It will be awhile before we can remember that Ernie Passailaigue is the director of the new state lottery and Allen Meadors is the new president of the University of Central Arkansas, and not the other way around. These two out-of-staters were hired for high-paying Arkansas jobs at about the same time, and under similarly suspicious circumstances. In each case, it appears that the group allegedly “searching” for just the right person really had a good idea who that person was all along. That's a kind of efficiency, we suppose — it certainly makes a search easier — but it's devious, and unfair to other applicants.
After all the scandal at UCA, all the bad press over presidential misdeeds, you'd think that a search committee and a Board of Trustees would make sure there was not even a whiff of fishiness about the selection of a new president. Instead, the process was handled in such a way that many Arkansans believe the fix was in, again. Great effort and considerable time will be needed to persuade them otherwise, if they're persuadable.
Had we been in charge of finding a lottery director, we'd probably have gone to Hot Springs or West Memphis and hired somebody from one of our in-state racinos. Those people are in the same seedy line of work, and we could probably get a video poker dealer pretty cheap. But “cheap” was the farthest thing from the Lottery Commission's mind. Ray Thornton and his fellow commissioners evidently decided that being head of the Arkansas lottery is about the most important job in the history of Arkansas, and that it must be filled by a truly special person being compensated truly specially. Passailaigue, who seems to get along well with people, and who didn't lose money while running the South Carolina lottery, agreed to come to Arkansas for a salary of $324,000. “It's a fine figure,” Thornton said. It's a fine figure all right, a fine figure of a figure. Most Arkansans never get near so fine a figure as that. Visitors should be impressed too. The Parks and Tourism Commission might start promoting Mr. Passailaigue as it does the diamond mine and Blanchard Springs Caverns: “Come to Arkansas and see our $324,000 lottery director.” Surely, there'll be something else for him to do. You can't run a lottery well enough to justify a salary like that.
A little excess is to be expected when a state enters the lottery business, perhaps. Random suspicion shouldn't be much of a problem for Passailaigue. But people tend to expect more from a state university. That may be the way we remember how to tell these newcomers apart. Meadors is the one with the hard job.