Thursday, September 15, 2016

Merry Christmas from the First Family: Still smelling rats

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2016 at 10:04 AM

NEW FINERY: Christmas decoration purchases, including some from Mansion commissioner Stacy Hurst's business, are among new additions in the Hutchinson era at the state executive mansion.
  • NEW FINERY: Christmas decoration purchases, including some from Mansion commissioner Stacy Hurst's business, are among new additions in the Hutchinson era at the state executive mansion.

The Governor's Mansion Commission met yesterday and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that First Lady Susan Hutchinson wants to spend still more on the governor's office in the mansion and also that the commission signed off on doing business with Commission member Stacy Hurst's Tipton & Hurst flower and gift shop.

Some points:

* RAT SNIFF TEST:  Some $62,000 in state funds had already been allocated for the governor's mansion office because of damage Mrs. Hutchinson had said been caused by rats. It wasn't enough, she said. There's still a stench. The office will have to be ripped out.

Question: How much will the new work cost? Will it be an opportunity to include new features and refinements?

Also: Could we get an independent sniff test? A herd of fat rats once invaded my basement crawl space. We exterminated them and replaced some insulation. Within a very short time, the smell was gone. I confess I still imagine them around every time I step into the area.

* SELF-DEALING: The Commission approved purchases by the Governor's Mansion Association — supported by events at and contributions to the mansion — of Christmas decorations from Tipton & Hurst. Stacy Hurst, the Heritage Department director, is an owner of the business and was made a member of the commission when Hutchinson took it over and booted most Beebe-era holdovers.  She abstained from the vote. She also said she made no profit.

The size of the purchase wasn't disclosed, nor was a statement submitted on Tipton & Hurst's cost.

Simple bookkeeping: When a business sells unsold merchandise, even at cost, it enhances the business's overall profitability.

A state agency shouldn't do business with a supervisor of the agency, voting or not. Appearances count. And there should be a full accounting, not only of this, but all drawdowns from the Mansion Association.

* WELCOME MAT TURNSTILE COUNT: Hutchinson said she wanted to make the mansion accessible to more people.. There will be two, rather than one, "first lady's tea" this year and children will be welcome, for example. Good.

But .... weekend use was ordered reduced by Susan Hutchinson after she moved in and the Political Animals Club, among others, is no longer is allowed to hold its regular meetings there. How about an accounting of, say,  how many events were held at the Mansion in 2014 by which groups, the last year of Beebe occupancy, and 2015, the first year of Hutchinson occupancy.

Getting information about Mansion operation from the Hutchinson administration is not easy. Leslie Newell Peacock, who's written about the Mansion for the Times, had asked, for example, to be given notice of Mansion Commission meetings. The FOI law requires such notice when requested. She was not notified of this week's meeting.

I'm informed people at the Association meeting were given no details about the spending of that organization or a financial summary, something that had typically been provided in earlier years. Members were counseled not to talk to the press and particularly not to mention contributors to the Association.


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