Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. announced today that Chief Deputy City Attorney Alex Betton will lead the newly aligned FOIA Division as his office continues to improve its efforts to promote transparency. The mayor also ordered an overhaul of the City’s procedures regarding public requests for information.
The announcement comes following criticism of Mayor Scott over the current process, with some requesters experiencing delays in receiving information requested through FOIA.
“I came into office with a pledge to be accountable, clear and transparent. We’ve done that by making hundreds of city records readily available on our open data website and being accessible to the public through outreach programs and City Hall pop-ups,” Mayor Scott said. “Even so, there are ways we can improve our FOIA procedures to expedite responses and improve communications with requestors.
According to Mayor Scott, website updates will go live this week on the LittleRock.gov homepage showing what FOIA requests have been received to date in 2022 and whether any are still outstanding. The homepage will also be updated with a web form and link to directly submit a request or contact the City’s FOIA coordinator. The City plans to post frequently requested records online for public access.
To prevent delays caused by staff or unintentionally obstructive procedures, department heads will undergo FOIA refresher training in the coming days, and staff have been directed to eliminate some internal steps that had previously exacerbated wait times. Mayor Scott has empowered the FOIA Coordinator to discuss foreseeable delays with requestors, especially for more complex or broad requests.
“We take FOIA requests seriously, and it has always been our intention to reply to them completely and promptly,” Mayor Scott said. “I believe these changes will result in a much-improved process, and we will look for additional ways to improve how we respond to FOIA requests as needed.”
Earlier this year, Mayor Scott approved the purchase of a new software called NextRequest to process FOIA requests more efficiently and effectively, but HR has faced delays in its implementation. Using the software, FOIA requestors will be able to access documents with a secure log-in, which is especially helpful when dealing with large attachments that exceed an email account’s size limits. Chief Deputy Betton will oversee the implementation of the NextRequest software by Sept. 1.
More information about the updated FOIA process and improvements can be found on the Little Rock city website.