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Principals in the per diem scandal elaborate

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ETHICS: From left, Sens. Mark Johnson, Alan Clark and Jimmy Hickey, who brought a complaint of expense account cheating against Johnson and Clark. (Brian Chilson photo.)

Sens. Mark Johnson and Alan Clark, recommended for a variety of punishments by the Senate Ethics Committee for participating in action to give Clark per diem for a meeting he didn’t attend, are offering some thoughts on the matter.

One person sent me Johnson’s e-mailed response to a question about the committee’s finding that Johnson had signed Clark’s name to qualify for daily expense payment for a meeting Clark didn’t attend.

Johnson’s response:

On the morning of Friday, June 3 I attended the Capitol session of Arkansas Boys State.  I was a member of the Senate Committee assisting with Boys State, as I have been for the past three years.

I had a brief doctors appointment scheduled at 9:30.  I left the Capitol for about 45 minutes for this appointment, returning to the Boys State session.

At approximately 11:30, the Boys State session adjourned.  Shortly afterwards, I received a text from Senator Alan Clark, who said that he was feeling ill, and had gone to his apartment in the nearby Capitol Hill Building.  He asked if I would sign him in for the meeting.

From this, I inferred that Senator Clark had been in the Senate chamber during the time when I had gone to my doctors appointment.  He is a trusted colleague and I thought this would be permissible.  I did this courtesy for him in good faith, believing that he had been there while I was out of the building.

I was totally dumbfounded and blindsided by Senator Jimmy Hickey, Jr. filing an ethics complaint against me, and as I found out later, Senator Clark.  I believed my actions to have been a misunderstanding, and certainly not the level of transgression that he accused me of doing.

When staff and relevant leadership determined that Senator Clark was not entitled to per diem for that day, his request was not paid.

I regret signing Senator Clark’s name to the sheet, but did so as a courtesy to him, and at his direction.

I hope this clarifies my actions.  I made it clear to the Ethics Committee in my testimony that I believed that Senator Clark had actually attended the meeting, and had merely failed to sign in because he went to his apartment feeling ill.

I can assure you that this is NOT a common practice.  However, in the wake of this accusation I believe strongly that the payment of per diem should be more clearly defined in our rules.

Sounds a little like Johnson tossed Clark under the bus. He says he signed for Clark at Clark’s direction and the committee’s conclusion appears to have been that Clark did NOT attend.

And what does Clark say? A lot, but he’s offered no direct response on Facebook to the question by me and others whether he DID attend the Boys State meeting. (Understand that under the loose expense rules, a senator or representative need not stay long at a legislative meeting after signing that they were in attendance.)

Among Clark’s  comments on Facebook:

Clark’s Facebook page is full of friends thinking he got a raw deal. One friendly commenter on Clark’s Facebook indicated they’d heard Clark address the matter,  perhaps before the Pulaski County Republican Committee.

it’s fairly simply explained. Certainly see no need for his public rebuke or call for public repentance. He received no public monies for his attendance. It’s stated he went to or towards site, was going to attend and was feverish so he traveled with intent to go but didn’t stay and sign in. I don’t condone anything improper and believe in dotting I’s for one’s reputation sake, generally and especially as a public official, but this whole thing being scandalized as such by some is ridiculously unfair to these Senators. And it is costly for no real benefit to anyone nor does such serve a purpose to the public except to enact a personal vendetta in my opinion.

Traveled with intent to go? That’s a novel defense. Received no money? After payment was blocked by others. Also, remember that Johnson said Clark asked him to sign in to get the daily expense money.  The investigation of this continues by other agencies and when it is completed, perhaps more details will emerge.

I asked Clark directly on Facebook if he’d attended. He has not responded.

Here’s one suggestion: Legislators should NEVER be allowed to sign in for another legislator whether they witnessed a colleague’s presence or not (which Johnson didn’t). Per diem and mileage are being abused, many at the Capitol say. One good rule change would allow expense payments only for meetings of groups of which a legislator is a member or if they have business before that group. That would substantially curtail these tax-free wallet fatteners, so it isn’t likely to be adopted.

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