The chairman of the state's House of Representatives committee that oversees public health policy will step down months before the end of his elected term to take a six-figure-salary position with the state Department of Human Services.
On Monday, Human Services Department officials announced that Rep. Kelley Linck, R-Flippin, submitted his resignation to Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday and that he will become the agency's first chief of legislative and governmental affairs on June 13. The job will pay $108,243 a year.
As a House member, Linck is paid $39,400 a year, plus per diem mileage and other expenses.
Linck's newly created position is the first of several planned changes to the state's largest agency after a 60-day review by its new director, Cindy Gillespie. In March, in her second week on the job, Gillespie announced her intention to find ways to make the agency more effective and efficient.
The entirety of Gillespie's plans, according to Human Services Department officials, will be revealed today.
In a statement on Linck's hiring, Gillespie credited Linck's past work with the department for making him an ideal candidate in a position that will serve as a bridge between lawmakers and the Human Services Department staff.
"Given our size and how often we at DHS sit before legislative committees, it was important to me that we have someone providing a link between us and legislators and other elected officials," Gillespie said. "Kelley has extensive knowledge about DHS and the legislative process, and will help us keep legislators informed and engaged in the work we're doing. We weren't doing that as well as we should have."
Linck was first elected in 2010 and was a recent chairman or held other ranking positions on several health-related committees. He is chairman of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.
He said he will no longer work at Arkansas Ozark Mountain Region, a tourism group that receives some state funding, and he will stop running his marketing company.
Linck co-sponsored legislation in 2015 that re-authorized the state's private-option program, in which the Human Services Department uses federal Medicaid money to buy private health insurance for poorer Arkansans. The program was revamped this year and is now known as Arkansas Works.
On Monday, Linck said positions similar to his new one are common at comparable human-services agencies in other states. He said he looked forward to the opportunity to educate his former fellow lawmakers as well as relay their concerns to Human Services Department officials.
"I think back to fiscal responsibility that legislators want, and in turn, I can help the director and deputy directors get a better idea of what the Legislature wants," Linck said. "I think [my position] will be an excellent bridge that the agency has needed."
The position was not publicly advertised, nor did it have to be, because it is a nonclassified position, according to Human Services Department spokesman Amy Webb.
Webb said the job was not created specifically for Linck and that creating the job was an early priority for Gillespie, who took over the agency on March 1 for a $280,000 a year salary.
"It's really so there is a point person, a place to go for legislators. We're a huge agency and we have so many things that go through the Legislature on a continuous basis," Webb said. "This office also handles constituent services. Legislators get calls from their constituents all the time with different questions. ... This is a place they can go."
Webb said she expected there would be new jobs included as a part of Gillespie's plans for a reorganization but said she didn't know if those positions would also pay six-figure salaries. She said there would be savings realized through not filling some vacant positions.
"We're not trying to grow our agency," Webb said. "We will reduce it where we can. ... We want it to become leaner over time."
Lawmakers are prohibited by state law from becoming lobbyists within two years of the end of their last term in office.
But Linck's position is not a lobbying position, according to Linck and others.
"Lobbyists tend to get an agenda from their client, they try to get that agenda pushed towards the Legislature. In these circumstances, DHS is not in any place to push anything forward that the Legislature is not supportive of," Linck said. "It's more a bridge of understanding between the two. I definitely wouldn't call it a lobbyist."
Speaker of the House Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said he was sad to see Linck step down early but he didn't think there was anything inappropriate about the transition from a position of legislative oversight to relaying information on behalf of a state agency.
"I think in this particular situation he'll be more of a facilitator for problem solving than he would be 'lobbying' in any sense of the word," Gillam said.
A similar situation occurred two years ago when Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, announced that he would not seek re-election.
Key went on to be hired by the University of Arkansas System as an associate vice president for university relations. In 2015, Key became commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education.
Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said that although there is a hiring freeze in state government, Hutchinson signed off on Linck's selection.
The secretary of state's office deferred questions to the governor's office about the process for replacing Linck for the remaining seven months of his two-year term.
Davis said he wasn't certain how the process will work; the governor's attorneys are reviewing the relevant law.
"We'll do whatever we're supposed to do," he said.
A Section on 06/07/2016
Print Headline: Lawmaker quitting to be DHS' 1st legislative chief