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Friday, March 3, 2017

Former Board and Faculty Member Sues Ecclesia College for Facts about the Government Money and How It Was Spent

Jim Parsons, former Viet Nam Green Beret,
is suing Ecclesia College to find out where the money went.

"FAYETTEVILLE -- A Freedom of Information lawsuit was filed Thursday against Ecclesia College seeking documents about state money the school received.Arkansas legislators gave nearly $700,000 of taxpayers' money to help the Springdale college buy almost 50 acres of land in Benton County."


Ecclesia's receipt of the grant money entered the spotlight after former state Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, pleaded guilty in federal court Jan. 4 to taking a pair of kickbacks worth $38,000 for helping two entities receive grants through the state's General Improvement Fund.
The lawsuit, filed in Washington County Circuit Court on behalf of Jim Parsons of Bella Vista, contends private organizations that receive public money, engage in activities that are of public interest, carry on work that is intertwined with that of a government body or receive grants to promote economic development are subject to the requirements of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
"The purpose of filing this lawsuit is not to get anyone punished, rather, it is to draw attention to the need for Arkansas to have a law that will make nonprofit organizations that have an annual gross income of over $200,000 to be subject to the provisions of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act," Parsons said in an emailed statement.
The complaint says Parsons first requested the documents via email Jan. 22. After receiving no response, he sent another request by certified mail Jan. 28 and the school "has failed or refused and continues to fail and refuse to produce such documents," the complaint says.
Attorney Travis Story emailed Joey McCutchen, an attorney from Fort Smith who filed the complaint for Parsons, on Monday denying the records request.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order Ecclesia to make the documents available.
John Tull, the attorney who represents the Arkansas Press Association in Freedom of Information matters, said he thinks the public should be entitled to see what Ecclesia did with the money.
"The complaint obviously identifies the most difficult issue for the plaintiffs which is whether or not it's intertwined with government bodies," Tull said. "The law is not clear on that issue, although on first blush I find it hard to believe that a private entity that receives General Improvement Funds is not a public entity at least for those funds and the related documents associated with those funds."
Parsons is chairman of the Benton County chapter of Transparency in Government Group. He said he is a former Ecclesia board member and faculty member.
McCutchen said he filed in Washington County Circuit Court because the corporate headquarters for Ecclesia is in Washington County.

Oren Paris III posed with Ted and Heidi Cruz.