LITTLE ROCK - The co-chairman of the troubled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission on Thursday defended the executive director, who has been linked to an insurance fraud ring, but said he is concerned about the commission and its future.
Also Thursday, legislators said they were getting tired of all the commission's infighting, and a state audit of the panel found no significant problems.
"We hope you all can work out your own family fights and get it together. ... If that doesn't happen soon, trust me, there will be some things developing down the road," Sen. Jimmy Jeffress, D-Crossett, told commission officials during a legislative auditing committee meeting.
"You need to get your family quarrel ended and start being a functioning entity that works for the benefit of the community," Jeffress said.
"I hope you all can get your business straightened out so you can carry out the intent of the commission," said Sen. Bobby Glover.
Earlier in the day, the commission canceled a scheduled meeting because not enough members showed up to conduct business.
The commission has a history of turmoil that began in 2004 when a faction tried to oust the longtime director, state Sen. Tracy Steele, D-Little Rock. Steele survived the attempt, but when he resigned in November 2006, infighting erupted over his successor.
Last year, a member filed a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of some commission appointees. The suit, which was dropped last month, held up future appointments to the panel. For months the commission could not manage a quorum to hold meetings.
In March, the commission hired DuShun Scarbrough executive director. At his request, the state police began an investigation into possible theft of property from the commission, and the state began an audit.
Last month, a court filing in a fraud case alleged Scarbrough made misrepresentations to an insurance carrier on five accident claims between 1996 and 2000. The filing was made by the state Insurance Department.
Gov. Mike Beebe suggested last week that the commission be restructured.
Commission co-chairman Andy Montgomery said Thursday he supports Scarbrough and doesn't find "any validity" in the court filing.
The Insurance Commission did not name Scarbrough as a defendant in its lawsuit against two of his cousins.
"They didn't seem to think it was valid so I don't think it was valid," Montgomery told reporters Thursday. "Until somebody shows me something different, I just don't think it's valid."
Scarbrough, who has not been charged with a crime, denied the allegations Thursday, but declined further comment.
Montgomery comments came after a planned commission meeting was canceled because it could not muster the 14 members required for the 26-member panel to conduct business.
"It does concern me that is happening," Montgomery said. "There's always a lot of bickering and fighting, but the commission should be about those things that are going on in the community, trying to see why young men or women are just out on the street and don't have jobs, why jobs aren't coming to Arkansas."
He said he was not sure if he supported Beebe's call for restructuring the commission.
"The governor does have a job to do and I understand all the governor's concerns," he said. "He is embarrassed and it is embarrassing when you come and try to have a meeting and can't."
Commission member Jim Porter said he agrees with the governor.
"At the rate we're going I don't see anything happening until such time as the governor sees it important enough to reduce the number of commissioners and work with one chairman," he said.
Thursday afternoon, the Standing Committee on State Agencies of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee was presented a review of the commission's finances.
The report found no major problems, but did say there was a lack of documentation for $458 in credit card purchases during a two-year period.
Jerelyn Duncan, who served as interim director prior to Scarbrough's hiring and resigned as the commission's finance director after he was named, said she felt vindicated by the audit report.
"What I want the people of the state of Arkansas to know is, my integrity and my character is something that I think a whole lot about, and for people to know that I upheld the job at the (highest) level is definitely what's very important to me," she said.