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story.lead_photo.caption The Arkansas Capitol is shown in this 2015 file photo. (Photo by Danny Johnston / The Associated Press)

John Thurston, the incoming secretary of state, won't retain 10 employees once he takes that office in January.

Thurston, who now is the commissioner of state lands, sent letters Friday to those employees of the secretary of state's office notifying them that their employment would be terminated in January. Thurston, a Republican from the East End community in Saline County, will succeed Mark Martin, who didn't run because he was term-limited for that office.

Thurston's successor is Tommy Land, a Republican from Heber Springs. Land said he plans to retain all of the land commissioner's employees who don't join Thurston in the secretary of state's office. Additionally, Land said he will hire secretary of state Chief of Staff Kelly Boyd as his chief deputy in the land commissioner's office.

It's unknown which employees in the secretary of state's office will be let go. Both Thurston and a spokesman for Martin declined to provide those names, citing the privacy of personnel matters.

In response to a public-records request, Thurston's office redacted the employees' names in the 10 letters, saying they were personnel records exempted from disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Those employees were notified earlier this week that they'd be placed on paid leave until Jan. 14 when their employment ends, said secretary of state's office spokesman Chris Powell.

"To give the employees time to search for new opportunities, and as a cautionary measure, those who will not get an offer of employment from the new secretary, have been given administrative leave with full pay and benefits until the new secretary of state takes office in mid-January," Powell said.

[2018 ELECTION: Full Democrat-Gazette coverage of Arkansas races]

Thurston, who has been the land commissioner since 2011, defeated Democrat Susan Inman in November's secretary of state race. Land defeated Democrat Larry Williams.

Employee turnover in the state's constitutional offices is routine when a new officer is elected. The secretary of state and land commissioner's offices are the only two with new elected officers taking over in January.

The secretary of state's office has about 140 employees; the land commissioner's office has about 40.

Thurston said he was grateful that Martin placed the employees who won't be retained on leave.

"I think it just works better for everybody," Thurston said, adding that it smooths the transition and gives those employees an opportunity to find new work while still receiving regular paychecks.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Metro on 12/06/2018

Print Headline: 10 workers out at Arkansas secretary of state's office after election

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  • Machiavelli
    December 6, 2018 at 10:12 a.m.

    Odd. There is no blanket FOIA exemption for "personnel records" as about a million AG opinions state, and this does not appear to be an employee evaluation record, which is exempt. The only way it would be exempt is if the letters provide reasons for termination. See AG Opinion 2006-147:

    This office has opined that letters of termination constitute employee-evaluation records if they contain the reasons for the suspension or termination. If, however, the letter merely reflects the fact of termination, without elaboration, this office has opined that the letter is properly classified as a “personnel record” under A.C.A. § 25-19-105(b)(12) and is subject to release under the separate test discussed in an earlier opinion.

    Maybe they meet that employee-evaluation criteria, maybe not. But you can't just say "personnel record, it's exempt."



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