After a week of non-response, Huttig Mayor Tony Cole addressed a Freedom of Information request this morning, touching on his office’s stark lack of documentation, dirt work performed by a city employee, his frustration with what has been printed in the newspaper and a threat to expose one of its reporters’ supposed connections to the city.
The interview was one of few granted in several months since a multi-layer lawsuit was lodged against Cole in late November by former Huttig Police Chief Byron Sartor and was in response to a News-Times FOI request sent early last week.
Per the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, officials and record keepers have a three-day window to fulfill a request or face the possibility of misdemeanor charges. Cole, however, stated he was not aware the envelope — which also contained a returned tape of the March council meeting — held a FOI request.
City Clerk Becky Mathews said early Monday that she’s yet to receive instruction on a response to the FOI request, but added that Cole
opened put the sans tape envelope at on her desk.
Requested information involved a city employee, James Davis, who was hired to perform what amounts to dirt work for the city and stemmed from information provided via a private citizen who worried that Davis may have been directed to place gravel at and do bush-hog work on non-city land without compensation from the property owners.
Late last week, the News-Times contacted Prosecuting Attorney Robin Carroll for more information on how to force Cole to respond to the FOI request. Carroll was unavailable at the time and Cole has since answered several questions via a telephone interview.
“From the roadway up until people’s yards we have so much that we have to take care of,” Cole said. “The city owns so much of people’s properties from the center of the street line.”
Cole responded that Davis has done an extraordinary amount of work since his hire date under the mayor’s direction, however, added that the city doesn’t document how its workers spend their time on the city dollar.
“I don’t record what my workers work on,” he said, acknowledging that all city employees’ work is funded by city money. “He’s got the town much better, we’ve got compliments every day on what he’s done. The people in our community are satisfied with what he’s doing.”
Cole could not recall when Davis was hired.
He next addressed a number of News-Times stories that have printed without his comment.
“There’s a lot of messy stuff going on with the community and the newspaper, but I only have four or five people that did it,” he said. “What’s written ain’t the truth. You’re writing what people are telling you and I understand the freedom of the press and all that, but it’s not true. All you can write is what people are telling you.”
He added, “My job is not to talk to the press right now. I have a county action suit against me and the city and my job is not to talk to the paper because just like it’s been written, just because somebody say something don’t mean it’s the truth.”
Cole then denied sending a letter to the News-Times threatening to “expose everything about who [Allison Gatlin] is and how she is connected to this whole case,” only to recall the handwritten pledge with further prompting.
He declined to share what he plans to expose.
“I’ll just keep that until it’s time,” he said. “I just know what’s going on here. I understand you have a few messy folks that are helping you with this and if you have a question all you have to do is ask, our doors are open 24/7. The only thing the newspaper is doing is making them look bad, not me, because the people see what I’m doing.”