Getting to the bottom of the Arkansas Forestry Commission Debacle

January 17, 2012

This guest blog post by State Senator Missy Irvin gives an overview of the happenings in regards to the Arkansas Forestry Commission, accountability, and what’s being done by our elected officials to get to the bottom of it all.

In early December, something extremely rare in state government occurred…a lay-off of state employees in mid-fiscal year. Nearly unprecedented, this deserved an extra look. More importantly, my constituents came to me in early February of 2011 with their concerns over rumors of financial distress. They were worried about losing their jobs and asked if I would help them. As an elected representative, this is one of my primary responsibilities – to assist my constituents and represent them through providing legislative oversight.

As the Director of the Arkansas Forestry Commission began answering questions in the Personnel Committee on December 12, there seemed to be more questions that needed to be asked and answered. Thus, began the inquiry and the newspaper reports…Here is a timeline of what happened

December 2, 2011 – The Arkansas Forestry Commission (AFC) laid-off 36 employees 3 weeks before Christmas. This number includes 14 forest rangers that helped fight fires across the state.

December 6, 2011 – Newspapers officially pick up the story

December 8, 2011 – I filed an Interim Study Proposal in an attempt to find out exactly what had been going on at the AFC.

December 12, 2011 – Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) Director Richard Weiss and AFC Commissioner John Shannon report on problems to the Legislative Personnel Committee and ask for the reduction in personnel of the 36 employees and, I believe, 29 unfilled positions.

December 22, 2011 – A second Personnel Committee meeting included the testimony from the former CFO. At this meeting, minutes from the commission meetings, along with financial info and selected emails were given to the members.

Late December 2011 – There was a request during Legislative Council by Joint Budget to add the AFC to the budget hearings. This gave them the ability to appoint a subcommittee today.

January 11, 2012 – Representative Kim Hammer and I sent letters officially requesting an audit into the AFC. The request was accepted January 12 by the executive committee. They were asked to be as expeditious, yet as thorough as possible. There is a consensus amongst the Legislature that the findings be known before we vote on any additional supplementals for the AFC.

Today (January 17, 2011), during the Joint Budget Committee, a sub-committee led by Representative Buddy Lovell and I was directed to take up the Forestry Commission’s budget for FY 2012.

The bottom line is that accountability and transparency need to be paramount in the way our state and its agencies/commissions operate. We owe this to the taxpayers of Arkansas.

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