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Monday, May 22, 2017, 2:44 p.m.


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Little Rock city attorney to get 1.5 percent raise

Board OKs pay rise, increase in car allowance after delayed evaluation

By Chelsea Boozer

This article was published May 18, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.


City Attorney Tom Carpenter is shown in this file photo.

Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter will receive a 1.5 percent raise, matching that given to the city manager earlier this year.

With the increase, which is retroactive to January, Carpenter now makes $149,000 -- up from his previous $146,798 salary.

The Little Rock Board of Directors voted to give the city attorney a raise after spending about an hour and a half in closed executive session questioning Carpenter and evaluating him Tuesday.

His annual evaluation was originally set for February but, after meeting with him, city directors had some concerns and asked him to come back with answers to several questions, which they didn't disclose publicly.

"We had asked Mr. Carpenter earlier to address two or three issues that we had questions about, and we visited with him and he has provided us with that updated information," Mayor Mark Stodola announced Tuesday night after the board returned from its executive session.

The motion to give Carpenter a 1.5 percent raise and a motion to increase his car allowance from $400 per month to $600 per month were unanimously approved by the 10-member board.

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Carpenter's monthly car allowance hadn't been increased in at least two decades, he said. It is now on par with what City Manager Bruce Moore receives, as well as what department heads get.

Moore was praised by the board after his Feb. 7 evaluation and given a 1.5 percent raise, increasing his pay retroactively to $189,240 for 2017.

City directors typically don't discuss what happens in closed executive sessions. Carpenter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after the earlier review that the board had questions about office equipment and litigation options that they wanted a report on before continuing his evaluation.

In February, Stodola had publicly announced that the board requested a plan be developed "for the items that were discussed" before the board would continue its evaluation of Carpenter. The continued review had since been pushed off several times due to scheduling conflicts with board members.

The city attorney and city manager are the only two employees who answer directly to the board. They are evaluated yearly.

Usually, both receive pay increases after their evaluations, except in years when employees citywide aren't given raises.

Carpenter said Wednesday that he was pleased with his most recent evaluation and looks forward to continuing his work for the city.

This year wasn't the first time Carpenter's evaluation was continued to allow for follow-up.

He's been the city's chief legal counsel since 1991. In 2001, city directors complained he was late in giving legal advice before a vote on the merger of the Little Rock and North Little Rock water systems, and he didn't get an immediate stamp of approval.

"City directors have picked at Carpenter for months about waiting until the last minute to give his recommendations. Some department heads have recently said they were waiting for Carpenter to respond to requests made over the summer," a Democrat-Gazette article printed at the time said.

Then-Mayor Jim Dailey told a reporter the board's concerns were organizational and said city directors had asked for his plans to improve operations before continuing his evaluation.

In other years, Carpenter received gold stars from the board.

More recently, questions had been raised about Carpenter's management of his staff and caseload.

Last year, a circuit judge fined the city $10,000 for not being ready for a trial. The attorney involved was subsequently fired. Carpenter was chastised after advising the city not to pay the fine on time and to instead wait for the judge's decision on the city's motion to reconsider.

In December 2015, the Arkansas Supreme Court dismissed the city's appeal of a circuit court decision over the city's failure to follow rules. That resulted in the city having to pay a $510,675 judgment to landowners in an eminent domain case.

In that case, the state Supreme Court said the city failed to order and pay for a $1,500 trial transcript on time.

In November, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox said Carpenter regularly disregards court orders, and Fox required the mayor and city manager to attend mediation in a case. Carpenter has an ever-increasing track record of "flouting or avoiding" orders, the judge said.

At the time, Carpenter disagreed with Fox's interpretation of the matter and said he couldn't comment on the statements made about him, but he said the judge had never personally raised those matters with him.

None of those issues was publicly acknowledged or discussed by the Board of Directors after either of Carpenter's evaluations this year.

Metro on 05/18/2017

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