The First Annual ArkTIGG FOIA Symposium took place on Thursday, September 30, 2021, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Silver City V Room of the North Little Rock Riverfront Wyndham Hotel. Agenda
Videos of the Syposium can be viewed on the ArkTIGG YouTube channel.
First Annual FOIA Symposium Scheduled by the Arkansas Transparency in Government Group
The first annual Symposium of the Arkansas Transparency in Government Group is scheduled from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 30, in the Silver City V Room of the Riverfront Wyndham Hotel located at #2 Riverfront Place in North Little Rock. The entire Symposium, which is free to the general public, will focus up acquainting citizens of Arkansas with the State’s Freedom of Information Act statute. The statute was adopted by the Arkansas Legislature in 1967 and has been deemed “the people’s law” because its proper implementation guarantees citizen access to public meetings and the receipt of public documents generated by various governmental agencies and non-profit entities within the State. The law underscores the importance of open government throughout the entire State of Arkansas and ensures a needed measure of openness and transparency in all local, county and State endeavors. The Arkansas Transparency in Government Group was officially established on January 22, 2020, and is comprised of 5 local self-named and self-directed Transparency in Government Group chapters located in Bella Vista, Conway, Fort Smith, Harrison and Hot Springs. Each of the 5 local chapters has dedicated its membership activities to the better understanding of the State’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the ramifications of that special and important State statute as it may impact upon the lives of Arkansas citizens. As individuals become more aware of their local, county and State governments, the provisions and mandates of the FOIA can be valuable tools to assist citizen access to governmental and certain non-profit documents and their participation in meetings sponsored by those agencies and entities. The first annual Symposium will feature an array of knowledgeable speakers who are not only familiar with the State’s FOIA statute but who are also passionate about the importance of the purpose and intent of the law. Serving as moderator for the day-long Symposium will be Joey McCutchen, lead attorney for the McCutchen Sexton Napurano, The Law Firm, headquartered in Fort Smith. Joey is also chapter leader of the Western Arkansas Transparency in Government Group operating out of Fort Smith. He has successfully represented numerous clients who have filed requests for information as per the State’s FOIA and is passionate about the rights of citizens to be able to learn about the law and its application to governmental and non-profit agencies and entities. Beth Walker, Deputy Arkansas Attorney General, will be present during the Symposium to provide a thorough review of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Her remarks will focus on the “how’s and why’s” of the Act, and her presentation will be most helpful to individuals who desire to obtain more openness and transparency in their dealings with agencies and entities which expend taxpayer dollars. Probably no one in the State of Arkansas understands the mandates of the Arkansas FOIA as does Beth Walker.
Also representing the Attorney General’s Office is Ray Pierce. Serving as an Assistant Attorney General in the opinions section of the Attorney General’s Office, Ray’s presentation during the Symposium will focus upon the availability of various AG Opinions as they may relate to any aspect of the State’s Freedom of Information Act. The opinions section of the AG’s office has a database of thousands of AG opinions which may be accessed by any Arkansas citizen for review. Knowledge and review of such opinions continue to be helpful to many individuals as they seek more openness and transparency in various State entities and agencies. Ray’s remarks will provide Arkansas citizens with the knowledge, protocol and procedure for accessing various AG opinions. Two candidates for the position of Arkansas Attorney General have accepted invitations to speak during the Symposium, and it is anticipated that their remarks will indicate their strong individual support for the State’s FOIA. Both Leon Jones and Jesse Gibson will address Symposium attendees immediately following the first “break” in the meeting’s Agenda at 10:45 a.m.
The Symposium Agenda will also feature three members of the FOIA Coalition--Sonny Albarado, Kristin Higgins and Frank Fellone--who will discuss the Coalition’s mission related to the State’s Freedom of Information Act. Members of the Coalition serve voluntarily and are strong advocates of the important transparency statute. They serve in watchcare capacities to help ensure that the FOIA is not needlessly altered, “watered down” and/or changed in order to reduce citizen access to public meetings and the timely review of public documents. Representing the State Freedom of Information Task Force during the Symposium will be Wes Brown, Neil Gladner and John Tull. The Task Force, first authorized by the 91st General Assembly of the 2017 Arkansas Legislature, has been given the responsibility of evaluating all proposals being promoted by various members of the State Legislature which, if adopted, would affect, in some way, the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Acting primarily during respective Legislative sessions, members of the Task Force report their collective recommendations concerning any proposal from a Senator or Representative to the full Legislative body. Although the Task Force was given no legal authority, its recommendations to the full Legislature concerning proposed enactments are given a “do pass”, “do not pass” or “recommend revisions” designations. Before assigning such a designation, the Task Force invites those Senators and/or Representatives who are sponsoring Legislative proposals to appear before Task Force membership for the purpose of defending their respective points of view and answering pertinent questions from Task Force members concerning their proposals. Immediately after lunch, Symposium attendees will hear from Joey McCutchen, meeting moderator, concerning the need for future legislation to retain, strengthen and protect the Arkansas Freedom of Information statute. Following Joey’s presentation, State Senator Dan Sullivan, from District 53 at Jonesboro, and State Representative Vivian Flowers, from District 17 at Pine Bluff, will discuss their respective views concerning the importance of the State’s FOIA statute. Rusty Turner, managing editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will discuss, via a Zoom call, the “Media and FOIA”. His remarks will focus upon how the media can assist Arkansas citizens to a better understanding of the FOIA, the provisions of the FOIA and its utilization to ensure more openness and transparency in those agencies and entities expending public monies. Attorneys throughout Arkansas will have the opportunity to obtain one hour of CLE credit by their attendance during a 60-minute presentation by Robert Steinbuch, professor of law at the Bowen School of Law in Little Rock. Titled “FOIA Today”, Robert’s presentation will appeal to attorneys desiring to obtain a better understanding of the State’s FOIA, its use, ramifications and benefits. Robert is known throughout the State for his knowledge and passion concerning FOIA issues, and has co-authored the treatise titled “The ArkansasFreedom of Information Act” which continues to serve as the “bible” for those desiring to learn more about the FOIA statute. Several copies of the well-written and documented book will be available during the Symposium for sale by Group officials. Copies of the “The Arkansas Freedom of Information Handbook”, edited and printed by the Attorney General’s staff and others will be distributed free to each Symposium attendee. The Handbook is a valuable resource for any Arkansas citizen interested in open records, open meetings and open government. Daniel Shue, well-known Prosecuting Attorney from the 12th Judicial District in Fort Smith, will discuss “A Prosecutor’s view of FOIA” during the Symposium, and his remarks will focus upon the protocol followed when individuals, agencies or entities subject to FOIA mandates fail to abide by the law. Daniel is passionate about the FOIA statute being implemented, and his remarks will be beneficial to Symposium attendees interested in learning the operation of a prosecutor’s office when such law is being abused. Symposium attendees will be given a brief review of what each of the Group’s 5 chapters are doing, and a Question and Answer session will be led by Bob Gregory, the leader of the Conway chapter. The website of the Symposium host, The Arkansas Transparency in Government Group, may be accessed at ArkTIGG.com, and that website will be reviewed by Russell Thomas, leader of the Hot Springs chapter. Closing comments will be made by George Prichett, a member of the Hot Springs chapter, and Symposium participants will have an opportunity to mix and mingle with Symposium hosts after the meeting is adjourned. Individuals desiring to initiate a new TIGG chapter under the umbrella of the Arkansas Transparently in Government Group are encouraged to voice their desires at that time. Officials of the Arkansas Transparency in Government Group have announced that its First Annual FOIA Symposium will be live-streamed, in its entirety, on the Group’s website at www.ArkTIGG.com. Interested individuals may also access the Symposium Agenda which contains a list of speakers, and their topics, by accessing the same website and clicking on the appropriate link. For more information, please contact:
Dr. Bill Ray Lewis 3903 Lewis Lane Harrison, AR 72601 870/741-1269 (h) 870/365-6990 (c) firstname.lastname@example.org