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Counting the furniture

Huckabee takes his office furniture; a conflict on Mansion gift.

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Remember the $70,000-plus in furnishings sent to the Governor’s Mansion that Gov. Mike Huckabee claimed in 1998 was his property until his lawyer said it wasn’t?

The Arkansas Times can’t find the furniture on a Department of Finance and Administration inventory of mansion property.

First Lady Janet Huckabee, however, said the inventory is wrong, and the furniture is there. The Times was not extended an invitation to see for ourselves.

But Gov. Huckabee has claimed as his other furniture donated at the same time, furniture that was in his office at the state Capitol. That furniture was a gift of Jennings Osborne, and like the mansion furniture, was listed as a gift in the governor’s 1996 statement of financial interest filed with the state in 1997.

Huckabee spokesman Alice Stewart confirmed that the furniture had been removed and put in storage. Stewart said it will eventually go to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, where Huckabee has been hired to be the director of OBU’s planned Center for Education and Public Policy.

The fiscal year budget for 1997 included $435,877 for operating expenses for the governor’s office; when Gov. Mike Beebe takes office, he’ll have $462,731 in the budget to outfit his office with supplies, computers and furniture.

Persons working in the secretary of state’s office next door to the governor’s office in the Capitol described the furniture, observed in the hallway, as including wing chairs and desks and other large items.

State prohibits public officials from receiving gifts worth more than $100, unless the office-holder can prove that the gift was made “independent of his or her official status.”

No one raised a question at the time of whether the governor could legally accept the gift from Osborne, who later was appointed to the War Memorial Stadium Commission by the governor. State law says elected officials may not accept gifts larger than $100 if they relate directly to the official’s duties. The reason is that such gifts could be seen as attempts to curry favor.

The gift of furniture to the mansion, however, was the subject of a legal complaint in 1999. The Times had detailed the gift in October 1998 along with its coverage of the governor and Mrs. Huckabee’s use of the Governor’s Mansion Account to pay for personal items. The article produced a number of changes of position from Huckabee and his lawyers on whether the furniture was the Huckabees’ or the state’s.

The governor initially said it was his: “We might take the furniture with us when we leave, or we might donate it to the mansion. That’s our option.” His lawyer, Tom Mars, agreed.

After the complaint was filed, however, the attorney representing Huckabee in the case, Kevin Crass, said it was always the intent of the donor — cotton planter Charles “Boe” Adams of Leachville — that the furniture go to the state.

The state Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint about the furniture, ruling that it was “clear the donors intended that the gifts were for the state of Arkansas and not to the Huckabees personally.”

In her e-mail to the Times, Mrs. Huckabee said she could not account for the fact that the inventory didn’t include the furnishings, but added, “I can assure you that I have left more in this house than all the rest of the families combined. That might be a list even too large for DF&A.”

Janis Harrison, whose DFA office handles inventories, said the inventory was complete as far as she knew. She said the private quarters had been included in an on-site audit of the mansion in April 2005. Department inventories have never included the Boe Adams furniture, a look at back records found.

The only items listed as “donated” on the DFA’s inventory are furnishings for the Grand Hall. The only furniture listed as being in the private quarters are two beds, a dresser and a bookcase, all bought in 1966.

A list of furnishings that included installation costs, provided to the Times by Mansion Administrator Kamala Williams, included more than 60 pieces, including draperies and rugs. The cost, including labor, came to $71,746.71.

The pieces included, for example, a $2,256.43 English-style “desert crackle” armoire entertainment center for the breakfast room; a $2,812.50 hand-painted demilune chest for the master bedroom; a $1,005.13 loveseat for Gov. Huckabee’s study; a $1,305 pine armoire for son David’s room; and a $615 slipper chair for daughter Sarah’s room. There were also tables, chairs, lamps, bedding, rugs and decorative items.

Crass blamed Williams for the governor’s mistaken claim on the furniture, saying she misinformed Huckabee.

Despite Crass’ blaming Williams and the governor’s own financial statement listing the furniture as a gift, Huckabee then suggested he’d been misquoted when he said the furniture was his. “Don’t believe everything you read in the paper,” he told the Capitol media. “The news media has reported a lot of things that are not totally accurate.”

Last week, Crass repeated that he believed the furniture to be the property of the state. “That issue in my mind has been settled for six years,” he said.

Crass said the ownership of the furniture in the governor’s office depended on the intent of the donor. Jennings Osborne furnished the office, a gift Huckabee also reported in 1997 for the previous year.

DFA chief Richard Weiss said last week he would look into the discrepancy in the Mansion furniture inventory “at some point.”

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