A candidate with a voting plan vs. a bass boat buyer: The choice in the race for secretary of state UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A candidate with a voting plan vs. a bass boat buyer: The choice in the race for secretary of state UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 7:43 AM

State Land Commissioner John Thurston refused to respond to my questions yesterday about the report on his spending of almost $30,000 on a boat equipped for bass fishing and little used for its alleged purpose, searching for debris in Arkansas waterways (a job not given by statute or custom to his office, which manages tax delinquent land sales). But his Democratic opponent for secretary of state, Susan Inman, is working on the angle. UPDATE: Late Tuesday, I got written answers to a few questions, but no in-person interview.

Inman, who has experience in both the secretary of state's office and as an election supervisor, is vastly more qualified than Thurston for the office. His wasteful spending should be a disqualifier.

But it won't be if it isn't noticed. Will Arkansas media, such as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, explore the information unearthed by Blue Hog Report's use of the state Freedom of Information Act? Time's running out.

Meanwhile, can Thurston stay in hiding? And can taxpayers get a look at our debris removal boat with its big motor, fish finder, fishing seats and attendant gear?

UPDATE:Through an office spokesman, Thurston provided written answers to several questions I'd posed by e-mail. In full:

Question: Why did I need it?

Response: Under the laws of the State of Arkansas, the Commissioner of State Lands is charged with certain authority over the navigable waterways, submerged lands, as well as the construction, alteration or placement of structures or objects below the high water mark of a navigable waterway. Further, Act 552 of 2013 charged my office with the authority to institute legal actions to remove a structure or debris impeding navigable waterways as well as to enjoin the construction or placement of a structure upon submerged lands. I felt it was necessary to purchase the boat in order to be proactive in our duties of overseeing the waterways and addressing potential issues that may arise, as well as to perform our due diligence in cases involving the removal of debris or unpermitted construction of structures on submerged land so that any legal proceeding would be initiated with factually accurate and sufficient legal proceedings.

Question: Can I identify any debris I’ve surveyed?

Response: I have personally participated in 2 expeditions to survey debris impeding navigable waterways, I observed debris impeding both the Ouachita River, as well as the Little Maumelle River. However, staff members of my office have participated in approximately 4 additional instances involving the Ouachita River, the Arkansas River/Murray Lake area, the Little Maumelle River, and the Norfolk River.

Question: Why did it need fishing seats, spotlights, depth finder and other gear designed for fishing use.

Response: The seats were purchased for the sole utility of increasing the seating capacity in the boat from 3 to 5 people. Any and all equipment purchased was to aid in and better identify structures, objects, and debris as well as potential causes of debris, and for safety purposes. No gear was purchased for fishing use, regardless of its original design, nor was the boat equipped with a live-well.
The boat wasn't used in 2017, according to records obtained by Blue Hog. The law does not require inspections only permits legal actions to remove obstacles. Other agencies, including the Corps of Engineers and Game and Fish Commission, operate boats on the rivers. For six  outings over almost four years (purchased in December 2014), I wonder why a rental — if inspections truly were necessary for the office — wouldn't have been more efficient.

In any case, that's what we know so far.

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