by Max Brantley
No doubt that the M.L. King Commission needs to be streamlined. Executive Director DuShun Scarbrough weighs in on his ideas on the subject in a lengthy release on the jump.
Red flag: A proposal for compensation for commission members.
COMMISSION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ENVISIONS THE DECADE AHEAD
“I’m not a policy maker, but I offer an humble opinion on the Commission’s future,” says DuShun Scarbrough
(Little Rock)—“Downsize the Commission,” are among the words reverberating in the hallowed halls of the State Capitol, following testimony last week by DuShun Scarbrough, Executive Director of the Arkansas Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission (AMLKC), before the Legislative Council and the Joint Budget Committee.
Scarbrough says his new administration, which began in March of this year, has been dealing with what he calls, “housekeeping matters.” “I knew coming in,” Scarbrough says, “that this was going to be a job requiring diligence, strength, and a firm commitment to the noble causes espoused by our namesake, but I accepted the responsibility and began immediately to make things right.”
To that end, according to Scarbrough, a new staff has been put in place, workshops and retreats have been held and more will be scheduled for the future. Former disagreements between Commission members have been resolved and Scarbrough says “the road has now been paved to the new decade ahead.”
“I am humbled to have this position, because, in a way, it placed me in the role of a peacemaker,” Scarbrough reflects. “While I am originally from Arkansas, I’ve been in Florida for the last eight years and recently returned. Therefore, I was not privy to all that has happened in the last three to five years of Commission activity. So, that placed me in a neutral position to see all sides of the issues that have caused concerns. And, having studied the situation, I now feel I can offer some constructive ideas on how to take the work of Dr. King and the AMLKC forward. Dr. King believed, and so do I, in the biblical passage that urges us, paraphrasing, ‘to forget the past and look ahead to the future.’”
Prompting questions, Scarbrough made a brief comment at last week’s hearing, when he suggested the downsizing of the Commission, but says he’s not alone in that thinking. “Actually, the Governor, under whom this Commission operates, made a comment earlier this year about suspending additional appointments to the board,” adds Scarbrough, “so I took that as a signal of what he feels will make the Commission better. The governor and I want the Commission to be organized, accomplish its mission and operate efficiently. Therefore, I want to revitalize the Commission’s image and make him proud, as I know we can.”
Scarbrough’s plan would revamp the Commission to include eleven members. There would be two members from each of the state’s four Congressional Districts, recommended by each congressman through his or her liason to the Governor’s Office. There would also be three at-large members, all of whom would be appointed by the governor, and one of those gubernatorial appointments would serve as the AMLKC Chairperson. An alternative would be to have the governor simply make three appointments and then the eleven-member board could elect its own Chair. Either way, Scarbrough contends the board’s makeup would be more workable to obtain necessary quorums for conducting business. Also, Scarbrough feels that having board members from each Congressional District will provide a broader and more representative makeup to the Commission, which will also then be more reflective of the state’s diversity in population.
Also, Scarbrough offers that the Executive Director should also be a Commissioner, but one with no voting privileges. “My vision is to have checks and balances,” the Executive Director says, “and, in that regard, I would bring necessary business before the voting members, but they would have the final say on decisions to be made. At the same time, if I see the Board needed some input, I would be able to step in, because, as Executive Director, I must carry out the day-to-day business of the Commission.”
Scarbrough’s proposal would set up guidelines to stress requirements for appointments to the Commission, including the nominee’s commitment to and understanding of the work done by the AMLKC, agreement with the tenets set forth by Dr. King, and willingness to serve as active members. Of particular importance is that all who are appointed will take the appointment seriously, and in the public interest, taking charge of fund-raising activities and other necessary Commission functions, and the need to work closely with staff members at the Commission office. Per the Commission by-laws, if board members miss three scheduled meetings, or consistently disrupt Commission activities, they should graciously resign their commission so a replacement can move in quickly to keep the agency running smoothly. Additionally, Scarbrough would suggest language that would encourage the appointment of individuals whose position on the Commission would not give an appearance of conflict, which could result from the outside businesses or personal agendas of appointees.
Recognizing one problem, Scarbrough offers this suggestion: “Our board members have served without pay, and their service has been commendable over the fifteen years since the AMLKC was created. With high fuel prices, among other economic factors, I feel it would be appropriate to offer each Commissioner some compensation for service rendered. And, I also believe that compensation would serve as an incentive for each to become more pro-active on the Commission. Other Boards and Commissions are compensatory. Ours should be too.”
As to compensation, Scarbrough points to those who are picked for jury duty in Arkansas. “If you get called, and simply show up in the jury pool, you receive $20.00. If you actually are seated on a panel, you get $50.00 per day for each day of service,” he says, adding, “that would be a good rule of thumb as to compensation for Commission members. Each would receive $50.00 for attendance at scheduled meetings as well as a mileage allowance for those who travel over 50 miles to the meeting, currently 58.5 cents per mile, the same our legislators get during the attendance to the state’s business at the Capitol.”
An additional point Scarbrough brings up is this: “Since our new administration has been in place, we’ve learned of events taking place around the state under the AMLKC banner. Yet, we had no knowledge of the events nor who set them up. In some cases, we’ve gotten negative reports about something of which we had no knowledge. In light of the stated purpose of the Commission, I hope to see wording that, in effect, makes the AMLKC the true clearinghouse for all such events. In other words, we must sanction it if they are to use the Commission name.”
Acknowledging that some talk is already circulating among legislators who may have plans to introduce new bills dealing with the AMLKC in the next session, Scarbrough concludes by saying, “I don’t know all of what may be out there in the form of potential legislation, but I humbly hope I will be included in discussions of possibilities. I have given careful thought to my proposal and would certainly be open to suggestions. What I outline here is sort of a skeleton proposal and as more details take shape, I’ll share those with any who may inquire. I’m really trying to show I’m taking steps to rectify questions of the past, sort out the confusing issues, and have all this put behind us, so we may begin 2009 with what I call, ‘a clean slate.’ And, then, let’s move ahead into the next decade, doing what we should be doing, promoting the legacy of Dr. King and teaching our youth to follow in those noble steps. I hope, with these ideas and suggestions, to show that we have been exercising diligence to follow in the steps of Dr. King, and we’ve worked very hard to accomplish the goals his vision set forth almost a half century ago. We just need help and we’re asking for that.”