Back in September of this year, Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office fired Santa Claus.  Well, actually, they fired Bob Newcomb who volunteered to play Santa Claus for the past nine years at the State Capitol.

Newcomb, an attorney in his real job, was representing a client who was suing the Secretary of State’s office on an unrelated matter and Martin’s office didn’t take too kindly to Santa opposing them, so they fired Newcomb. Their cover story was that a SOS employee wanted to to play Santa and it was understood that the new Santa would also be doing his duties on a volunteer basis.

Flash forward to December. The Secretary of State’s office is now paying for Santa’s service – even though they could have had Santa’s services for free.

And it appears that Martin’s office has changed their story on why they really replaced Santa.

Roger Armstrong was paid $400 to perform as Santa Claus this month, which I confirmed with Armstrong and he’s listed as receiving $400 on Arkansas’s state government online checkbook under the Secretary of State’s expenditures section.

Alex Reed, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, also confirmed they hired Roger Armstrong to play Santa and that the original SOS employee who wanted to play Santa opted in the end not to do it.

I asked Reed why would they pay for a Santa, when they could have had one for free.  Reed noted they gave a $100 Wal-Mart gift card to Newcomb, so it was not totally free.  I’m told the gift card, was simply that, a gift, and Newcomb never requested payment.

Still though, $100 is cheaper than $400, so I asked Reed why they didn’t just hire back the original Santa.  Reed replied, “We just felt like it was time to make a change.”   Reed said they got some feedback on Newcomb from the first Christmas they utilized him and “they felt like they needed a change.”  Reed did not elaborate on what type of feedback they received.

What kind of feedback could there have been?  Did Newcomb shave his beard, lose weight and yell at the kids?  No, that did not happen.

The larger point is that Martin’s office changed their story on this matter. First, they said that the only reason they wanted to replace Newcomb was that a SOS employee wanted to play Santa.

Now the story is that feedback on Newcomb prompted the change.

Which is it?  Or is it neither?

It seems that Martin’s office is just playing petty politics with Santa since Newcomb is representing a client who filed a complaint against their office with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.  In the end, they should have just hired Newcomb back and saved the taxpayers an ever so tiny bit of money.

I know full well we’re talking mere pennies in the context of state government’s budget, but it’s still our money.

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Michael Cook
Michael Cook is the moderator for his opinion blog, Cook's Outlook. He can be reached by e-mail at Michael@CooksOutlook.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mcookAR or on Facebook: facebook.com/CooksOutlook.