Help us promote government transparency by signing petitions for the Arkansas Government Disclosure Amendment and Act

By srchronicle11 Mar14,2024

Tammy Curtis, Publisher

In America, we are seeing a trend of The People realizing the degree their rights are being compromised, or even trampled on, by any number of government entities from municipal to the national level. The number of people supporting Texas is a great example of enough is enough.  Here in Arkansas we have our own war waging, one many are unaware of, yet it has the potential to effect each and every Arkansan.

Unlike mainstream media who, in many cases, should wear sponsor pins on their suits like NASCAR drivers stickers, newspapers are the oldest and most respected form of media since at least 1441. Freedom of the Press granted in the First Amendment wasn’t created for social “media”, but to protect newspapers in their efforts to keep government transparent to the people who elect them and to whose taxpayer dollars fund their salaries.

 With the extra time to research and produce factual articles without a 30 second time limit to portray it to our readers, we take our job of informing our readers with the utmost seriousness. We have a stake in our communities as a locally owned newspaper. Your right to know is what drives us daily. That right to know has been stomped on one too many times and a group of like minded citizens decided it was time to take a stand and formed a bi-partisan group. 

They are now in the signature gathering process to get both an Amendment and Initiated Act on the November ballot.  The Government Disclosure Amendment and Act to protect and strengthen the states Freedom of Information Act and enshrine it within the state Constitution and prevent the ever growing attacks on the People’s right to know what their government is doing. 

Ask ourself as a local… How did you learn about the local SID lawsuits and repercussions to tax payers in Cherokee Village? Ozark Acres? How did you learn about the Highland School District’s mass exodus of long time educators and administration in 2016? How did you learn about the way courts and police are protecting our area or even when they aren’t? How did you learn about important issues, events and even elections that affect you and your children’s future? 

Some may have been from social media, but when you wanted to learn more than the brief snippet provided, it is safe to say, based on our continually growing subscriptions, you sought the truth only newspapers can provide for a deeper look. 

We are the chord that all news travels through to get to you. We do what we do to keep those you elect accountable to you. It is not a glorious or high paying job, but we do it because of our passion for truth for those who live and raise their children in this area.

When an elected official uses his seat to attempt to delegate laws that would effectively muddy what you, the reader and taxpayer are allowed to know about their tax payer funded activities, it is us who go to bat for you time and again. 

We have testified before the House of Representatives staunchly opposing last year’s aim at taking public records out of newspapers. When they attempted to be the wolf that guarded its own hen house we showed up in mass in Little Rock. We didn’t go on the taxpayer’s dollars with mileage and lunch paid like the representatives of county clerk’s and judges offices. We went on our own dime to explain the importance of this transparency to the public to those whose goal was to muddy it and we won the short battle.  But we knew it would only be a matter of time before another larger battle would rage, and it did.

Shortly following the victory came another attack on your right to know and the only tool we, as journalists have to protect you and make you aware of what government entities are doing… the Freedom of Information Act. This is the single most important piece of legislation that prevents government entities from self governance. It is easy to see why they would like it to be muddied. What usually happens in the dirt isn’t ever good, so why try?

It is our job to fight back again for you, our readers, to make sure you are aware what they are doing that affects you, your children’s education, your children’s health, anything related to you that the government hand touches. 

But we need your help and we need it bad. We need you, the public who elects these government entities to go one step further and after you put them in office, make sure they remain accountable to you. After all, it is your tax dollars that fund their offices. Please take time to review this proposed bill and subsequent lawsuit filed by a group of taxpayers just like you to demand continued government transparency. Be like Texas and stand up to the people who are supposed to be accountable to you and sign these petitions that will enshrine the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act into the state’s constitution. 

There are two parts, an Initiated Act and an amendment, both must pass to be on the November ballot. The Arkansas Governmental Transparency Amendment and an initiated act for transparency would bolster the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Unlike most government proposals, that end up on the ballot, this legislation was written by a diverse group of individuals that formed the Arkansas Citizens for Transparency. This is a bi-partisan group that says its directors hold some “fundamentally opposed political perspectives,” but hold a common interest in promoting an open government that serves it was intended.

The The proposed amendment would set government transparency as a fundamental right for Arkansas citizens.

The amendment would also place more obstacles in front of the Arkansas General Assembly to change the Arkansas FOIA. This as has been done many times in the past always backed by deep pocketed special interest groups like the County Judge’s Association, the Arkansas Municipal League,  Arkansas School Board Association and many others. They who have highly paid lobbyist working hard to not only draft, but pass legislation that benefits their organizations, most times more so than then people who put them in office 

The act and amendment, if passed, would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate for any proposed changes to the FOIA. It would not take effect until it went before the state’s voters through a statewide referendum. Any changes to the FOIA would require a nine-tenths General Assembly vote that could be overturned by a statewide referendum under the amendment.

The proposed initiated act makes changes  to state laws affecting the FOIA. 

• It would finally create a definition of a “public meeting,” something that currently does not exist in the act and is often a point of contention in legislation.

• It would create a state commission that’s job would be to assist citizens with their records requests

• It would allow courts the mechanism to issue civil penalties against government bodies that don’t comply with a records request.

Among statements in a cover letter from Arkansas Citizens for Transparency:

“We further believe that having an open and transparent government is a right, and rights belong in the constitution. For that reason, this group has come together—in spite of our varied, and in some cases fundamentally opposed political perspectives—to propose the Arkansas Government Transparency Amendment.

The group is working with newspapers and other agencies interesting in promoting government transparency and embodying into the State Constitution. They must collect at least 90,704 signatures by July 5, and reach the minimum signature amounts in at least 50 counties.

The Spring River Chronicle will have petitions at our Highland office next week. We will be collecting signatures of both the Sharp and Fulton County area. Once they arrive, we will post on  our newspaper, website and social media more information about the number required, requirements, times as well as opportunities for volunteer hours for students needing community service hours who are 18 years or older and other volunteer petition canvassing opportunities within Sharp and Fulton Counties.   

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