by Max Brantley
I broke news yesterday of a $110,000 jury verdict for a 37-year psychologist at the state Rehabilitation Services Division who was fired in 2008 after he complained that services were being improperly provided to (and thus tax money was being wasted on) a client at the rehabilitation center in Hot Springs.
I asked yesterday for a comment from the Workforce Education Department of which the division is a part and got none. I was interested not only in a response to the verdict in the whistle blower action, but to testimony from former and one current employee about use of an acronym in the agency that applied to people such as the unidentified client named by the psychologist — PMS, for politically mandated service. The allegation was that political influence explains why certain people benefit from expenditure of tax money for housing, food, transportation and services.
I turned to the governor's office today. Psychologist Bob Means, who brought the suit, said the governor's office was one of several places, including the U.S. Inspector General, he had turned in trying to report misdeeds. The governor's office said a person named by Means as an office contact was not known to the office and hadn't worked there. Means' attorney said he was assured that state Sen. Terry Smith and a Hot Springs woman, now deceased, would get the information to the governor. After my inquiry to the governor, I did, however, get a response from Bill Walker, director of the Workforce Education Department, through a spokesman:
"We plan to appeal the ruling. Since the case is still ongoing, I will have no further comment at this time."
I wouldn't think you'd want to wait for completion of an appeal to discuss sworn testimony by a current employee about PMS at your agency. Perhaps there's a Republican legislator who might like to seek a better response on PMS in an executive agency led by a Beebe appointee.
They might also ask for a tour of Walker's suite of satellite offices on Capitol Avenue. And see if those plans are completed yet for the NEW offices he envisions for himself and Robert Trevino, the Rehabilitation Services chief, in a building expansion. It was Trevino who fired Means immediately after a telephone chat between him and Walker from their respective beach vacations, shortly after Means had talked with the federal investigator.
UPDATE: I did get a response from gubernatorial spokesman Matt DeCample on PMS, which he said:
"... is a term we’ve never used, recognized or heard of before this matter. What I can assume the parties involved with the suit are referring to is the following. Our office gets calls from constituents all the time looking for help. If our liaisons, after listening to the circumstances of a particular case, think that there is a state agency or program that can help, we refer them accordingly. We have made such referrals to Rehabilitative Services in the past, but have never mandated that anyone be treated regardless of qualification. People referred from our office are screened on legal requirements for services just like any other potential client would be. While I can’t speak for legislative offices, I’m sure they have had similar experiences to ours."