Former Arkansas Official: I Resigned After Being Told to Dodge Alt-Weekly’s FOIA Request

Teresa Belew, the former executive assistant to Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, says she quit after being told to delete a sensitive email rather than release it to the Arkansas Times under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The request for emails between Martin and staff members was made by Times editor on March 18, and Belew tendered her resignation April 6. The Times, using FOIA, has obtained her resignation letter and an email sent to Martin’s Chief Deputy Doug Matayo about the incident.

The email reads:

When I started the project, I soon realized that one of the emails addressed to Secretary Martin would be immediately controversial. I immediately reported this to Alice [Stewart, deputy secretary of public affairs]. I was told to delete a certain email (which I did not) I was told that the email would be shredded if it fell into the scope of the FOIA request. That same night I discussed this with AJ [Kelly, deputy secretary of elections, legal and business and commercial services] and was told not to delete anything but also not to worry because the most important thing was to delay the delivery of the FOIA until after budgets were approved.

Stewart says Belew was never told to delete any emails, though she claims Belew did ask about a calendar update and was told that it fell outside the scope of the Times‘ FOIA request.

“The only things that were not included were calendar updates and not emails,” Stewart tells the Arkansas News. “Her claim that anything inappropriate happened are completely inaccurate, because we followed the FOI law to the letter.”

In a followup blog post, Brantley says that regardless of law, Martin’s office is clearly too secretive:

Forget the rigamarole and legalities (though willfully violating the FOI is a misdemeanor). My experience in the FOI requests and Belew’s resignation letters are clear evidence of a reluctance on the part of the Martin office to share its inner workings with the public in the manner prescribed by law.

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