by Max Brantley
Tim Wooldridge, the former legislator and unsuccessful congressional candidate who was sacked recently as the $150,000 lobbyist for the Arkansas Association of Public Universities, got a severance deal worth at least $180,000 if he's unable to find new work over the next year. He's obligated to seek work, however, and offset the severance payments with any income he realizes. Otherwise, he'd get $150,000 in pay, $15,000 in retirement contributions and more than $8,000 for health insurance coverage, from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. He's also getting more than $7,000 in traveling money for June, when he was running for 1st District Congress and not doing a lot of heavy lifting as a college lobbyist.
The AAPU has no immediate plans to replace Wooldridge, according to a letter I received from Southern Arkansas University President David Rankin, who responded to my FOI request on the deal with a copy of the agreement. Rankin chairs the board of the college lobbying combine.
When Wooldridge was booted, Rankin insisted it was on account of a reassessment of the lobby group's work, not on account of remarks Wooldridge made during the campaign in which he said he opposed equal legal treatment in the workplace for gay people. Many public universities in Arkansas have written policies barring discrimination on account of sexual orientation.
The deal is described as a settlement of "disputed" claims and, in it, Wooldridge releases the organization from any liability. Neither Wooldridge nor Rankin have been willing to talk to me. So I'll just guess that Wooldridge threatened to contest his ouster on the ground that he had a First Amendment right to espouse discrimination against gay people no matter how contrary it might be to written policy of the people who paid him.
Or, maybe he had a contract and held them to it. A reliable source says:
Wooldridge had a contract automatically renewable each July unless notice of termination was given in May. None was given this year. Wooldridge was terminated in June, with a three-month severance package offered, after losing his primary runoff to Chad Causey. It’s likely his comments about discrimination against gay people came up, but AAPU settled because of the terms of the original contract. Wooldridge did give up a car allowance. Furthermore: he’d been given written approval early in the year for an unpaid leave of absence until after the primary, thus the payment for June.