Southeast Arkansas College’s Board of Trustees are in violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by refusing a request to provide names of those who have applied for president.

The Pine Bluff Commercial submitted a Freedom of Information Act request Wednesday to SEARK College Board Chairman Paul Bennett seeking access to the applications. Bennett responded that the documents are not part of the public record and that they are not subject to the FOIA request.

The Arkansas statute governing the Freedom of Information Act states that “Records must be made available immediately unless in active use or storage, in which case they must be made available within three working days of the request. Reasonable access to public records and reasonable comforts and facilities for the full exercise of the right to inspect and copy those records shall not be denied to any citizen.”

Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, said there is no statute in the FOI law that prohibits the names of job applicants for public colleges from being released.

“While some of the candidates may not want their names associated with the job because of their current employment, the names can be released,” Larimer said.

If the names are not released, Larimer suggested that the Commercial contact Jefferson County prosecuting attorney S. Kyle Hunter.

“Perhaps a call from him could move things along,” Larimer said.

SEARK trustees interviewed about 13 candidates who applied to be the college president on Tuesday and Wednesday during closed-door executive session meetings. These developments come as Southeast Arkansas College President Stephen Hilterbran plans to retire on Dec. 31, 2017. Hilterbran earns about $181,863 per year.

The college began a search in the summer for Hilterbran’s successor by contracting with the Association of Community College Trustees to build a profile to attract candidates. The trustees met with Association of Community College Trustees Search Services Coordinator Julie Golder.

Prior to the meeting Wednesday, Bennett said the college received about 58 applications from people seeking to be president. Bennett said he expects to make a public announcement by the beginning of next week to disclose the names, photographs and biographies of the final candidates.

“We will be scheduling their times to visit the campus and they’ll be available to meet in a public forum and with the board for further interviews,” Bennett said.

Hilterbran is not taking part in the search for his predecessor. He said that no college employee has seen the applications or otherwise been able to access any database to learn the names of candidates.

“We are following whatever guidelines they tell us,” Hilterbran said, referring to the Association of Community College Trustees.

The trustees stop their conservation when a certain college employee enters the room to bring in foods and when another college employee enters the room to fix a technical problem, Hilterbran said. The trustees resume their conversation only when the other employees have left the room, Hilterbran said.