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Ex-director’s absences still vex tobacco panel

by Alison Sider | November 9, 2011 at 4:54 a.m.

— The Arkansas Tobacco Settlement Commission discussed Tuesday how to move forward after an audit report alleged that its executive director, who resigned last month, took hundreds of hours of undocumented paid leave time.

The audit, released last month after Aaron Black resigned, said he was absent from work for 579 hours without recording leave time, at an estimated cost of $19,576.

The audit was referred to a prosecuting attorney. No charge has been filed.

Black has not provided any response or explanation to the commission, Chairman Susan Hanrihan said. Black told legislative auditors that 170 of the missing hours should have been recorded as leave time and agreed to record it that way.

Hanrihan said she was “very disappointed” in Black’s response to the audit findings and described the absences as “excessive.”

“He didn’t give any detail about anything,” she said. “Should they have been querying me, I would have been digging everywhere to find legitimate [reasons for absences]. He had nothing and he said nothing.”

When Black announced his plans to resign, he said he wanted to spend more time working at his family’s business. He was not available Tuesday afternoon for a telephone call seeking his comment.

Commissioners discussed whether they would seek to recover money if the prosecuting attorney does not take any action.

They also weighed various policy changes that should be made to increase the commission’s ability to oversee the next director.

So far, the commission has received about 85 applications for the director position, and has narrowed that down to about four or five candidates to interview, Hanrihan said.

Paul Halverson, a commissioner and director of the state Health Department, said if Black had been working from home or another location, there was nothing “intrinsically wrong” with that. But he suggested the commission should have more definite policies in place governing whether and when the director can work from home.

John Ahlen, president of the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, proposed changing the director’s position from “classified,” to “nonclassified” — a move that he and some other commissioners said would make it easier to remove a director. It would also mean a higher base salary. Ahlen said he was uncomfortable with the director being a classified employee.

“If we’re going to have a classified director, we have to start supervising a classified employee. That sounds to me like day-to-day management,” Ahlen said. “I’m not quite ready to get into managing another staff.”

Kay Terry, director of the state’s Office of Personnel Management, said she did not think it was necessary to change the position’s classification.

Arkansas, Pages 11 on 11/09/2011

Print Headline: Ex-director’s absences still vex tobacco panel


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