State interpreter unqualified, report says | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

State interpreter unqualified, report says

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2012 at 10:02 AM

Channel 7's Jason Pederson reported in his Seven on Your Side segment last night on a story bubbling in the rehabilitation services field for months.

In the first of a two-part report (the second will air tonight), Pederson interviewed two people about a $35,000 position to interpret for deaf and hearing impaired people at Arkansas Rehabilitation Services. They said the woman who was hired in February, Clara Taylor, was not qualified, not certified as an interpreter, scored second lowest among nine applicants and failed to translate a simple video in either of two types of sign language.

BILL WALKER: Denies role in challenged hiring.
  • BILL WALKER: Denies role in challenged hiring.
Channel 7 didn't mention last night, though perhaps will tonight, that the woman, happens to be a former contract employee of a funeral home owned by Bill Walker, the former state senator who directs the Department of Career Education. Its agencies include Rehabilitation Services. Walker's tenure at the agency — he was appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe after campaigning for Beebe — has had other controversy. I pointed out some real estate dealing his agency has engaged in with friends. The state lost a whistleblower lawsuit over an employee Walker ordered fired in Hot Springs. He's been accused of cronyism in hiring and unnecessary expenditures on his executive offices on Capitol Avenue, one of two offices he uses.

Though Clara Taylor is on the job, sources who complained to me about this hire said she's still undergoing training and still unable to take all assignments. UPDATE: I've also received new criticism today from another interpreter. I had made inquiries about this some weeks ago, as had Sen. Eddie Joe Williams. A department spokesman replied to several questions I asked and also provided documents pertaining to her hiring. The department contends Taylor is able to interpret and that Walker "did not participate" in the hiring decision. Its response to me:

Thank you for your request for information regarding the hiring of Clara Taylor on Feb. 19, 2012. Below you will find responses to the four questions you asked. Attached is additional material that has been provided over the past several months to Mr. John West, the Governor’s Office, and Sen. Eddie Joe Williams in response to each request made by Mr. West.

Ms. Taylor, who is a 21-year state employee, did apply for the position. She met the qualifications, was interviewed, and was selected by the interview committee. She is able to interpret and perform the functions of her job, and her job functions do not have to be contracted out. Director Walker did not participate in the hiring decision. Ms. Taylor was not an employee of Premier Funeral Home. Her association with Premier was on a contractual basis as needed.

Attached please find the following documents that provide additional information as shared with Mr. West, the Governor’s Office, and Sen. Williams:

I won't link all the data, but here are some of the key items.

Here are questions raised by John West, also interviewed on Channel 7 last night.

Here's a letter from Sen. Williams about the matter.

Here's Walker's response.

I also received the graded scores of all applicants that confirm Taylor finished near the bottom. This page stood out in terms of the job for which she was hired:

clara.JPG

I'll be tuning in tonight. Walker so far has directed responsibility for the hire down the chain of command. My sources insist the buck stops in his office.

UPDATE: LETTER FROM CHERYL THOMAS

Thank you for taking the time to address this matter. As a taxpayer, interpreter and user of interpreter services this is an extremely important issue to myself, my family, and my community.

I would like to further add some information that has been overlooked thus far.

John West has an MA in Deafness.

Ms. Sutphin has a BA in interpreting and is working towards her completion of a MA in interpreting.

Both of these interpreters were the top two candidates for the position and are well deserving to be so.

Mr. West and Ms. Sutphin are outstanding, ethical and extremely professional interpreters. Indeed, John was the first interpreter that my family hired to interpret for us in the state of Arkansas as we knew that our family would be treated with the utmost respect and we had no concerns as to whether or not our family members would be able to communicate. This was my husband’s military retirement and the event was especially important to us.

That being said, I fail to understand why myself, Ms. Sutphin, Mr. West and the other candidates have poured time and effort into our profession and the pursuit of higher education that has enabled us to achieve our professional goals, when apparently, according to this recent hiring fiasco, we could have studied basket weaving and received this position which represents the Hearing, Deaf, and interpreting communities across our state. Ms. Taylor states that she has a minor in American Sign Language from Pulaski Technical College. No such minor exists however students can study the language as an elective.

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