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Secretary of State John Thurston disagrees with his predecessor about whether the office is required to follow state laws governing historical-site renovations, Thurston's chief deputy told lawmakers last week.

At issue is the Arkansas Legislative Audit's conclusion that the office under former Secretary of State Mark Martin failed to follow a 1998 attorney general's advisory opinion as well as public-works law for historic-site renovations in three state Capitol building projects. The contracts totaled about $887,000 in fiscal 2017, which ended June 30, 2017.

Martin's chief deputy, Kelly Boyd, said in a letter to Legislative Auditor Roger Norman in October that the historic-site renovation law "does not include 'Constitutional officers' as those covered by the law and thus does not apply to the Secretary of State."

Martin, a Republican from Prairie Grove, served as secretary of state for eight years. He was term-limited and couldn't seek re-election. Thurston, a Republican from East End, was sworn in Jan. 15.

No bids were obtained by the secretary of state's office for an exterior limestone restoration project totaling $684,931 through Baldwin and Shell of Little Rock, according to legislative auditors.

Bids also weren't sought by the office for a Capitol cafeteria remodeling project totaling $143,744 through Powers Mechanical Service Co. of North Little Rock, and another cafeteria remodeling project totaling $58,700 through Gary Houston Electric Co. Inc. of Little Rock, according to Arkansas Legislative Audit.

Legislative auditors recommended the secretary of state's office review and strengthen procedures to ensure that Capitol building projects comply with Arkansas Code Annotated 22-9-208 through 211.

During a legislative committee meeting Thursday, Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, pressed Bill Huffman, Thurston's chief deputy. "So y'all do not agree with the previous agency response ... [and] you agree with [Legislative Audit's] findings," Hickey said.

Huffman replied, "Yes."

Deputy Legislative Auditor Tom Bullington said some procurement laws apply to the secretary of state's office and others don't.

"This one about historic-site renovation didn't give any exclusion to the secretary of state, and from looking at the AG opinion and the law itself, we feel like it is applicable to anybody that does any work for a historic site," Bullington said.

"This law itself tells you exactly" what to do, he said. "It starts out with an assessment of the project to see if these laws are applicable and, if it is, it tells you exactly what to go through, what bid process you have to go through, the whole process. It pretty much mirrors the state procurement law for contracts."

Kurt Naumann, director of administration for the secretary of state's office, also said the office concurred with Legislative Audit's recommendation and that it was working on procedures.

"We have just begun that review process. The auditors are in the place now to do the fiscal 2019 audit, so we will do that review. We will interface with the audit, and we will address that concern as best we can moving forward," he told the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee's Subcommittee on State Agencies.

Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, asked how the secretary of state's office would strengthen its procurement process.

Naumann said, "What we are going to do is to look at our existing procurement policies that we have in place now in regard to thresholds, criteria, qualifications, the whole process for which we undertake the projects.

"We are going to review those procedures and review it back against the attorney general's opinion and the law," he said.

"Also, we are going to look at consistent practices that we have done historically regarding those processes and we are going to get back with the auditors and make sure that we put together a written procedure that incorporates that to our existing procedure to make sure that the auditors are happy with that, that we are consistent with the law and practices," Naumann said.

Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said this "was an issue of separation of powers and if we had the authority to monitor this constitutional office. I think what I am hearing from the representative of the secretary of state's office is they will comply with the law and our ability to audit them.

"In my opinion, obviously as a chair, I think that is an important thing," said Garner, who is a subcommittee co-chairman.

SundayMonday on 05/12/2019

Print Headline: Office backs auditors' Capitol-projects view

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