was recommended to represent the individual during the litigation process.
27. supported the forwarding of an FOIA request to the local County judge. The request sought the types of surplus property and equipment which had been disposed of by the County for several previous years. The Freedom of Information Act request also asked for the amount of money obtained by the County for each piece of property and equipment.
28. discovered that tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been made available to the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce by the County of Boone and the City of Harrison for “economic development” activities. Although multiple FOIA requests, via Certified Mail, have been sent to the President/CEO of the Chamber, the County Judge and the Mayor of Harrison requesting how the thousands of dollars were actually expended--with proper receipts--such information was not lawfully forthcoming from the Chamber, County or City as per the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act mandate.
29. worked to encourage the Harrison City Council to vote “no” on a proposal advocating the creation of a “downtown entertainment district” within the “heart” of the City. Within the “district” citizens will be able to purchase an alcoholic drink, with some restrictions, and ultimately walk and shop freely within the “district” with the drink in hand. Essentially, approval of the “district” creates an “open carry” provision for those citizens who desire to purchase alcoholic drinks and consume such in, or outside, the business selling the drink.