Leader Blues

Sunday, July 01, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Release all emails now

Here’s a surprise: The Arkansas Supreme Court has temporarily put on hold a lower court decision ordering Pulaski County to release potentially embarrassing emails from a former employee accused of stealing public funds and romancing a woman who works for a vendor that does business with the county.

Before issuing a ruling, the justices want more details about the case, especially how the state’s Freedom of Information Act might or might not include private emails to and from county employees using public computers.

Pulaski Circuit Judge Mary Ann McGowan had it right when she first ruled on this case last week: She said the freedom of information law means what it says about letting the public see public records and that it applies to the county government.

It didn’t take Judge McGowan long to rule that the county did not have a leg to stand on when it refused to allow access to the emails of the county comptroller that were written while he was sitting at his government desk working on his government computer and the taxpayers were paying him.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette had sued to get access to the emails after the former comptroller was arrested and charged with fraud in the misuse of county funds.

A few, or many, of the emails seemed to be correspondence with a woman with whom Ron Quillin, the former comptroller and director of administrative services for the county, was doing business. The two apparently had become lovers as well while they were doing the taxpayers’ business, and the email exchanges had gotten steamy. The county attorney said some were too graphic and too personal for a reporter to see. It turns out that Quillin also was trying to get the county attorney a state government job.

The Freedom of Information Act does not exempt material of a sexual nature from public access. We have had occasion in our suburban community, notably in Lonoke, to see how sex and the conduct of the public’s business can collide.

County Judge F. G. “Buddy” Villines ought to order the release of every shred of record connected with Quillin’s work instead of filing appeals of a ruling that he has little chance of overturning when the high court weighs all the facts.

Villines will not budge till the Supreme Court tells him to release all the emails. Here’s hoping the justices act quickly and side with the public’s right to know what goes on behind closed doors in public buildings.