Sunday, October 26, 2008

Benton County: Where the Sun Don't Shine

Just last week the Stephens Media Morning News endorsed Republican State Senator David Bisbee for Benton County Judge in no uncertain terms. "What's the point: Dave Bisbee's legislative experience has prepared him to be Benton County's next CEO. Dave Bisbee is the right choice for Benton County Judge, and it's not really close." The editors went on about "his realistic view of what county government can and ought to be" and his skills in "negotiation, compromise and communication."

Shortly thereafter, Bisbee pronounced his theory that quorum court member can meet one on one without violating the state Freedom of Information Act, and that he would encourage justices of the peace to meet privately if he's elected county judge. County Attorney Robin Green, who is supposed to advise the Judge and Quorum Court on FOIA matters, didn't wish to comment. UA Journalism Professor Katherine Shurlds disagrees with Bisbee's interpretation and says the only reason for elected officials to meet outside the public's view is to keep information from the public.

Justice of the Peace Marge Wolf, R-Rogers, likes Bisbee's plan for secret talks and said she thinks the media can get in the way of the discussions by committees, so thy should be able to have private meetings about public business. Bill Williams, the Democratic nominee for County Judge, disagreed and said justices of the peace may be uncomfortable presenting ideas in public because they don't want to look foolish, but that's not a good reason for holding private discussions. Private meetings create distrust and suspicion that ruin credibility, he said."We have one of the strongest sunshine laws in the United States. We should be proud of that."

Today, the Benton County Daily Record endorsed Bill Williams for County Judge, noting that he once had been a photojournalist with the Arkansas Gazette and was a public information officer for the City of Little Rock, praising his outstanding communication skills that included listening to the people. They did not need to mention his strong support for the Arkansas Freedom of Unformation Act and his commitment to doing public business in public view.

Of course, Benton County is heavily Republican, and those GOP voters will probably select developer Bisbee with never a second thought about his scheme to allow closed door meetings and secret discussions about their county government. If so, they deserve to get what they want. Real hard.

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