by Max Brantley
Michael Wickline's reporting on the case of Aaron Black, the former Tobacco Settlement Commission director who didn't spend much time in his office, shines an unflattering light on Republican Reps. John Burris, Bill Pritchard and Allen Kerr (scourge of double-dippers, even state employees who legally retire from one job and take another at a different agency).
They seemed to have been searching for every possible reason to excuse Black, who auditors found couldn't justify 579 hours, or almost 15 weeks of time off (on top of a legal 13 weeks of family leave time) in 19 months. Auditors found he didn't document almost $20,000 worth of working time off, though he insisted he was not really working for only 170 hours in that time. (A trip to Las Vegas was a little hard to alibi.)
Simple question: Would they have tried so hard to defend a former employee of a Democratic governor and former business partner of a Democratic lieutenant governor? Black is a former Huckabee man and business partner of Mark Darr.
Moreover: Black ADMITTED being unable to justify FOUR WEEKS OF TIME OFF that he didn't put down as vacation or leave time.
Congratulations to Rep. Jake Files of Fort Smith for not joining his party's apologists.
It's important to know that an agency staff member told auditors about Black's prolonged absences during their review of the agency and that's how they learned that phone calls to the office for Black were transferred to his cell phone at his pizza restaurant, Las Vegas or wherever else he happened to be hanging out. Callers weren't aware of the remote transfers, however.