A LITTLE RAIN FALLS: Finally, the daily newspaper gets at the real cause of legislation to take control of the Governor's Mansion from an appointed commission. The first lady wants to be in sole command. A dispute over this sculpture was one of the catalysts for the change.
SHE'S THE BOSS: Susan Hutchison now controls everything about the Mansion, thanks to legislation her husband put on the special session agenda.
Once more on the background of Gov. Asa Hutchinson'
s takeover of the Governor's Mansion Commission
so that his wife, Susan,
would no longer have to brook any outside influence from a commission that has run the place for decades.
Brian Fanney of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette delved
into e-mails to and from Susan Hutchinson
and Mansion Commission members — Jekyll and Hyde-ish missives that spanned emotions from effusive praise to indignant displeasure. There was tension, the article indicated.
We reported this weeks ago (including here
). After the takeover was done, the D-G swallowed Hutchinson administration spin that this legislation was the work of legislators — not the governor's wife — and that it was because of dereliction of duty by the commission in dealing with a rat problem. That was sheer propaganda. As Leslie Newell Peacock wrote for the Arkansas Times
in an article a week ago: "Strife has arisen over matters of taste, expense and the Governor's Mansion Commission's say so over gifts, grants and donations." She wrote then about purchase decisions that became sources of conflict, several mentioned in some detail in e-mails that we and the Democrat-Gazette received in response to FOI requests. One notable dispute centered on a shiny piece of metal sculpture, Rain of Faith,
that was a donation to the Mansion and on which Susan Hutchinson plans to spend $200,000 in tax money for a fancier installation. It was bought at auction for $3,500 by the people who donated it to the Mansion.
We also reported weeks ago that Stacy Hurst,
an ex officio member of the Governor's Commission and a voting member of the reconstituted — and gutted — commission to take office July 1, has done business through her family business, Tipton and Hurst, with the Mansion. The D-G article, in mentioning this, failed to note that she HAS done direct business with the Mansion on at least one occasion. The Hutchinson administration argues that was legal because she was an ex officio member. They also said that transaction was a mistake and should have been billed to the nonprofit Governor's Mansion Association, with whom Hurst has done other, still unspecified business. Perhaps the direct business was legal. But is it a good idea for a member of the commission, even ex officio, to sell goods to a business she oversees and under the control of the wife of a governor who appointed here to a $100,000-a-year state job? They've cleaned up one $2,000 direct billing by a reimbursement from Tipton and Hurst.
But Stacy Hurst, the state Heritage Director (and the beneficiary of almost $100,000 in Hutchinson inaugural business, paid by contributions from corporate Arkansas), has done other business with the Association. How much? The Hutchinson administration refuses to say. She and they say the goods are sold at a discount. Maybe so. But that's not necessarily the same as without profit. Also, much of the Association expenditures are related to events held AT the Mansion, FOR the Mansion and UNDER THE DIRECTION of Mansion staff. It is a distinction without a practical difference to say business is done with the Association and not the Mansion. As Susan Hutchinson's e-mails make clear, there's not much question who's the boss at that domicile.
In talking at some length, but in not answering specific questions over the course of the last week, J.R. Davis,
the governor's spokesman suggested inquiring reporters should look into the business Commission member Kaki Hockersmith
had done with the Mansion. She's a Democrat and a designer for the Clinton White House. Indeed, we learned — and the D-G mentioned — that she and Shayla Copas
(an interior designer and friend of the Hutchinsons who billed the Hutchinson administration for hefty amounts at his inaugural and his Capitol office
redo) have made purchases for the Mansion through their design businesses. But they have always been done without profit and billed as often as possible directly by vendor to Mansion. As yet, no one has endeavored to provide a similar record for Stacy Hurst.
Transparency could cure any lingering questions. Another cure would be for Stacy Hurst to swear off doing profit-making business at the Governor's Mansion (no matter what entity is paying) for the duration of her time as a Mansion commissioner. Appearances count.
The Hutchinson administration — both the governor and his spokesman — are still trying to distance the governor from involvement in the takeover legislation. It is laughably dishonest. Do you buy this from the governor?:
This is just one part of the reform of our boards and commissions and it was somebody else's idea and it made sense to me, so I signed it,
That "efficiency" legislation didn't get on the call without his say-so. It didn't get passed without his say-so. The fog of dozens of pages of inconsequential verbiage in the bill were nothing more than cover for the Hurst/Hutchinson takeover of the History Commission and the Governor's Mansion, both resulting in ouster of people politically unpalatable to Hurst and Mrs. Hutchinson.
A key issue in the future is whether the Hutchinson administration will further claim executive privilege as they already have on money spent at the Mansion — by the Association, at the direction of Don Bingham, the Mansion administrator, or however. The record so far is not encouraging.