Ecclesia College Named In FOIA Lawsuit

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SPRINGDALE (KFMS) — A lawsuit was filed on Thursday (Feb. 9) that lodged a complaint against Ecclesia College after it allegedly failed to provide documents related to funding supplied by state legislators.

Jim Parsons, chair of Benton County Chapter of Transparency In Government Group, filed the lawsuit on Thursday morning, according to a media release. Parsons said he intends to raise awareness about the need for non-profit organizations with an income of at least $200,000 annually to be subject to Freedom Of Information Act laws.

In the complaint, Parsons said the college has provided direct or indirect kickbacks to legislators as compensation for obtaining public funding for Ecclesia from the Arkansas General Public Fund.

Micah Neal, 42, of Springdale, pleaded guilty to one count of honest services fraud on Jan. 4, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice. Neal said between 2013 and 2015, he conspired with an Arkansas state senator to use their official positions to appropriate government money to certain nonprofits in exchange for bribes.

In the complaint, Parsons said that Ecclesia College did not respond to his FOIA requests for documents related to roughly $400,000 that Sen. Jon Woods and Rep. Micah Neal secured for the college. He said the college also refused to respond to any follow-up inquiries.

Parsons filed the lawsuit in the Washington County Circuit Court to demand that Ecclesia College follow FOIA laws since the college received money from the Arkansas General Public Fund.

“This Complaint is not about punishing Ecclesia College, any legislators or anyone else, this Complaint is filed to draw attention that non-profit organizations that are dealing with large sums of money may be scrutinized by some gadfly like me and this will put a damper on situations like this occurring again in the future,” Parsons said in the release. “After all, these controversies are not new to Arkansas and it is past time to do something to prevent this from ever happening again.”

Parsons also said that a state representative is expected to draft a bill proposing that non-profit organizations with an income of at least $200,000 annually be subject to FOIA laws.