by Max Brantley
Channel 4 coverage here.
I agree with one of the lame defenses made for Bill Walker, who had a previous association through his funeral home business with the person hired. Legislative committees don't need as a rule to be getting into hiring decisions of executive agencies, much as this smelly deal begged for exposure. What's needed is some sorely lacking executive leadership.
Walker's tenure at the state agency has produced a steady stream of complaints about favoritism in hiring and contracting. He's done real estate business with friends. He lost a lawsuit for trying to shut down a whistleblower in Hot Springs. Just last week his department pushed through a $360,000 ad contract that ended up with an agency headed by the brother of his friend and state legislative colleague, Rep. Tracy Steele. Yes, it scored highest in an evaluation of competing bids (the others slightly lower in prices) — the evaluation done by employees of Walker. Walker has spent a healthy amount on fancy offices for himself and Rehab director Robert Trevino, himself another source of employee complaints. The governor is well aware of all this. He's apparently happy with Walker, who switched from supporting a Republican governor to supporting Beebe in 2006, when the future governor didn't have a lot of support in the black community.
Every time another questionable deal by Walker arises I think of his race for Little Rock mayor.
UPDATE: Jason Pederson of Channel 7, who broke this story, compiled a partial transcript of yesterday's hearing, including Walker's complaints about treatment by the press. Here it is.