Arkansas Highway Commission Chief Legal Counsel Robert Wilson had a difficult day today at the capitol, beginning with a grueling questioning session from the Joint Audit Committee and ending with the Highway Commission putting him on administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of an internal investigation. All this was the result of a finding from a legislative audit of inappropriate paid absences from work. From the audit report...
The Chief Legal Counsel of the Agency, Robert L. Wilson, allowed staff of the Agency’s Legal Division to have inappropriate paid absences from work. Employees were improperly allowed to take 4 hours (one-half day) of paid time off every three weeks on a rotating basis. Schedules assigning the one half day for the period July 1, 2007 through December 31, 2009, and analysis of corresponding leave records and other support, indicated that employees of the Division may have been paid for 2,520 hours for which they did not perform job duties. Based on the employees’ average hourly rates for the period, the estimated cost of this time totals $73,891.
After over an hour of pointed questions in which state legislators vented their frustrations, it was also apparent during the audit meeting that a rift existed between Wilson and other top Highway Commission officials, including Chairman Madison Murphy who said that Wilson had not been cooperative with an internal investigation into the matter. Rep. Justin Harris, R-Prairie Grove, said that Wilson was "an embassment to the Commision and also to the state of Arkansas" and wondered if it was time for him to move on. This lead Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, to respond that the proceeding was the equivalant of a "legal lynching."
Immediately following the hearing, Wilson left without taking questions from reporters and left the capitol grounds with his attorney. Shortly thereafter, he was called back to the capitol to meet with the Highway Commission who had to wait several minutes for his arrival. Upon returning, the Commission met with Wilson in executive session. After opening the session back to the public, Commissioner John Ed Regenold moved and the Commission unanimously voted to put Wilson on administrative leave with pay pending the investigation.
"This is an issue that has been ongoing for quite a while. So I would view this as a culmination of events as opposed to precipitated by anything that took place this morning," said Madison regarding the Commission’s actions.