A report presented last week by Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit paints a less than flattering picture of former Executive Director of the Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission (ATSC) Aaron Black. However, records obtained by the Tolbert Report show an effort was made by the Governor’s Office to replace Black months before the audit ever began.
Email records from Commission Chair Susan Hanrahan show that she met with Lamar Davis, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Mike Beebe, on March 8, 2011. Two days later, Hanrahan emailed Davis as a follow up to this meeting.
“Lamar. I did chat with Aaron and he brought to my attention that he is a graded employee and not a (governor) appointee,” wrote Hanrahan. “Please advise on this piece. Susan.”
Governor spokesman Matt DeCample confirmed that their office was considering replacing Black until he informed them that he was “not an executive classification (99)” employee – who is hired and fired by the governor – but instead “a graded employee (C122),” which means he answers to the commissioners, not the governor.
Black was originally appointed by Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2007; however, following his appointment, the state law changed moving this position to a graded employee status. Prior to serving at the ATSC, Black worked in Huckabee’s office as a liaison to the Department of Finance and Administration. His Republican ties run deep – singing lead vocals for Huckabee’s band “Capitol Offense,” partnering in business with Lt. Governor Mark Darr at one time, and even recently being mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives.
DeCample declined to go into the specifics of why Black was being considered to be replaced back in March, but said it “would stand to reason” that there was someone being considered as his replacement.
DeCample stated that after Black told them he was a classified employee, the issue of replacing him was “set aside for a time.” The audit began in June “totally separate” from the governor’s office. They were not aware of the issues raised until Legislative Audit informed them, which DeCample say he believes was sometime in late summer.
Hanrahan would not comment specifically on her conversation with the governor’s office in March regarding replacing Black, but did say that the Commission was pleased with Black’s job performance as executive director and never had any concerns prior to the issues raised in the audit.
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