Tuesday, April 12, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Martin must end abuses

Where are Republican State Chairman Doyle Webb and those Republican lawyers when we need them? Last summer and fall, they were suing state officials over the alleged misuse of state cars and threatening litigation over the spending habits of state officials, then all Democrats.

Nothing came of the litigation or the threats, except Republicans did win three of the state constitutional offices.

Now, they have some real prospects for stopping out-of-control spending and recovering some money for the taxpayers in the office of the new secretary of state, Mark Martin. Wait, Martin is a Republican. Could that have anything to do with the silence?

We had some suspicion that it would come to this. Before his election as secretary of state, Martin had led all 135 members of the General Assembly in raking in state money through undocumented expense accounts, per-diem pay for meetings of committees on which he did not serve, and on and on.

He had been in office only a month when the state Board of Apportionment learned that he had spent much of its appropriation, and he had no authority to spend it. He hired several of his supporters, including the son of former U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson, as consultants to the board to devise an apportionment plan for the legislature (Hutchinson would create districts for his mother and brother). Martin had to give the money back to the board from the secretary of state’s account, but he said he would continue to pay his friends from the secretary of state’s funds and just have them advise him on some other matter.

It turned out that Martin bought a new 2010 Ford Escape for $27,629 from a Fayetteville dealer down the road from his home, although the secretary of state’s office already had a fleet of 23 cars. The new car was supposed to be used by him or others working on apportionment. When Gov. Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the other members of the Board of Apportionment, said the board had absolutely no need for a car, Martin said he would use it to “educate voters” around Arkansas.

Then last week came the disclosure that back in February, Martin had signed a contract with friends at John Brown University at Siloam Springs to throw a retreat for him and several of his top staffers at the swanky Greystone Estate in Rogers, near Martin’s home. Greystone is owned by Donald Soderquist and his family, big Republican contributors.

The consultants who will conduct the retreat and advise Martin and his staff about what the secretary of state’s office does and how to do it ethically—we’re not kidding about that—are called the Soderquist Center for Leadership and Ethics.

Arkansas taxpayers will have to pay the Soderquist experts only $54,000 for their valuable training of Martin and his top people on how to do the office’s work ethically. You can’t teach ethical behavior in a scruffy government office; it requires a mountaintop estate. Anyway, the training can’t come too soon. Martin and his staff are stonewalling efforts by the media through the Freedom of Information Act to see official documents about their activities.

Imagine what Chairman Webb and the Republican lawyers would be saying and doing if Pat O’Brien had won the office and had begun so recklessly. But O’Brien’s office had been a model of efficiency and rectitude when he was the Pulaski County clerk, and he had promised steps to reduce the vehicle fleet and introduce hard economies to the office. What a boring place it would be today.

Six more months of Mark Martin and the taxpayers may have a new appreciation for tedium.