Southeast Arkansas College Board Chairman Paul Bennett has vowed to comply with the Pine Bluff Commercial’s Freedom of Information Act request seeking access to applications of people who have applied to be college president. This development comes a day after Bennett said he would not release the applications.

The newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information Act request Wednesday to Bennett prior to his meeting with other college trustees.

“We do definitely intend to and want to and are going to comply with the FOIA request,” Bennett said. “We have three business days to comply with the FOIA which will put us on Monday [October 30] to provide them. I do not have possession of the documents. Do I have the means to control access to the documents? Yes. I will comply with the FOIA. My personal understanding is that we must provide those documents within three business days.”

SEARK College trustees interviewed about 13 candidates who applied to be the college president on Tuesday and Wednesday during closed-door executive session meetings. They took this action because Southeast Arkansas College President Stephen Hilterbran plans to retire on Dec. 31, 2017. Hilterbran earns about $181,863 per year. Asked if he was running interference for the candidates by not releasing the names, Bennett said he was not.

“I do not have [the applications] to give them to you,” Bennett said. “That is part of the reason we have three days to get the information together. I did not know [on Wednesday morning] off the top of my head what the act required.”

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.