Mark Darr: Still in office, but are the checks in the mail? | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mark Darr: Still in office, but are the checks in the mail?

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 1:42 PM

GOING, GOING ...: Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, shown after earlier Ethics Commission hearing, hasn't submitted formal resignation yet.
  • GOING, GOING ...: Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, shown after earlier Ethics Commission hearing, hasn't submitted formal resignation yet.

Lt. Gov. Mark Darr has said he will resign "effective Feb. 1," which is this Saturday.

As yet, he has submitted no formal resignation letter that I can find. In that the governor is empowered by law to declare a vacancy in the office, he'd be the logical person to receive such a notice. Beebe's office said they've heard nothing from Darr to date. After initially saying he'd resign to no public official, but rather to the people, Darr clarified that he'd follow proper channels.

I've asked Darr's office for any further developments on this front, but so far haven't received a response.

With a vacancy declared, the state auditor would have sufficient authority to stop paying Darr.

The state Ethics Commission today released its investigative report in the case that led to an $11,000 fine of Darr for spending campaign money on personal expenses and also using state office money for personal use. Nothing much new, except voluminous detail on how he spent money on gas, food and other items. He blames the multiple law violations on "carelessness." A prosecutor's review of his actions continue. Darr signed the agreed deal with the Ethics Commisson Dec. 30. It said the fine had to be paid within 30 days. That would be today. But Graham Sloan, director of the Ethics Commission, said a subsequent formalization of the agreement that allowed Darr a payment plan of 11 $1,000 payments said each would be due on the last day of the month, beginning in January, or Friday of this week. No payment has yet been received.

I'm checking, too, on the $9,836 that a Legislative Audit said Darr owed the state for charging personal travel expenses to his office expense account in fiscal year 2013,. A spokesman for the state auditor said Darr's office had inquired about how a check should be made out, but none yet had been received. It's not immediately clear if they were inquiring about the $9,836 or the $1,137 Darr still must pay to cover an earlier reimbursement for personal expenses he'd charged to a state credit card in fiscal 2012. He'd sent that money — among a number of reimbursements he made for non-official expenses over the years — and the auditor's office said it received it, but the bank never did. So Darr must write another check for that amount.. To sum it up: Darr must come up with almost $22,000 over time to settle accounts.

Another question is what happens when Darr resigns, presuming he does. First, there's some interest in the legislature in passing a law that would remove the requirement for a special election to fill the office for the balance of the year. A new officeholder will be elected in November to take office in January. Beebe has said he'd sign such legislation if it reaches his desk, but it will take an extraordinary vote to open the fiscal session to a non-fiscal matter.

A decision to leave the office vacant presents another question: Should taxpayers continue to pay Darr's $250,000 payroll for 11 months to serve an elected official who doesn't exist? The lieutenant governor's only job is to act as governor in the governor's absence from the state and to preside, and then generally only ceremonially, over the state Senate. The office has no function otherwise.

A spokesman for Gov. Beebe said he'd wait to see what thoughts the legislature has before offering an opinion on continuing that expense. When Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller died in July 2006, no special election was called, by agreement of the parties, and his staff was allowed to keep working through the end of the year. Staff included now-Republican Chair Doyle Webb. 

The staff currently consists of Bruce Campbell: $75,132; Amber Pool, $57,564; Josh Curtis, $51,564, and Raeanne Gardner, $33,660. The budget includes $48,000 more for employer contributions to their insurance and other benefits and other miscellaneous amounts for travel.

Pool, who handles communications for the office, has not responded to my question on whether there'd been any discussions in the office about the situation going forward. For the record: Chief of staff Campbell has a son-in-law in the Republican majority legislative contingent, Duncan Baird, who's running for state treasurer. Campbell, as a Huckabee appointee, served eight years as director of state Rural Services.

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