Tuesday, June 01, 2010

EDITORIAL >>Mark Wilcox a freeloader

Every now and then you get a poignant reminder of the worth of an independent press. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette supplied one Sunday when it gave its readers an inside look at how the current state land commissioner, Mark Wilcox, manages the personal expenses of his office.

Wilcox is in a runoff with Pulaski County and Circuit Clerk Pat O’Brien for the Democratic nomination for secretary of state. The election will be next Tuesday. The Leader has endorsed O’Brien not for any shortcomings of Wilcox but for O’Brien’s spectacular record of cleaning up the county office and making elections and court operations run smoothly for the first time in more than a decade. C. S. Murphy’s painstaking account of Wilcox’s elaborate expense account in the Democrat Gazette gives us fresh reason to urge O’Brien’s election.

The story does not suggest that Wilcox has done anything illegal in having taxpayers pony up for his luxurious travel habits or even in using state vehicles for personal matters, which clearly Wilcox has done. Being one of the state’s seven constitutional officers, though the least important one, the state land commissioner is exempt from the rules that apply to some 30,000 other state government employees. You can spend your office’s appropriation pretty much as you please as long as you don’t lie about it, which is what got Attorney General Steve Clark in trouble 20 years ago. It was legal for him to spend lavishly on meals but he went out of the way to corrupt the receipts by naming fictional guests.

The little land commissioner’s office has 10 vehicles for its employees’ use, and two are assigned to Wilcox. He drives back and forth to his farm home near Greenbrier in a Toyota Sequoia at state expense and keeps a state-issued Silverado pickup at the farm, although once Murphy began inquiring, he parked the Silverado at his Little Rock office. Expense records show that over the past 10 months he (make that the taxpayers) spent $150 to $200 a month to gas up the pickup.

Wilcox joined both the eastern and western land commissioners associations, so he attends both conventions. He, his wife and two staffers spent seven days in Anchorage, Alaska, attending a three-day western conference. They stayed in three hotels, rented a Ford Excursion for the week, spent $1,200 on meals and got reimbursed $6,200 by the taxpayers.

Last year, he was reimbursed $144.20 for a trip to Jonesboro to help Congressman Marion Berry celebrate his birthday. Weren’t you willing to help?

On a layover before flying to Boise, Idaho, he (we) paid $240 for one night’s lodging at the Hotel Peabody in Memphis. Motel 6 would have been good enough for most of us.

Penny-ante stuff? No, he is not bankrupting the state, but voters ought to heed these signs of entitlement. First thing you know thousand-dollar tabs run into real money.

O’Brien? He doesn’t have a government vehicle. He gets a $600-a-month car allowance and pays taxes on it as income.