From the Arkansas Watch Blog
An audit of the accounts for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville showed over six million dollars has gone missing over the last two years. The legislature has a Joint Audit Committee whose job is to investigate such irregularities in state institutions. They recently held a committee meeting.
Three whistle-blowers, Brad Choate, John Diamond, and Joy Sharp, attended the recent Audit Committee meeting and were prepared to testify. John Diamond was apparently prepared to testify that Chancellor David Gearhart ordered that documents requested by the legislature by destroyed, and that there was a growing culture of dishonesty and deceit surrounding Gearhart’s administration. (Edit: Diamond had made those claims previously, but was not at that committee meeting). Who knows what Choate would testify to, Gearhart got a friendly judge to slap a restraining order on Choate so that Choate could speak only to the legislative committee about what he knew.
The Prosecuting Attorney for Washington County that the potential fraud case was referred to is a fellow named Jim Threet. Threet has deep ties to people who have tremendous influence at the U of A Fayetteville. He is married to Frank Broyles’ step-daughter. Given those relationships, there was some question as to whether Threet should recuse himself from the investigation. In the end, he took it, and then basically punted. He found no evidence of wrong-doing, (six million dollars gone without wrong doing?) but left the door open a crack by suggesting that the Prosecuting Attorney for Pulaski County also had the authority to do their own review of a case like this one.
That is the set up. The committee heard Threet give that result, and they had whistle-blowers champing at the bit to talk to them, one of which has been under a restraining order which allowed him to talk to them, and only them. Now it was time for them to be heard and questioned. Only it wasn’t. Because Senator Bill Sample (R) Hot Springs abruptly called for the report to be accepted without any questions. He was joined by an array of U of A friendly (or rather, unfriendly to the U of A but friendly to the establishment folks who are mismanaging it) legislators who voted with him to accept the report with no action and no questions.
Sample, I hasten to add, checked in at #8 on the Arkansas Watch “ten worst legislators” list. I would say that Garland County Republicans have a big problem on their hands, and it is becoming the whole state’s problem. To their credit, other Republicans on the committee, Senator Bryan King and Reps Nate Bell and Kim Hammer, objected to the shut-down, but to no avail. At press time I am still looking for a record of the vote on that committee, if one exists.
This is an excellent example of the kind of thing that has held Arkansas back. Arkansas should be one of the most prosperous states in America. We have great natural resources, an excellent climate, and hard working people. Whenever any entity under-performs over a long period of time, the blame rests with those who have been running it. The insiders and ruling class of this state have held us back.
Cronyism is endemic in the “good ole boy” system that has so hindered us. People trade too much in favors at the expense of merit. Being an insider means that when the chips are down, doing the wrong thing for the right people, and this shut-down of the investigation appears to be an example of that. I for one am ready for a change, and willing to work for a change.