GOP director sues Beebe to gain info on prospective appointees

LITTLE ROCK — The executive director of the Republican Party of Arkansas asked a judge Monday to force Gov. Mike Beebe to hand over documents his office received from individuals seeking appointments to state boards and commissions.

Megan Tollett filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court contending Beebe violated the state Freedom of Information Act by denying her request for any and all documents or records in his possession received from persons seeking appointments since Jan. 1, 2012.

The governor’s office maintained the documents sought were unpublished memoranda, working papers and correspondence which are exempt from the state FOI law. Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor would fight the lawsuit, represented by the state attorney general’s office.

“As a practice, separate from this case, we do not release such documents to anyone under the working papers exemption, regardless of their political stripes,” he said.

The lawsuit was filed after Beebe’s office failed to respond to a letter from Tollett’s lawyer questioning the reason for denying the FOI request.

In a statement released through her lawyer, Tollett said she was attempting to follow up on an apparent connection between a member of Beebe’s staff responsible for appointments to state board and commissions and the fundraising staffs of two Democratic candidates.

“After careful examination of campaign finance reports, we felt that this action was warranted to further determine if such a nexus existed and to ensure that business was being conducted in an open and public manner by the governor,” she said.

Beebe’s appointment director, Mica Strother, also works as a part-time fundraising consultant for both U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor’s re-election campaign and former Congressman Mike Ross’ gubernatorial campaign.

“There’s never been any connection between the two. All you have are insinuations by people with very clear political motivations,” DeCample said. “But there’s no truth to them.”

The FOI law requires that all public records be open for public inspection unless otherwise specifically provided. The lawsuit contends the governor’s exception claim is without merit. Documents generated by outside parties seeking gubernatorial appointments and sent to the governor cannot be his preliminary drafts, working papers or memoranda and are not covered by the exception, according to the suit.

The suit seeks a hearing within seven days of the filing, a declaration from Circuit Judge Mary McGowan that the governor failed to comply with the FOI law and a court order directing Beebe to provide the requested documents within seven days of the order.

It also seeks costs and other considerations.

DeCample said Beebe has made more than 4,700 appointments during his nearly seven years in office.

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican, has also been targeted by an FOI lawsuit. In October, lawyer and liberal blogger Matt Campbell filed a suit in Pulaski County Circuit Court alleging that Darr did not adequately comply with a request for billing and usage records on all phones assigned to his office.