March 30, 2012 by Jeff Winkler
WEST FORK — The Washington County prosecutor’s office has filed charges against two West Fork city officials for violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Kristie Drymon, City Treasurer, Water Department office manager and acting City Clerk, and Virgil Blackmon, the Water and Wasterwater Utilities Commission chair, face respective misdemeanor charges, said Deputy Prosecutor Denis Dean.
The county investigation and charges stem from a complaint made by the Washington County Observer. The complaint claims that the media and the public were not informed of an official Water Commission meeting on Jan. 11, 2012. According to the Arkansas FOIA, “the time and place of each regular meeting shall be furnished to anyone who request the information.” Because the Water Commission meetings are not held on the same day of each month, the Observer has a standing request to be notified before each meeting, which it was not.
In the course of its investigation, Washington County prosecutors determined Drymon to be the city official in violation of the FOIA law, said Dean.
The county also filed charges against Blackmon, who had refused to disclose specific details of what happened at that Jan. 11 Water Commission meeting. At the meeting, there was reportedly discussion of who might fill the commission’s nine-month-old vacancy. Blackmon told the Observer he wasn’t “comfortable” giving out the names discussed at the public meeting. According to the Arkansas FOIA, a citizen can request specific information generated at a public meeting — information that should be recorded in the official minutes.
Violating Arkansas FOIA is a class C misdemeanor. Drymon and Blackmon are scheduled for arraignment on April 17 at the Prairie Grove District Court.
“They can appear or wave their appearance,” Dean said. “Since it’s a misdemeanor they can elect to get an attorney or proceed on their own. And [they can] get in contact with our office to talk about possible resolutions for this matter.”
Dean said Drymon and Blackmon could face a $500 fine or up to 30 days in jail.