- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Jonesboro Sun, Aug. 5, 2016

Welch asleep at the wheel

Apparently a lot falls through the cracks when you’re sitting at a desk in Little Rock waiting for the phone to ring.

To the end, Arkansas State University System President Charles Welch was former Chancellor Tim Hudson’s biggest cheerleader and most ardent defender. Welch may have you believe he was clueless to the questionable dealings and tactics Hudson used to govern A-State, from the Jonesboro campus to Europe to Mexico. But we don’t buy for a second that Welch was unaware of the dozens of allegations of shady dealings lobbed at Hudson and Co. for more than a year.

For months Welch, through his strategic communications specialist Jeff Hankins, dismissed nearly all of the concerns and allegations we heard from sources as “rumors” and “bad news tips.” Turns out, there was quite a bit of truth to the tips we were receiving but couldn’t nail down.

For some time The Sun was denied access to many documents and “facts” that would have corroborated the tips and allegations we were trying to validate or discredit. Allegations about efforts to boost Hudson’s wife’s pay as study abroad director received a blanket denial by Hankins. Turns out it happened. Also turns out Hudson quashed efforts to take the position full-time when it was revealed his wife couldn’t have the job.

It also is clear now that Welch and other A-State officials should have been aware the university was operating illegally in partnership with Spanish company Multisense Espana, which helped facilitate study abroad opportunities in Spain for ASU students. To make matters worse, Hudson served on the Multisense Espana board without disclosing any conflict of interest. That such a deal would lead to more than $250,000 being paid to Multisense Espana without so much as a receipt to document what the payments were for is a clear indicator that Hudson wasn’t the only one who failed to represent ASU with integrity and didn’t have the best interest of the university and its students and faculty in mind.

Welch, for whatever reason, let Hudson run wild. And on more than one occasion, Welch was there to defend Hudson’s behavior, most recently when Jonesboro A&P; Commission Chairman Thom Beasley told a developer Hudson couldn’t be trusted.

Welch, in his own words, took that personally.

“In my mind, the chairman of a Jonesboro city commission telling that to a partner of ASU is equivalent to saying the university could not be trusted,” Welch said in June. “”Nothing can ultimately be done without my approval or that of our Board (of Trustees). For you to suggest that the chancellor can’t be trusted ultimately suggests I cannot either.”

That statement prompts several questions:

- Did Welch, since nothing happens without his approval, know Hudson and the university were operating illegally without a contract with Multisense Espana?

- Did Welch, since nothing happens without his approval, know that more than $250,000 was paid to the company without so much as a receipt to document those transactions?

- Can Welch now account for and justify every cent of that money spent?

- Did Welch, since nothing happens without his approval, know Hudson canceled the search for a full-time study abroad director after learning his wife couldn’t be considered for the job?

By Welch’s own words, he and Hudson and the university are synonymous. All this and more happened on his watch, and despite the fact that he and the university had the documentation and resources to address these matters some time ago, he didn’t. Instead, he spent his apparently ample free time defending Hudson and dismissing anyone who questioned Hudson’s behavior and tactics.

When an internal audit of the study abroad program was released last week, Welch watered down the findings as “organizational issues” and “policies and processes not nailed down.” He said the audit showed him that the study abroad director’s position needs to be a full-time job. That’s what he took from the audit’s findings, or at least that’s what he’ll own.

These weren’t organizational issues. They were character issues - issues he either allowed or was so detached from that he didn’t have the foggiest clue what was going on at the university system’s flagship campus. Neither scenario is acceptable, and it’s sufficient evidence that Welch perhaps isn’t up for the task of leading the ASU System.

In a phone interview Thursday, Welch, as Hudson’s supervisor, refused to accept any responsibility for Hudson’s behavior or actions.

Jonesboro, Northeast Arkansas and this state deserve university leaders who can be trusted. When that’s legitimately questionable about existing leadership, it’s time for a change.

A-State trustees need to use far wider mop strokes to clean up this mess.


The Daily Citizen, Aug. 7, 2016

Voting twice no reason to be ejected

It seems silly that something like voting twice in an election could cause an elected official to be kicked out of office.

It’s understandable that we want to take crime seriously when considering who should hold leadership positions in our communities. We don’t want those in public office who are going to abuse our trust by using the position to their advantage instead of for the good of the community.

A recent example of someone abusing a position of trust is the former McRae Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization president who stole nearly $13,000 from the group being charged last week with stealing more than $21,000 from a volleyball club in Texas. She’s not a public official, but clearly her past should have kept her out of another position where she handled funds for an organization.

The state’s election laws are set up to try to protect us from individuals like that. There’s no way to catch all crafty, crooked politicians who want to hold office, but we can eliminate those who have proven untrustworthy.

However, if those election laws are applied unilaterally to every case, we also run the risk of eliminating those who did nothing more than make an “honest mistake.” That is what Beebe Alderman David Pruitt said happened when he voted early in the March 1 primary then turned around and voted again on election day.

For that, Pruitt was charged with violation of election law, a Class D felony, and pleaded guilty to a lowered, misdemeanor charge Tuesday, owning up to his error.

Now, his eligibility to keep his position on the City Council, as well as run for re-election, are in question because of Arkansas Code Annotated 7-1-103.

Provision (19) (A) of the statute says, “No person shall vote or offer to vote more than one (1) time in any election held in this state, either in person or by absentee ballot, or shall vote in more than one (1) election precinct in any election held in this state.”

That is what Pruitt was convicted of, though it appears that he’s guilty of absentmindedness more than trying to affect the outcome of the election since it would be ignorant to think that voting twice could make much of an impact. (To be clear, Pruitt was not on the primary ballots, so he could not have been trying to affect his own race, which would be on the November ballot.)

His offense, though, does seem to open him up to being punished under provision (23) (2) (A) of the statute, which says, “Any person convicted under the provisions of this section shall thereafter be ineligible to hold any office or employment in any of the departments in this state,” and (B) (ii), which says, “If any person is convicted under the provisions of this section while holding public office, the conviction shall be deemed a misfeasance and malfeasance in office and shall subject the person to impeachment.”

There’s no doubt that Pruitt violated election law, but paying a fine for that seems to be a more-than-appropriate punishment. There seems to be little reason to kick him out of office for this offense or to not let voters decide in November if the lack of mental awareness he displayed is reason to not re-elect him.

For state law to take his fate out of the hands of the voters for voting twice would just be silly.


Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug. 9, 2016

On the right track?

Workplace policies don’t exist because everything always goes perfectly.

No, those rules and regulations of the office or work site, more often than not, are based on the worst-case scenarios. When an employee is driving a company-owned vehicle, “worst case” can mean serious injury or death.

For most employees, workplace policies come across as just plain, common sense, although there’s a bound to be a dud here or there. Should workplaces really need a restroom signs that say “Employees must wash hands before returning to work?” Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t everyone wash his hands after visiting the restroom? And yet, pay attention at any busy public restroom and it’s clear the “great unwashed” refers to more than just the hoi polloi.

Workplace polices are necessitated by the fact employees don’t always do what their employer expects, whether it’s clocking in for a missing co-worker or texting while driving a company vehicle. It’s not so much a statement of distrust as much as it is recognition that it only takes one employee behaving indiscriminately to have a negative impact on the employer’s bottom line or reputation.

In Washington County, some members of the Quorum Court are intrigued by technology that can help ensure employees conduct themselves in according with county expectations. Last week, members of Washington County’s Public Works Committee agreed to continue testing GPS devices on eight county-owned Road Department vehicles. The devices, acquired from a company called Guard 4 Life, electronically tracks data on driver behaviors ranging from the speed of the vehicle, its stops, its routes and idling times. They can be set up to alert a Road Department supervisor if a county vehicle is exceeding speed limits or if a vehicle sits idle for more than 15 minutes.

Trucking companies and other businesses requiring fleet management have used GPS technology for years to pursue the most efficient use of their resources, whether that’s equipment or personnel. Should that only be an expectation in the private sector?

The county is still in a testing phase, but apparently has already gotten feedback from some employees bothered by the idea the Quorum Court doesn’t trust them. Some justices worry such electronic tracking could be a morale killer.

It shouldn’t be. Just as the equipment can be used to discover infractions or unsafe behaviors, they can also confirm high-quality performance for which employees can be - should be - recognized. Monitoring a fleet can also be an important tool when something bad happens, such as a wreck. If the county employee was speeding, that information ought to be available in the evaluation of what went wrong. Knowing speed is tracked will also deter unsafe driving, potentially saving the employee and the county of the complications arising from an accident. Likewise, the data can also exonerate an employee against claims unsupported by the evidence. If another driver claims a county truck nearly ran him off the road but that truck was three miles away at the time the incident supposedly happened, that’s worth knowing.

Getting hired to do a job then being left alone to do it is certainly attractive, but in both the private and public sectors, accountability matters. Employers hire people they believe they can trust, but any company is going to recognize a few employees, over the course of time, will violate that trust. The damage they do can be costly.

So is it that simple? Perhaps not. The more serious questions about these tracking devices fall into the arena of cost-benefit ratio. Installing the devices on 54 vehicles, the number of Road Department units assigned to employees, would cost $19,710, then the county would pay about $16,000 a year for operation and monitoring of the devices.

Will any of the benefits arising from their use amount to nearly $20,000 in savings?

That, of course, is not the bottom line. If, for example, an employee is using a county-owned vehicle for personal use, that kind of abuse of government property needs to be identified and dealt with. It’s not unheard of around these parts.

Still, who can blame the employees for feeling a little uneasy? And the justices of the peace can probably sympathize. Last year, when the county judge installed a video camera in a break room where justice of the peace hang out before Quorum Court meetings, one or two of them reacted, well, as though someone didn’t trust them. Eva Madison crowed about state or federal laws being violated, even as the county attorney explained there would be no expectation of privacy in that break room in a public building.

Different circumstances? Oh, sure. But it still conjures up thoughts the goose and the gander.

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