Spousal employment watch in state government | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spousal employment watch in state government

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 11:39 AM

If all goes according to stated plans, two spouses of state legislators will soon go back to work in state jobs for which proper clearance wasn't obtained on the front end.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported today on a second instance of a self-reported failure to comply with a law (apparently because of ignorance) about hiring spouses of legislators. Cynthia Edwards, wife of state Rep. John Edwards of Little Rock, lost her $95,000 job as deputy secretary of the Agriculture Department because she was hired in January 2011 without the required pre-approval of a legislative committee and governor.

Earlier, UAMS ended the employment of Phyllis Wilkins, a mental health worker whose work at UAMS went back to 2003, including a rehire in 2010. She made $60,000 and is the wife of Sen. HankWilkins of Pine Bluff.

Both agencies said they were unaware that a 1999 law aimed at preventing employment of sitting legislators by state agencies also limited employment of spouses. For jobs paying more than $37,600, spouses may be hired, but approval of the governor and Legislative Council are required first. Both UAMS and the Agriculture Department say they intend to meet those requirements now and rehire Edwards and Wilkins. As yet, nobody has suggested either was unqualified for the job or received it on account of their relationship.

These self reports were spurred by the controversy over the hiring of Sen. Joyce Elliott to lead a multi-agency neighborhood improvement project in the UALR neighborhood. Nobody has established with certainty that this was a state agency job under the terms of the 1999 law, but UALR was the paying agent for grant money and sufficient odor attached that Elliott resigned.

But let's take the occasion to speak a little more about spousal employment. One other example is the practice of hiring spouses (well, generally wives) for part-time legislative jobs during the session. These jobs don't meet the $37,000 threshold for which high level approval is required, of course. I also don't think anyone would seriously argue that the little jobs are unconnected to family relationships. In the last session, the employees in the Senate included the wives of four senators Gene and Jimmy Jeffress, David Wyatt and Jerry Taylor, and the House speaker, Robert Moore. Don't have the list yet on House employees, if any.

And here's another spousal situation to watch. Legislators are chafing under the taxpayer lawsuit (I was a plaintiff) that ended automatic pay supplements in the form of undocumented "expense" reimbursements. I'm hearing some are talking about "improving" their past practice of paying spouses as consultants or something similar in a sham to claim expense reimbursements.

Under the new routine that settled the lawsuit, legislators must submit specific expenses for reimbursement and they will be audited. Will legislators really hire their wives/husbands as paid staff? Will they pay the required payroll withholding? (Rep. Ed Garner can testify how tricky this can get.) Will the spouses keep time cards? Will legislators first advertise these jobs to all comers? Will legislators REALLY, with a straight face, attempt to put their spouses on the state payroll to evade a new accountability law?

Anything is possible. It bears watching.

UPDATE: The House report on temporary employment of legislative spouses follows, from a House spokesman:

The House has employed legislative spouses in temporary, session-only positions.

During the 2011 regular session, seven spouses were employed. Their positions, names and weekly salaries were as follows:

North Gallery Host Jo Lindsey $440
Chief of Pages Joan Pierce $484
Receptionist supervisor Virginia Cheatham $453
Receptionist LaWanda Dale $440
Receptionist Peggy Summers $440
Receptionist Susan Altes $440
Assistant Chief Sgt. at Arms Thomas Bradford $447

During the fiscal session this year, eight spouses were employed. Their positions, names and weekly salaries were as follows:

Member/Constituent Host Jo Lindsey $440
Message Clerk Joan Pierce $440
Receptionist supervisor Virginia Cheatham $453
Receptionist LaWanda Dale $440
Receptionist Peggy Summers $440
Receptionist Susan Altes $440
Assistant Chief Sgt. at Arms Thomas Bradford $447
Sergeant at Arms George Overbey $440

By the way, the number of temporary, session-only employees during regular sessions has been reduced from 69 in 2009 to 45 in 2011. The number of temporary, session-only employees during fiscal session likewise has declined, from 45 in 2010 to 34 in 2012.

Tags: , , , , ,


Comments (11)

Showing 1-11 of 11

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-11 of 11

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Jared Henderson outlines health goals

    Jared Henderson, the Democratic candidate for governor, has released a list of ideas to improve access to health care and reduce costs, leading with an end to the computer work reporting requirement for participation in the expanded Medicaid program. "Our focus needs to be ensuring that Medicaid funds are spent appropriately and effectively, not making it harder for citizens that need coverage to get it," he said.
    • Sep 18, 2018
  • Tuesday's open line and the daily news roundup

    The open line and the day's news roundup.
    • Sep 18, 2018
  • Bryant High School band withdraws from French Hill campaign rally

    The Bryant High School Band has withdrawn from a planned appearance at a campaign rally Friday for Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill after learning it was a political event.
    • Sep 18, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Trump immigration protest at LR: Quick and fierce

    It was not even 24 hours ago that Sophia Said, director of the Interfaith Center; City Director Kathy Webb and others decided to organize a protest today of Donald Trump's executive order that has left people from Muslim countries languishing in airports or unable to come to the US at all — people with visas, green cards,a  post-doc graduate student en route to Harvard, Google employees abroad, families. I got the message today before noon; others didn't find out until it was going on. But however folks found out, they turned out in huge numbers, more than thousand men, women and children, on the grounds of the state Capitol to listen to speakers from all faiths and many countries.
    • Jan 29, 2017
  • French Hill votes against disaster aid to Puerto Rico

    Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill alone among Arkansas's House delegation voted last week against a measure that provided $36.5 billion in disaster aid, a portion  for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico as well as money for wildfire response and to support the flood insurance program.
    • Oct 14, 2017
  • Tom Cotton's influence on Trump's new security chief

    U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton is getting credit for pushing President Donald Trump to select Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser, Politico reports.
    • Feb 21, 2017


Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments


© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation