It’s been a solid month since Charles Robinson was named by Gov. Mike Beebe (D) to serve out the remainder of State Treasurer Martha Shoffner’s term of office. In that time, Robinson has oriented himself to the office and its staff, and is planning for a big July as a new consulting group reshapes office policy.
Robinson, former head of the state’s Division of Legislative Audit, is bringing his auditor’s mentality to the job.
“I’ve spent a lot of time visiting with each one of the 27 people who work in the Treasurer’s office,” Robinson explains. He’s asked questions about job roles and assignments and already found ways to make simple and efficient improvements.
“I’d like to point out that as a result of that there were some individuals in the Treasurer’s office that made some very informative comments that I think are things we need to work on,” he said.
Some changes on his agenda include cross-training employees, improving documentation, disaster preparation, stronger internal controls, and separation of duties. Robinson said there were employees fulfilling jobs that didn’t correlate to the line-items in the office’s appropriation.
“It was hard to make a real good relationship between the appropriation act and the way the office actually ran. People were being paid in positions that didn’t really match what they were doing,” he said. “We were able to take quite a few of those positions and rearrange them to where their title is actually what they’re doing.”
One example is chief investment officer Autumn Sanson who was being paid out of another position on the Treasurer’s payroll. Sanson found herself in the spotlight when she asked state lawmakers if she qualified for “whistleblower status” when she testified about office operations last December.
Robinson said he wants to make corrections in the next appropriation bill for the office.
He recalled his first visit with office employees after Beebe’s appointment last month. He said he’s worked hard to address the low morale he found and thinks it has risen significantly.
“I told them we were here to go forward. We wanted to make things happen, and we wanted to make positive things happen,” Robinson said.
SHOFFNER’S LEGAL WOES
Robinson, 66, is serving in his appointed role as State Treasurer due to the legal complications of former State Treasurer Martha Shoffner.
Shoffner, a Democrat, resigned from her position in May after being arrested by federal authorities on charges of extortion.
She faces a 14-count indictment that includes 7 counts of receipt of bribes by an agent of state government receiving federal funds, 6 counts of extortion, and 1 count of attempted extortion.
She pleaded “not guilty” to the charges in federal court on Thursday.
Robinson who retired from Legislative Audit six years ago, will serve as Treasurer until January 2015. He cannot run for election as Treasurer and said he wouldn’t have any interest in running for office beyond the current term he is being appointed to.
As for coming out of retirement, Robinson joked that he had forgotten how bad the traffic commute was.
“I’d really forgotten how difficult it was,” he said.
After a quick start at rewriting office investment policy, Robinson said he hit the pause button as he learned that a $215,000 professional services contract with a Chicago consulting firm would begin July 1.
Investment consultants Hewitt Ennis Knupp have been hired by the Arkansas State Board of Finance to assist the Treasurer’s office.
The one-year contract charges HEK to complete a comprehensive analysis of the office’s investments and to provide recommendations to the Board for “new investment policies, practices and possible statutory revisions to improve the investment of Treasury funds.”
“We don’t want to duplicate what they’re planning to do,” Robinson said in advance of an expected meeting with the group next week.
“We’re going to work in other areas that will either supplement what they’re going to do or other issues we need to deal with,” he said.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
The legislature also recently reshaped oversight of the Treasurer’s office and its investments. In the last legislative session, Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) was the lead sponsor on Act 1088.
The bill broadened the membership of the Board of Finance to include licensed securities representatives and a certified public accountant. It called on the board to meet at least quarterly instead of the previous arrangement that gave convening powers to the chair of the board.
The new law also requires the chief investment officer to be nominated by the Treasurer and approved by the expanded panel. It also seeks to improve financial reporting and record keeping for the office of Treasurer.
Act 1088 calls for changes to the office’s investment policies and internal controls – moves that Robinson has already begun and expects the HEK consultants to help define further.
Robinson said he has not found any new problems beyond what legislative auditors discovered last year in their review of the office that led to Shoffner’s downfall.
He also said the office is open for business. Investment transactions, a primary function of the Treasurer’s post, are still being made.
“We can’t put it on hold. There are obligations that are coming due that have to be reinvested,” he said.
Does he see any insurmountable challenge to restoring trust in the office after hits to its integrity and reputation?
“It’s a manageable situation,” the former auditor – now Treasurer – politely replies.