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Project '99
Charts / Data

FOIArkansas Project

The FOIArkansas Project included a six-part survey to determine how well government offices in Arkansas respond to freedom of information requests.


OFFICE SURVEYED: County jails.


REASON: Two newspapers had gone to court in Arkansas over access to jail logs — the list of people incarcerated. The FOIArkansas Project team wondered if sheriffs would abide by the ruling that gave access to the logs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

RESULT: Access to the documents was granted 46 times in the 75 initial visits, for a compliance rate of 61 percent.

OFFICE SURVEYED: School districts, one per county, selected at random.

DOCUMENT REQUESTED: Superintendent’s employment contract.

REASON: The project team considered asking for different documents, like minutes of the most recent school board meeting or employment contracts of coaches. However, the team decided that minutes might be too easy a request and coaches’ salaries might be too difficult, although both clearly fall within the definition of public documents.

RESULT: Surveyors were allowed to look at the requested document 54 times on initial visits, for a compliance rate of 72 percent.

OFFICE SURVEYED: County health units of the state Health Department.

DOCUMENT REQUESTED: The most recent restaurant inspection report.

REASON: The team wanted to test state government through offices located throughout the state rather than only in Little Rock, so it chose health departments because there is one located in each county. Restaurant inspection reports were chosen because they seemed to be documents of interest to the public.

RESULT: Access granted 38 times on initial visits, for a compliance rate of 51 percent.

OFFICE SURVEYED: A city of at least 1,500 population, one per county, selected at random.

DOCUMENT REQUESTED: State revenue reports.

REASON: Once it was decided to survey cities, determining which document to request became difficult because it had to be something common to every city. Reports on revenue from the state seemed to be the best fit.

RESULT: Of 75 cities, 65 gave access to surveyors, for a compliance rate of 87 percent.

OFFICE SURVEYED: County clerks.

DOCUMENT REQUESTED: County judge’s campaign contribution report from the most recent election.

REASON: In addition to a walk-in survey, the team wanted to try some different survey methods. It chose regular mail as one additional testing method, although the FOI Act does not specifically require compliance by mail. The campaign reports are required for each election cycle, even if candidates have no opponents, according to the state Ethics Commission.

RESULT: Counting all contribution reports sent back — general election, primary, and pre-election — the survey had 58 responses, for a rate of 77 percent.


OFFICE SURVEYED: Public universities.

DOCUMENT REQUESTED: A breakdown by race and gender of faculty and students, based on spring 1999 enrollment.

REASON: Electronic mail has become a popular communication tool. A state commission already is studying whether the FOI Act needs to be updated to include electronic media, the project team thought this would be a good first test.

RESULT: Only one university sent the information by return e-mail on the first attempt, for a rate of 8 percent.

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Arkansas News Bureau, the Log Cabin Democrat of Conway, the Pine Bluff Commercial, the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, The Jonesboro Sun and The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

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