Audit finds state employee a no-show | Arkansas Blog

Audit finds state employee a no-show

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AARON BLACK
Interesting report released to the Legislative Joint Audit Committee today on the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission.

It reported that Aaron Black, executive director of the agency, didn't accurately report work absences from January 2010 through August 2011. Using his e-mail and other records, auditors determined he was absent for all or part of 91 days or 579 work hours (almost 15 40-hour weeks) during that period without properly recording time off in the state computer system. Black agreed that some hours should have been recorded as time off, but only 170. Based on 579 hours and Black's pay (more than $72,000 annually), auditors figured Black was overpaid $19,576 during the period. Black resigned Oct. 7. During that same period, he took three months off for family leave, on top of the unaccounted time, auditors said.

Auditors recommended that the commission reconcile leaves taken by employees and referred the matter to Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley. Black was appointed to the job by the governing commission in January 2007 at the end of the Huckabee administration, where he had been a staff member. (He also sang in Huckabee's band, Capitol Offense.) He had announced his resignation last month, saying he had to devote time to his family's expanding business. Owner of Larry's Pizza West, he'd been mentioned recently as a potential Republican candidate for state legislature. Maybe not now. Or maybe.

The House Republican leader, Rep. John Burris, raised a number of questions about why this matter was looked into in the first place; whether proper notice had been given to Black to appear today (he didn't appear, but he talked with auditors long ago in the investigation and was sent a certified letter a week ago) and about leave record policies. You can understand the sensitivity given Black's party leanings. He's also a former business partner of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. Add the free dip to the double dip Republicans complain so much about.

Auditors said that for the fiscal years (back to June 30, 2008) under assessment, "controls were not in place to ensure the proper recording of absences from work for the executive director. Mr. Black was allowed to approve his own leave forms, many of which were not available for our review."

The agency, through consultant reports and other means, is supposed to oversee and assess how tobacco lawsuit settlement money is used in tobacco use prevention, Medicaid and a variety of other programs. Question from today's meeting: Does this need to be a full-time job if it can be handled out of the office by cell phone, as Black apparently did it?

I was told by a person at the meeting that the question of a request for restitution by the commission will follow whatever decision Jegley makes on proceeding with a criminal case.

UPDATE: Here's the on-scene report from John Lyon of Stephens Media, which confirms my report that John Burris was doing all he could to make this deadbeat appear a victim of a witchhunt. He returned calls? BFD. They were forwarded to his cell phone at his pizza parlor by employees instructed to do that should anybody inquire. Accountability? Not for Republican cronies.

SPEAKING OF AUDITS REFERRED TO PROSECUTORS: Legislative Audit today released a report on the outcome of matters referred to state prosecutors in 2010. The report, in full here, shows 40 charges filed in 223 referrals, with 33 convictions, five cases pending and two acquittals. 58 remain under review. The report includes a summary of cases in each judicial district.

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