So much for transparency | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, June 4, 2009

So much for transparency

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2009 at 11:02 AM

The state Lottery Commission called a hurryup meeting today. Chairman Ray Thornton promptly announced the commission would meet in secret to "discuss" the lottery director's job. Until now, the commission has just been taking applications and, in theory, the application period remains open.

The state law says "Executive sessions will be permitted only for the purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of any public officer or employee. The specific purpose of the executive session shall be announced in public before going into executive session."

I don't think you can convene in private merely to "discuss" a job opening or the nature of a job. Gerard Matthews is on hand to see what's up.

UPDATE: Thornton emerged from the session before noon and said he wasn't pleased with the pool applicants. Many of the 55 applications reviewed, he said, weren't for the executive director's job. He said he was looking forward to reviewing the remaining applications.The commission has received 70 applications.

And he said this: "I am growing toward the view that lottery experience is very important."

UPDATE II: Check out the jump for a report on what happened at the Lottery Oversight Committee meeting at the capitol this afternoon including talk of bumping up the director's salary to attract stronger candidates. Also, another "emergency" meeting about the director search tomorrow. Hope they do it in public.

While taking questions from state legislators, Arkansas Lottery Commission Chairman Ray Thornton re-iterated the need for an executive director candidate with strong lottery experience.  Thornton said that of the applications he had reviewed only four or five had previous lottery experience and even those did not hold top-level positions.  Thornton told legislators that in order to attract a "first rate person" to the post, it might require additional funding, possibly bumping up the executive director's salary to $300,000. 

Spending the extra money on salary would be justified, Thornton said, because they could get the lottery up and running sooner and start making money for scholarships.  According to the legislation, the cap on the director's salary is $350,000.

Before taking questions, Thornton gave a brief presentation on the commission's activities so far.  He defended the two-day work session the group had at Petit Jean saying, "Some people say this is a vacation place.  But it is not a vacation place."  He also said he was glad, especially given the pool of canddiates so far, that the commission had chosen a two-pronged director search (by application and nomination).  He said that some of the commissioners have expressed interest in finding people who are interested in the job and might be recruited. 

Sen. Terry Smith said it was important for the commission to move quickly so the people of the state did not lose confidence in the lottery as an institution.  He said his concerns grew after seeing negative newspaper accounts and letters to the editor and feared the lottery might be losing some credibility. 

After the meeting had adjourned Speaker of the House Robbie Wills said he had not heard any negative comments from his constituents but did say every day that goes by without a functioning lottery means a loss of scholarship money.  He said he trusts the commission to make the right decision regarding the director search and understands they are working dilligently.

Thornton also mentioned briefly the commission's search for office space.  That search has been put on hold until the executive director position is filled.  According to Laura Gilson, an attorney with the Bureau of Legislative Research, the director search is now the commission's top priority. 

In other business, the oversight committe voted to allow a line-item budget classification transer that would move $25,000 from "professional fees" to "conference and travel expenses." The transfer would allow commissioners to use the funds to pay conference fees before the end of the fiscal year. Rep. Barry Hyde, one of the chairs of the oversight committee, mentioned that the commission may be attending a conference in July the near future.  Gilson said commissioners had been invited to attend the directors meeting of the National Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at the end of June.  She said the conference would be an incredible opportunity for commissioners to hear about the experience of other lottery directors and to tour the headquarters of the Tennessee Lottery.  That conference will be held June 22 - 25 in Nashville, TN.  Gilson said that three or four commissioners might attend.

It seems as though the weak pool of applicants might serve as a motivating factor for commissioners to seek out stronger candidates.  When asked about the need to increase the salary, Thornton said, "Well, the director of the Tennessee lottery makes about $1 million per year.  She will not be applying for this job." 

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