Saturday, March 27, 2010

CAT board's private-meeting habit supported by some legal opinions; however, one word "and" was left out of the 2010 contract with the city, appearing to weaken city's demand for full openness in board's processes

Please click on Skip Descant's highlighted byline to go to newspaper site and read full story.

Television Board Meeting Closed To Public

 — When the Fayetteville Community Access Television Board met in a retreat Saturday that was not open to the public, it did not violate Arkansas’ open meetings law, legal experts say.
“Independent contractors of the city (like CAT) are not statutorily required to comply with the Freedom of Information Act in relation to the ‘public meetings’ requirement,” wrote Kit Williams, Fayetteville city attorney, in a memo to Lindsley Smith, Fayetteville communication director.
Fayetteville Community Access Television has a $93,000 a year contract with the city to offer local access television. This amounts to the bulk of CAT’s budget, according to a review of the station’s financial documents, which are public records in compliance with FOIA.
Holding a closed-door retreat on the final day of National Sunshine Week did not go unnoticed. Sunshine Week is organized by journalists and others to shine light on Freedom of Information Act laws. Jim Bemis, a CAT producer, showed up at the Omni Center for Peace Justice and Ecology, the location of the retreat, camera in hand.
“What irony that the community’s public access channel is closed to public and media during Sunshine Week — which is intended to celebrate the Freedom of Information Act,” Bemis wrote in an e-mail Saturday.
,John E. Tull III, a Little Rock lawyer who serves as general counsel to the Arkansas Press Association, agreed with the city attorney’s opinion.
“I do not believe it (the retreat) violated FOIA, or that FOIA applied to the retreat,” Tull said Wednesday, via e-mail. “If all the board members were city employees or there were some other public connection my answer might be different. But the mere fact that most of its revenue is tied to the city, by itself, does not mean FOIA applies to all of its meetings in my opinion.”
A review of FOIA-related opinions by Arkansas Attorney General say private contractors doing business with government are subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
“Private entities are subject to the FOIA only if (1) they are ‘wholly or partially supported by’ public funds, and (2) their activities are intertwined with government,” reads a Nov. 2008 opinion in regards to whether the private company contracted to provide busing services for the Little Rock School District are subject to Arkansas’s open records law. Williams, Fayetteville’s city attorney, has repeatedly affirmed that CAT documents are part of the public record.
CAT board president Debra Leaf said no business was discussed or conducted on the retreat.
“It is a chance for us to get to know each other as fellow board members in order for us to be able to work together as a board,” Leaf said. Board members Marietta Camiellieri, Rose Sparrow, Dave Johnston, David Orr and Roger Henry attended the retreat. Board members David Young and Bruce Perry had prior commitments, Leaf said.
Bemis videotaped the first two hours of the retreat.
He intends to make the recording available to CAT to have the full board decide if it (Bemis’ recording) will be shown on the Fayetteville public access station.
“It was completely innocuous,” said Bemis on the nature of the meeting he witnessed.

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