Lottery: small world
With most top-paying jobs filled, the state Lottery Commission has begun hiring workers farther down the salary scale. Connections don't hurt.
Example: Gwen Armbrust was recently hired as a lottery payroll specialist for $39,631, which was a 27 percent jump over her $31,303 job as higher education program coordinator at the UALR Law School. At UALR, she worked for Julie Baldridge when she was assistant dean for external affairs. Baldridge, a former employee of Lottery Commission Chairman Ray Thornton and Sen. Bob Johnson, who appointed Thornton, was the first hire of lottery director Ernie Passailaigue.
Baldridge said she recommended Armbrust after she applied, though she said they were not personal friends. “She is much younger than me,” Baldridge says. “She has two degrees. She worked her way through college and I know of her work and it is excellent.” She was chosen after an initial winnowing produced 19 applicants for consideration, a spokesman said. The lottery had hired 17 at last report.
The state Republican Party is still searching for a candidate to oppose Gov. Mike Beebe next year. Might state Rep. Allen Kerr of Little Rock, currently drawing wide attention for a crusade over abuse of public employment retirement laws, be the one, as rumors had it? “I'm just trying to get re-elected state representative right now,” he said. The 52-year-old insurance man is in his first House term after one term as a Pulaski JP. But he acknowledged the governor's race had been “thrown around here and there.” He adds, “But, man, that would be a gigantic uphill battle.”
Our Arkansas Blog last week obtained a state list of more than 300 state employees who are drawing both retirement checks and regular pay under state laws — significantly tightened this year — that have allowed sham retirements for as little as one month to qualify employees for retirement checks. They'd then move back into old jobs at full pay.
Our attention was drawn by one double-dipper, long-time Parole Board member Leroy Brownlee of Little Rock. He is a gubernatorial appointee. He went off the payroll for six weeks in 2008 and then came back on for more than $90,000 a year plus his retirement. A spokesman explained only by saying the move was allowed by law. It also qualified Brownlee for a rare triple-dip — retirement pay, regular pay and an account full of deferred retirement pay that had been accumulating tax-free but which he'd have lost had he not retired, at least briefly.