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More forestry fallout


More forestry fallout

Another shoe dropped last week by way of fallout in the controversy over the Arkansas Forestry Commission, which used improper transfers of federal grants to make ends meet when other revenue sources fell short. It got a fiscal bailout in the recent legislative session. Also, John Shannon was forced to resign as director of the agency after a tough legislative audit.

Last Friday, another key player in the story left state government. Robert Araiza retired as chief financial manager of the Arkansas Career Education Department's Rehabilitation Services Division. It ended a 27-year state career.

Araiza had been the top financial officer at the Forestry Commission. He left in October after the pot began stirring on the agency's troubles. Shannon said he'd relied on Araiza's advice in borrowing federal money. Araiza said he'd long tried to alert officials to problems and told the legislature Gov. Mike Beebe's office had directed that the situation be kept quiet until after the 2010 election. "The more I brought it to their attention, the more it fell on deaf ears," Araiza said.

If you think the governor's office might have been a factor in Araiza's departure, you think right. Said Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample:

"After the Legislative Audit report was released, Governor Beebe met with [Career Education] Director [Bill] Walker and shared the audit results with him. Beebe advised Walker that based on the audit, it would probably be best to not have Mr. Araiza handling fiscal matters at the agency, and to move him to another position if he was going to remain at Career Education."

Instead, Araiza retired. We couldn't reach him for comment.

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