Heifner faces misdemeanor charge in FOI complaint

Criminal summons

Staff report

Marilyn Heifner, executive director of the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission, is facing a class C misdemeanor charge for allegedly violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

A complaint by the Northwest Arkansas Times filed with the city prosecutor alleges Heifner denied reporter Joel Walsh access to a counteroffer regarding the lease and purchase of the Old Post Office building.

According to the complaint, Walsh specifically asked Heifner in late January whether she had received a revised lease agreement from building owner Ron Bumpass, a document Bumpass told the newspaper he had already delivered to Heifner.

From the complaint:

Ms. Heifner replied in the negative even though she had personally and knowingly taken receipt of a counteroffer regarding the property, thus denying Mr. Walsh access to the document under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Heifner eventually supplied Walsh with the document on Feb. 6 after he made a formal written request and later said she did not believe her initial actions were a violation of the law.

“I got the FOI request and turned it over immediately,” Heifner told the newspaper.

The newspaper filed its complaint on Feb. 9.

“There’s no such thing as an informal Freedom of Information Act request,” wrote the newspaper’s editors in the second of two articles calling for Heifner’s resignation or firing. “All requests for a public document are equal because the law makes no distinctions or graduations.”

According to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, citizens of the state may request access to public records “in person, by telephone, by mail, by facsimile transmission, by electronic mail, or by other electronic means.”

A third newspaper article, written by humor columnist Bob Caudle, joked that firing was not enough for Heifner. “Caned, publicly whipped or placed in stockades, maybe,” wrote Caudle. “But firing is letting Heifner off too easily.”

Caudle was obviously making a joke, but the newspaper’s editors were clear.

“She’s not fit for a position of public trust,” they wrote on Feb. 15.

The commission placed Heifner on paid leave during their regular February meeting while City Prosecutor Casey Jones investigated the matter.

A violation of the state’s information act carries a fine of up to $250, a 30-day jail sentence, or both.

According to the office of District Judge Rudy Moore Jr., no date has been set for Heifner’s arraignment.