City gets 'barrage' of FOIA requests

By David Showers
This article was published May 19, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

The city has provided close to 10,000 pages of documents since last month in response to records requests issued under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, city officials said earlier this week.

City Manager David Frasher told the Hot Springs Board of Directors that city staff has been busy responding to records requests submitted by a small group of people.

"We've had a barrage of FOIA requests," he said. "Over the past two weeks we received 15 requests which adds up to just under 10,000 pages. A large number of these are attributed to three or four individuals that make requests in a number of areas.

"The documents relative to these requests have placed some additional burden on our staff, so I appreciate the patience of the public in getting services from us during that period."

Assistant City Manager/City Clerk Lance Spicer said the city produced 9,700 pages of documents in response to the requests. He said the city has responded to and fulfilled all of the requests, save The Sentinel-Record's April 25 submission seeking bid information from Harris Corp. and Motorola Solutions' proposals for the city's radio improvement plan.

City Attorney Brian Albright said the proposals are exempt from FOIA laws, unlike sealed bids that become public information after they're opened.

Spicer, the city's custodian of records, said he didn't have an exact figure on the amount of time the city has spent answering the requests but noted that the volume of FOIA submissions since April is the heaviest he's seen. He said most of the information has been provided electronically, with the city charging a small fee for the computer discs on which it downloads the information.

"Whenever they request certain documents that are itemized instead of a budget document that can give you total dollars spent, that's where it really adds up as far as staff time," he said. "If you know what somebody's looking for and they tell you, you can meet that request pretty quickly, even if it is a lot of documents.

"But if it's a broad, vague request, you have to reach out to different departments and determine who has these records."

A list Spicer provided shows Loretta Elmore and Renee Westfall each had four submissions since April 17 that requested a broad range of information. Barbara Anable had three submissions May 1.

She sought itemized miscellaneous costs spent on city directors and "senior staff" that are in excess of their compensation packages and travel costs. She also requested itemized travel costs for directors and "senior staff," with costs for the annual trip to Washington, D.C., provided separately, and wanted to know who sponsors or contributes to the Washington, D.C., trip.

Former District 5 Director Rick Ramick and District 1 Director Suzanne Davidson went to the nation's capital last month as part of the D.C. Fly-In organized by The Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce. According to the city's 2017 budget, $9,500 was allocated for board expenses, which doesn't include a line item for travel. The $4,500 for food and food supplies is the largest expense category.

Anable also requested a list of city employees who receive more than $100,000 in annual compensation, which includes salary, benefits, cars, insurance, vacation and other "perks."

Westfall requested information on reimbursements paid to Frasher, Spicer, Albright and Deputy City Manager Bill Burrough and any reimbursement requests they submitted that were denied. She also asked for reimbursement sheets and receipts submitted by Frasher, Albright, Spicer and Burrough, and for information on any money paid to Ramick or on his behalf since August.

According to the budget, the city manager's office was allocated $10,000 for travel. The city attorney's office has a $2,000 travel budget, and the city clerk's office had $6,000 allocated for travel.

Westfall also requested information related to the city's purchase of the Majestic Hotel property.

Elmore requested the city's contracts with the Hot Springs Farmers & Artisans Market from 2012 to the current year and any related communications. She also asked for any communications between Parks and Trails Director Jean Wallace or other city employees with members of the Friends of the Farmers Market concerning herself and Scott Elmore.

Pamela DeYoung requested information on costs associated with the city's bus fleet. It was part of a wide-ranging submission that requested an itemization of expenses associated with the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts and an itemized report and on all paving, resurfacing, sidewalk, airport and air services expenses.

The list also included a request for traffic flow information and costs associated with the city's vehicle fleet.

Ellen Varhalla requested the 2012, 2015 and 2016 water chart, and Bob Driggers asked for the Lake Ouachita Reallocation Study.

Local on 05/19/2017
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