Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan did not have a particularly good Friday the 13th. Early in the day, he reached a settlement agreement with the Arkansas Attorney General regarding the illegal hire of his cousin, which cost him nearly $8,000 ($1,000 fine and $6,941.62 in reimbursement for the salary his cousin received).
Slightly later in the day, we reported that Mr. Milligan had also broken state hiring laws when he hired Jana Clark, wife of State Senator Alan Clark, at a salary of $52,000 per year. State law prohibits the spouse of an elected constitutional officer — which, in that statute, includes legislators — during that elected official’s term without first getting the approval of the Joint Budget Committee and the Governor, neither of which Mr. Milligan did.
Not long after the BHR post went up, two people emailed to note that Jana Clark was not the only legislator’s spouse that Mr. Milligan had hired; also in the employ of the Treasurer’s office is Benny Speaks, husband of State Rep. Nelda Speaks (R-Mtn. Home). A quick check of the Transparency website confirmed this:
Mr. Speaks, like Mrs. Clark, is listed as a full-time employee making $52,000 per year. Speaks was hired on or about January 14, 2015. A quick review of the Joint Budget Committee minutes and documents shows no approval requested or received for this hire.
The lack of approval may have to do with the fact that Milligan’s office is claiming that Speaks and Clark are part time. They will try to “prove” as much early next week. Indeed, Speaks and Clark are flagged as “Extra Help” on the transparency website, and a spokesperson from Milligan’s office seems to be relying on that as proof of something. That raises a few issues/problems, however.
1. Speaks was listed among the initial hires of the Treasurer’s office, as reported by the Arkansas Blog on January 15. At the time of that hire, the Treasurer’s office had thirty-three full-time positions, as well as up to ten available slots for “extra help,” payable from a separate pool of appropriated funds.
Seven of those full-time slots were coded Q170U – Treasurer’s Assistant IV, which could pay up to $63,240 per year. There were four holdovers from the previous administration who were already in a Treasurer’s Assistant IV position, who we will just list by salary and hire date: $47,555.87 (10/2009); $46,920.43 (12/1997); $42,821.38 (8/2012); $39,999.86 (5/2014).
Meaning that the Treasurer’s Office had three remaining Assistant IV positions to fill. On January 14, they hired Lana Davis at $63,239.90 per year, Allison Johnson at $63,239.90, Benny Speaks at $52,000, and Ulrich M. “Rick” Meyer at $52,000, and all were placed in Assistant IV positions, with only Speaks and Meyer flagged as extra help.
Assuming Speaks and Meyer were actually needed for extra help — we’ll come back to that — (a) why would you pay these extra-help employees markedly more than you are paying full-time employees in the same classification with years of experience? (b) If the skill set provided by either of these “extra” employees is so valuable, why would you classify both of them as extra help when there was a full-time Assistant IV position available?
2. More importantly, Milligan’s spokesperson’s statement that Clark’s role as extra help exempts her from the requirements of the statute is asinine. Regardless of whether Speaks and Clark are flagged as “extra help” in the system, they are also coded as full-time employees, rather than as part-time help. If we are to believe that they are actually part time, why do their records not reflect this? Whether a person is extra help or part time are not mutually exclusive designations; being part time is reflected in the “Percentage of Time” field, not the “Flagged as Extra Help” field. See here, here, here, and here for a few examples.
Moreover, they are listed with full-time salaries that trigger the advanced-approval provisions of Ark. Code Ann. 21-1-402. The statute does not say that the prohibition only applies if the job is not an “extra help” position. It specifically exempts only those positions where “the person’s entry salary does not exceed” $45,064. On the face of the records, as submitted by the Treasurer’s Office, Jana Clark and and Benny Speaks have salaries of $52,000. Maybe, if the “Percentage of Time” field showed something less than 100, so that the hours shown for the position, multiplied by $52,000, was less than $45,064, these legislators’ spouses would have an argument for their positions being exempt under 21-1-407.[foot]Though, as someone just correctly pointed out over email, the hourly equivalent of the salary is the same regardless of whether someone works 20 hours or 40 hours per week; allowing someone to game the system by being paid, say, $90,127 (just under double the threshold) but only working 20 hours per week would still seem contrary to the spirit of the law.[/foot] But that’s not the case here, and simply marking those hires as “extra help” cannot be the determinative factor. Otherwise, the prohibition becomes worthless, and a simple checkmark is enough to give people a full-time job at a high salary that they would otherwise have to seek permission for.
3. An additional issue, though not directly related to the prohibition on hiring, is the fact that both Jana Clark and Benny Speaks have told multiple people that their jobs in the Treasurer’s Office are to function as “legislative liasons.” When the Governor wanted to create legislative liason positions for his office for this session, he correctly went to Joint Budget and asked them to approve the creation of those positions and support staff. He has five such liasons now, none of whom are salaried (though each can draw per diem during the session).
That’s right — the Governor, who has far more interest in what goes on throughout the legislative session, has legislative liasons who do not draw a salary. The Treasurer, who really has little need for legislative liasons and has not asked Joint Budget to actually create those positions for his office, has at least two who are listed with $52,000 salaries.
4. Then there’s this: none of the four people in Milligan’s office who are listed as “extra help” seem to have been hired because they are actually qualified for their purported jobs:
Clark and Speaks were obviously hired because Milligan wanted his (unnecessary, unapproved, overpaid) legislative liasons to be people who go home with legislators. Rick Meyer is an old running buddy of Milligan’s from Saline County, who was Milligan’s campaign treasurer[foot]If you need proof that this “extra help” thing is a fabrication, ask yourself this: Why would Milligan’s campaign treasurer get a temporary gig in the treasurer’s office after his candidate won? Is he not qualified for an actual ongoing, full-time role in the office?[/foot] and was part of the contingent that did some of the water-carrying for Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs. James Terry Steed is similarly a friend of Milligan’s from Saline County, whom Milligan convinced to run for County Assessor as a Democrat in 2012 so that there would be a Democratic primary, preventing Democrats from crossing over and voting against Milligan in the Republican primary. (Steed was even seen putting out Milligan signs near voting precincts prior to the primaries that year.)
Everyone realizes that some amount of this good-ol’-boy networking goes in when someone new takes over a constitutional office. If it were only Meyer and Steed, people might point out the Saline Co. ties, but it is doubtful that too much stink would be raised. Is it asking too much that Dennis Milligan just avoid outright violations of state law when he hires people?