News today in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette illustrates
BILLIE HOGGARD: Two violations, a $50 fine.
one of the reasons there's so much government corruption in Arkansas — there's little consequence for law violations.
Here's the story:
Craighead County Justice of the Peace Billie Sue Hoggard,
a high Republican Party official in the county, got a free trip to the Republican National Convention
in Cleveland in 2016 courtesy of Chad Niell,
whose correctional services business has a
contract with Craighead County. That makes JP Hoggard an overseer. She didn't report on her financial disclosure statement, as required, the gift of free lodging and the free private airplane ride that county vendor Niell
provided to county official Hoggard.
Somebody complained. Hoggard was notified. Then, thanks to the ethics mulligan rule added to law with leadership
of the felonious Republican Sen. Jon Woods
, Hoggard was allowed to amend her report to correct her failure to disclose the gift. The amended report failed to include the cost of the private airplane ride Niell
had given Hoggard. She filed another amended report. Finally, it was complete.
She valued her county vendor-supplied freebies around $1,300. She worked out a settlement.
It included this head-scratcher — an indication of the inadequacy of our ethics law. It's a statement from Graham Sloan,
director of the Ethics Commission
(controlled by legislative appointees and funded by the legislature):
"There was no indication that you intentionally omitted the gift or intentionally miscalculated an estimated value in you[r] initial amended SFI and the commission notes that you have since filed an additional, amended SFI," Sloan wrote in his letter to Hoggard.
No indication? There's prima facie indication. 1) She got a free hotel room. 2) She got a free plane ride. 3) given a chance to fess to the free plane ride, she first did not. Here's the section of the form on which Hoggard failed to list the gift at all, and then reported only partially.
Oh, yes, there are exceptions. There are, in fact, many of them thanks to scheming, greedy legislators
such as former House Speaker Jeremy Gillam
, now a lobbyist. They include travel costs for a public official appearing in an official capacity. I wouldn't think that applies to attending
a political party convention.
Hoggard settled the complaint by amending her filing a second time and paying a $50 fine. Thoughts:
1) BFD. $50 is going to make people obey the law?
that this was an oversight? Twice?
3) What kind of ethics are demonstrated by a public official who
takes a free trip from a person who has a taxpayer-paid contract with the government she represents?
4) A question for Sloan that I'll answer when he responds: How is a gift valued at more than $100 legal in the first place? Longtime friends may give gifts worth more than $100, but it doesn't allay the stench for vendor-official freebies.
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