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Martin hires consultants to plan goals

Move rare in state offices by Alison Sider | April 17, 2011 at 5:45 a.m.

— Secretary of State Mark Martin said a $54,500 taxpayer-financed contract with a consulting organization to outline goals and operating procedures is important to his efforts to revamp the way his office is run.

His office signed a contract with the Soderquist Center for Leadership and Ethics, founded by former Wal-Mart executives, to do a “values-based strategic planning” process that will be completed in several phases. It includes interviews with senior staff members and a three-day planning retreat for five senior management employees at the center’s campus in Rogers.

The other six constitutional offices - governor, lieutenant governor, attorneygeneral, land commissioner, treasurer and auditor - say they have no such contract with Soderquist or any similar company.

Martin, a Republican, said the secretary of state’s office has unique needs: developing a plan is crucial to integrating a large staff, many of whom were hired by the previous administration. He said he wants the office to function with the consistency of a government agency, rather than a political office that completely turns over personnel every time a new administration comes in.

“That’s a monumental task with an organization this large,” he said. The office has 168 employees, 80 percent of whom he said were hired by his predecessor, Democrat Charlie Daniels, now thestate auditor.

“When we took office, we came into an organization that we found did not have very much, if any, operating procedures,” Martin said. “Things were just kind of done by tradition ... there was a lot of disorganization.”

Martin said his office’s expenditure of state Board of Apportionment funds last month is “one small indication of some of thestructural difficulties that we aim to improve on.”

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who is chairman of the board, brought up the fact that Martin had spent about $70,000 of apportionment-related funds of the board without receiving the board’s approval. Martin later took some of those expenditures off the board’s books, transferring them to his office’s budget.

Martin said at the time that he believed he was following accepted practices when he made the expenditures. But the incident may point to what he says is a broader problem in the office, which has an annual budget of about $20 million and has varied responsibilities, including maintenance of Capitol grounds buildings, overseeing elections and votereducation efforts.

“We run into things where constantly upper management has to make a decision about what’s occurring, and then it’s a decision process with people that have only been in the office, at this point, 90 days really. So upper management has to make decisions where there’s not any process documented where they can make clear, informed decisions,” Martin said.

He also said job descriptions in the office are often unclear, another problem the strategic plan could address.

The Soderquist Center is affiliated with John Brown University in Siloam Springs.The center works with corporations as well as nonprofits. Chief executive Chuck Hyde said it has also worked with local governments and at least one foreign government, which he could not disclose due to confidentiality policies.

“They have a vision that they see their office contributing in the role they have in the state, and they’re basically looking for facilitated help on how they can best achieve that,” Hyde said.

Hyde said the program is “pretty standard strategic-planning work,” with a special emphasis on the office’s values.

“We believe the values of an organization - whatever they believe, whatever they hold true - should influence their decision-making. A lot of times strategic planning in traditional roles is only with certain goals in mind ... we bring the organizational values into that conversation as a starting point, as a point of reference,” Hyde said.

Hyde said the process of identifying core values the secretary of state’s office is working with is still ongoing.

“There’s a process of ‘What are their values?’ and that work has not yet occurred. So I couldn’t comment on that.”

The program will directly involve five members of the “senior management team” in the secretary of state’s office, and 10 to 15 others who will be responsible for implementing the recommendations.

The $54,500 does not include travel expenses for Soderquist Center staff for one visit to Little Rock.

The full price will be paid in several stages, according to the contract: $13,625 at the beginning, $13,625 after the first phase, $13,625 after the retreat, $6,812 after the third phase, and $6,812 after the final review is complete.

The preliminary research portion of the program includes phone interviews with senior staff members and a questionnaire to be administered to a random sampling of the staff, aimed at understanding how employees see the role of the office, what it is known for, and its impact on the state.

Questions include “If you could change the services of the secretary of state’s office, what would you add and/or eliminate?”; “How do you and your team impact the citizens of the state of Arkansas?” and “What words or values would you say describe ‘who you are’ or ‘articulate what you stand for’” at the office.

Details of the contract were first reported by the ArkansasTimes of Little Rock.

Candace Martin, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, called the expenditure a waste of taxpayer money.

“One would hope that Secretary Martin had a good idea of what was involved in the office he currently occupies before he decided to run for [it],” she said. “It’s discouraging to see a current Republican officeholder use taxpayer dollars to pay a consulting company to discover ‘what the secretary of state’s office is best known for.’”

Most state agencies are required to report all contracts with outside companies to the Office of State Procurement, a division of the Department of Finance and Administration. The seven constitutional offices are exempt from this, as are the Legislature, state courts and prosecuting attorneys.

Contracts reported by the six other constitutional offices have been limited to tech support, press clippings, pest control, and other services. The attorney general’s office said it uses contracts during litigation, for instance, to engage experts. It is also working with a consultant to help build up itscyber-crimes unit.

Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Beebe, said the governor’s office had no plans to do a strategic-planning process, saying, “We’re not going to judge what any other elected constitutional officer does,” but spending money for a strategic plan is “not something we’ve needed in our office.”

Peggy Gram, chief deputy to Daniels in the auditor’s office, said the planning and survey would not be necessary for that office, which has an annual budget of about $3.7 million. “We just have never seen the need,” she said.

Sara Beth Lowe, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, a Republican, said that office will not be participating in a similar program.

“If you look at our budget you will see it is pretty small. If someone would like to participate in or take a course such asthis they would have to pay for it themselves,” Lowe said in an e-mail. The office has a budget of $381,755.

Darr’s recent trip to Texas to meet with business executives and other officials related to energy and natural resources was not paid for out of the office’s budget, Lowe said. A company “looking to expand in the state” financed the trip. Lowe said the company name was proprietary and will be included on Darr’s next financial-disclosure form, which isdue in January. She declined to name the company now.

Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, said the office does not at this time need to work with the Soderquist Center or a similar organization. He said any training and resource needs the office has are being met by the national association of attorneys general.

A spokesman for Treasurer Martha Shoffner, a Democrat, said she did not have a comment as to why that office has not sought a contract similar to the one the secretary of state’s office has signed.

Nikki Heck, a spokesman for Land Commissioner John Thurston, a Republican, said that office has no plans for strategic planning with the Soderquist Center or any other group.

“This is not something we have looked at, or intend to,” she said. “It sounds like a fine program but does not fit our current needs.”

Arkansas, Pages 15 on 04/17/2011

Print Headline: Martin hires consultants to plan goals

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