LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The city of Little Rock announced Aug. 8 that it was creating a new division to address public requests for information.
A statement from Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s office stated the city was forming a FOIA Division, and he had ordered “an overhaul of the City’s procedures regarding public requests for information” citing efforts to “promote transparency.”
“These changes will be implemented immediately,” Mayor Scott assured at a city board meeting Tuesday night. “I’ve been displeased with some recent actions that have taken place as it relates to the Freedom of Information Act within the City of Little Rock.”
“I’ve directed staff to eliminate some internal procedural steps that had unintentionally slowed the process of responding to requestors,” Scott continued. “Tools to help reduce staff time needed to gather and prepare documents resulting in faster responses to requestors.”
The newly formed division will be overseen by the city’s Chief Deputy City Attorney Alex Betton.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a 1967 law requiring requests to government officials for information to be responded to quickly, within three days of a request being made, and fully.
Recently the mayor’s office had come under fire for creating what was being called roadblocks to FOIA requests.
A Fox16 Investigates investigation last week found a community activist Jimmie Cavin was being delayed credit card information from Scott’s office after a FOIA request.
A July FOIA request by Fox16 Investigates for communication records from the city related to a 2021 fatal accident resulted in records being sent by the police department. The mayor’s office, however, stated it “has no records responsive to your request.”
“I came into office with a pledge to be accountable, clear and transparent. We’ve done that by making hundreds of city records readily available on our open data website and being accessible to the public through outreach programs and City Hall pop-ups. Even so, there are ways we can improve our FOIA procedures to expedite responses and improve communications with requestors,” Scott was quoted in the Aug. 8 announcement.
Included in the announcement was that the city had earlier purchased software to process FOIA requests faster but was facing delays in its implementation. The city also plans to hold FOIA refresher training for employees and streamline its response process by removing unnecessary steps.
“We take FOIA requests seriously, and it has always been our intention to reply to them completely and promptly,” Scott stated.
“As a lawyer, I’m very intuned with the FOIA process,” said At-Large City Director Antwan Phillips at Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m happy he saw issue and addressed it so hopefully we won’t have those issues moving forward.”
City Director Kathy Webb calls the mayor’s announcement welcoming, but something to monitor since the city must follow the law.
“I think we’ll be looking very carefully to make sure these new changes, which I hope we have in writing tomorrow, will take care of the problems we’ve been having,” Webb said.