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Video doesn't help Lessmann or county officials

Posted: June 7, 2014 - 10:24am

After two days of Freedom of Information Act requests and some back-and-forth over what cameras cover what and where, there is still no definitive resolution to the question of whether Marvin Lessmann was at the Faulkner County Courthouse at 4:29 p.m. to file his recount petition on May 22, the last day to file the petition.

Lessmann has claimed since May 22 that he was prevented from filing his recount petition because the county clerk’s office was closed and locked between one and two minutes before its official 4:30 closing time.

The Log Cabin presented County Attorney David Hogue with FOIA requests for cameras that cover courthouse entrances and exits. We received two discs with footage from May 22 from about 4 to 5 p.m.

One contains a fairly grainy view from an enclosed area at the back door of the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office (until recently used to take prisoners to and from court, when court was held at the courthouse, and is still used as a smoker’s lounge). This camera seems intended to cover the sheriff’s office door, but incidentally shows the south entrance to the courthouse.

It does show what could be county clerk office staff leaving from the south door, but this footage has no “time stamp,” and so it is our editorial opinion that it is of little evidentiary value in a controversy decided by the passage of one minute.

The other video shows the entrance at the annex on the west side of the courthouse that serves both Courtroom C and the sheriff’s office. Also, it captures anyone who would be using the west entrance to the courthouse itself.

There is a “time stamp” on this footage, but again the waters are muddied by the county’s claim that the “time stamp” is about 12 minutes off. Here’s what this camera showed on the day in question:

• At an indicated 3:52 p.m., Election Commission Chair Betty Pickett enters the courthouse through the west door.

• At an indicated 4:18 p.m., Pickett, County Clerk Melinda Reynolds and Election Commissioner Paul Foster leave together out the west door and walk out of frame. Adjusting for the 12-minute discrepancy, the three would be leaving at 4:30 sharp.

• At no point between 4 and 5 p.m. does Lessmann approach the west door of the courthouse.

The west door of the courthouse is commonly known as the back door. Lessmann told the Log Cabin Democrat that, “I got out of my car at 4:28; I walked up the steps at 4:29; I rattled the door; I tried the back door; I looked back down and my phone said 4:31.”

He said on Thursday that he meant these statements to mean that he entered the courthouse through the east (or front) door, and that the door he rattled was an interior door to the clerk’s office. The door he described as the back door, he said on Thursday, was another interior door opening into the clerk’s office.

The County Clerk’s office has given the Log Cabin Democrat a piece of paper with filemarks at 4:27, 4:29 and 4:30 on May 22 with the words “This was done on 5/22/14 for the purpose of anyone that wanted to file a petition for a recount. My office staff and two election commissioners [were] present at the time of closing” written on it.

Foster said on May 27 that he was personally waiting for Lessmann at 4:33. The cameras show him leaving at 4:30, but don’t show whether he stayed on the courthouse grounds.

There is a camera mounted on the west wall of the courthouse pointed at the front door and courthouse steps, and on Thursday the Log Cabin issued a FOIA request for this footage on the day and time in question.

Hogue responded on Friday that the sheriff’s office doesn’t get a video feed from this camera, that County Administrator Tom Anderson verified that monitors in the court bailiffs area don’t show a view from this camera, that county IT director Steve Wade doesn’t know anything about that camera, and that courthouse Maintenance Director Steve Wade understands that it was installed about four years ago, and doesn’t work anymore.

The issue is moot. The election commission did a recount in Lessmann’s race anyway, “to err on the side of caution,” as Pickett put it, and the results didn’t change after the recount. However, it was a claim by a candidate against an elected official and an appointed commission. We feel we have investigated it to our satisfaction.

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arkansasobserver 06/10/14 - 09:03 am
Who's on First???

So nobody really knows anything about the cameras, where they are located, whether the timestamp is right, or if they even still work. Someone should be embarrassed.

defyn'gravity 06/10/14 - 09:52 am
Character of Lessman

Again another example of lack of character and responsibility. Why wait to the last minute to do something that should be very important to the candidate, then throw up red flags that someone closed the doors on him etc. Nothing here points to the characteristics of a good leader

Marvin Lessmann
Marvin Lessmann 06/10/14 - 11:40 am
It's not about the time...

It’s not really about the time- and it never has been. I was not greatly concerned about filing at the clerk’s office because the law for recount seemed to be clear. The law seemed to say a filing could be made with the election commission up to at least 7:30 PM. Maybe we needed a test or a law change?

Basically a candidate has a right to file for a recount with the election commission within 2 days of the initial count, even if the candidate does not expect a change in the results. Remember, polls close at 7:30 PM on a Tuesday. Of course, the candidate has to offer and pay for the recount (which by procedure is really only a count of the summaries on tapes done by computers, not a count of the individual printed ballots--like we used to do).

So after I left the courthouse on May 22, 2014, I dropped a copy of the petition by the Log Cabin, then I had a notary line added to the petition, had it notarized by a bank employee on the east side of town at 4:50 PM (time noted), and filed it by email with an election commissioner at 5:07 PM.

No, it’s not really about what time it was at the courthouse (and that is what I told the press). It’s about the process. Why are so few voters voting? Why is the election “system” here in Faulkner County not better, so that we know who is running early in the process (sample ballots) and what issues the candidates are running on? Why are so many people not voting in one or more races at the polls (under votes)? Why do so many people respond to negative campaigns that lie and distort the truth, even if they are whispers in the dark? Why is there not a legal requirement to give the precinct by precinct results to a candidate before the filing deadline for a recount, especially when the law seems to indicate the recount should be petitioned for by precinct? Why so much apathy? Is the system causing the apathy? Maybe we just think someone else will take care of it for us?

How can we make our city, county, state, and nation better? Ever wonder why people you would like to see run for office don’t?

I have seen the official tapes of the cameras at the courthouse in response to my Freedom of Information request. No, it’s not about whether my watch was slow when I read it at 4:29 PM, or whether the official courthouse security camera recording the commissioners and county clerk leaving at 4:18 PM out the back door may have been 12 minutes slow. – It’s about the process. How do we improve it? Why can’t we stay positive?

Igor Rabinowitz
Igor Rabinowitz 06/11/14 - 08:20 am

Sir, I ask of you, sir, have you no sense of propriety?

Here we are, on teh Internets, discussion of political issues -- and, sir, doing so as on-the-whole anonymous commentators -- and you strike a conciliatory note? You ask for a forward reaching and encompassing view to the benefit of all, regardless of their politics or how funny their last post was?

Are you mad sir? You are not using teh Internets and commentary for its intended purpose of slurring and defaming (served on a steaming bed of LOL)? Sir this could lead to anarchy, sir, and anarchy's twisted sister: Politeness!

Madness! This is madness!

I beseech you sir, sir, you are beseeched, please, I beg of you, return to the drawing board at once! This acting as a level headed human hoping for the greatest good for the greatest number while negatively impacting the fewest, well, this could change everything! Everything sir!

commonsenseapproach 06/10/14 - 11:57 am
Another time dispute

The above posting by Mr. Lessmann shows 1:40 pm today.... It's only 12:57pm as I'm typing this!

Elmer Fudd
Elmer Fudd 06/10/14 - 12:05 pm

his post shows 12:40pm.

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