Friday, September 14, 2012

EDITORAL >> Officials must step down

Two legislative audit reports released Friday paint unflattering pictures of two longtime state officials. Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner was criticized for investing state funds with a favorite broker, costing taxpayers at least $58,000 in excessive fees and millions lost in potential interest income.

Shoffner’s shortchanging the state’s taxpayers was first uncovered by diligent reporters who noticed the treasurer’s favoring one broker over those more qualified. New legislation will almost certainly call for more financial oversight and limit the treasurer from funneling state funds to campaign contributors and close friends.

Shoffner wasn’t at Friday’s audit meeting, but she will be hauled before the committee as soon as next week. She will be subpoenaed if she doesn’t show up voluntarily, or she could do the right thing and resign.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee cannot fire Shoffner, who is an elected official, but voters can make sure she never again holds an elected office in Arkansas.

A legislative audit also slammed former state Sen. Bill Walker of Little Rock, who runs the state Department of Career Education as if it were his personal fiefdom.

The problem is that the department has a $55 million budget, much of which is wasted on Walker’s pals. The audit committee noted that the department failed to follow purchasing procedures, such as taking bids for $77,000 in furniture purchases.

Walker has approved undocumented expenditures, extended loans to employees that remain unpaid, spent lavishly on banquets and outings, hired employees without proper college degrees and, as we’ve pointed out before, also hired an unqualified lady friend as an interpreter for the deaf.

Walker appointed Clara Taylor, who, according to one report, “was not certified as an interpreter, scored second lowest among nine applicants and failed to translate a simple video in either of two types of sign language.”

When the deaf community complained to Gov. Beebe, Walker put Taylor in another position in his department.

Taxpayers see their money wasted at the Department of Career Education, the treasurer’s office and no doubt elsewhere. But there’s hope: A Walker protege, Robert Trevino, who headed the department’s rehabilitation services, resigned late Friday.

The right thing would be for Shoffner and Walker, both Democrats, also to step down. If they don’t, the Arkansas Democratic Party can expect more losses in November.