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Arkansas Senate to resume deliberations on ethics finding against Lonsdale senator Tuesday

Clark apprised colleagues of vacation plans on Sept. 7 by Michael R. Wickline | September 22, 2022 at 7:17 a.m.
State Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, listens to a presentation during a meeting of the Education Caucus of the Arkansas General Assembly at the Association of Arkansas Counties building in Little Rock in this Aug. 10, 2020 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The state Senate will resume deliberations Tuesday on its Ethics Committee's finding that Sen. Alan Clark filed a frivolous ethics complaint against Sen. Stephanie Flowers, and the panel's recommendation to suspend Clark for the rest of this year, the Senate's leader said Wednesday, though Clark said he doesn't plan to attend the meeting.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, said other senators have rearranged their schedules, with some delaying doctors' appointments and others rescheduling vacations, in order for the 35-member Senate to reconvene Tuesday.

"I had to schedule the thing and let the chips fall where they may," he said. "Our membership and staff need closure on this. I hope the senator can make it."

Hickey said he didn't intend to schedule Tuesday's meeting so Clark, R-Lonsdale, couldn't attend the meeting to defend himself.

"It is his option whether he is there," he said.

In an email dated Sept. 7, Clark advised Sens. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, Kim Hammer, R-Benton, Hickey and three legislative staff members that "Just to let you know that I will be out of state September 23 through October 1 for a trip planned and reservations made and paid months ago."

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained Clark's email Wednesday under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

Clark declined on Wednesday to disclose where his family and friends' trip will be to.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

Clark said he's paid for lodging for the out-of-state trip and it's not refundable, and he's not going to ruin his family and friends' trip.

Even if he could attend next week's meeting, Clark said he isn't going to appear before the Senate without his attorneys, who he said will be out of state next week.

"I don't want to go through this without an attorney," he said.

Clark's email dated Sept. 7 about his pending out-of-state trip came two days before the eight-member Senate Ethics Committee concluded that Clark's charges of ethics violations against Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, were spurious, frivolous and retaliatory, and recommended that the Senate suspend Clark for the rest of this year and strip him of seniority for the rest of this year and the next two years.

The committee's action Sept. 9 came shortly after the panel found that Flowers did not violate any provisions of the Senate's ethics rules and recommended the Senate uphold the committee's finding and not impose any penalties against Flowers because the committee found the issue at hand to be "clerical only."

Chaired by Hammer, the Senate Ethics Committee also includes Sens. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock; Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis; Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View; Mat Pitsch, R-Fort Smith; Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro; Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock; and Dave Wallace, R-Leachville.

With Sen. Trent Garner, R-Benton, abstaining, the Senate voted 29-0 on Friday to concur with its Ethics Committee's findings relating to Flowers. Clark is one of 29 senators who voted to find that Flowers didn't violate the Senate's ethics rules.

The Senate voted 20-9 late Friday afternoon to approve a motion by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, for the Senate to recess and for Hickey to determine when the Senate would reconvene. At that time, Dismang told senators he made the motion to give Clark more time to prepare his defense because Clark and others have indicated Clark didn't have adequate time to get prepared for last Friday's Senate meeting, and that some senators had other obligations for early Friday evening.

A two-thirds vote in the 35-member Senate is required to temporarily suspend a senator under the Senate's ethics rules.

Hickey said he doesn't know whether there are 24 senators who will vote to suspend Clark for the rest of the year.

"I'm not counting that. I'm not doing a whip count," he said.

Clark said he's not counted whether there are 24 votes in the Senate to suspend him either.

Nonetheless, at least a few senators have privately speculated the Senate's vote on whether to suspend Clark for the rest of this year may be be close.

On Aug. 18, Clark filed an ethics complaint against Flowers alleging that she violated the Senate's code of ethics by accepting legislative per diem payments for participating by Zoom in the Senate's regular session meetings in 2021.

The Ethics Committee said Flowers contacted the Senate staff as soon as she became aware in the 2021 regular session of the deposits in her bank account that she felt had been made in error, and she was assured by Senate staff she was entitled to the payments she received. Flowers reimbursed the state Senate $2,714 on Aug. 11 and $217.60 on Aug. 22 that was erroneously paid to her during the 2021 regular session, the committee said in its report.

"While regrettable, the clerical errors were understandable and resulted in the unintentional overpayments of reimbursements to senators, including Senator Flowers," the committee said.

In its report, the Ethics Committee said Clark made repeated public statements regarding his intent to retaliate against the Senate, and Clark's investigation of the facts before filing his ethics complaint against Flower was reckless with deliberate intent. The evidence demonstrates Clark singled out Flowers for an ethics complaint, the committee said.

The committee said "the only purpose to the filing of the [complaint] and any that he has plans to file going forward, seems to be to fulfill his promise on July 3 to 'burn the house down.'"

Clark said Wednesday that his ethics complaint against Flowers wasn't frivolous or retaliatory and he decided not to try to "burn the house down" in the Senate after making that comment in an an interview reported July 3 in the Democrat-Gazette.

"The fact money was paid back shows it was not frivolous," he said.

Clark has said Flowers should repay roughly $3,000 more to the Senate for legislative reimbursements that she was paid during the 2021 regular session. Senate Secretary/Director Ann Cornwell has said Clark was referring to per diem and mileage paid to Flowers, as well as other lawmakers, for certain days in which the the Legislature didn't meet in session.

A legislative day is any day the Legislature is in session, and any day that the Legislature is not in session for a period of up to four consecutive days, according to a 2011 IRS letter to then-Bureau of Legislative Research Director David Ferguson. A legislative day also is any day on which a taxpayer's attendance is formally recorded at a pro forma session or at a meeting of the committee of the Legislature, according to the letter.

Clark said Wednesday state lawmakers shouldn't be reimbursed for per diem and mileage on days in which the Legislature is not in session. Other state lawmakers maintain they work on legislative business on weekends during sessions and incur expenses they should be reimbursed for.

In her response to Clark's ethics complaint against her, Flowers wrote that the allegations in the complaint are spurious and frivolous and "an administrative error [was] made and applied under the same circumstances, to another Arkansas Senate member, namely Trent Garner, paid per diem for participating in the General Session virtually by way of Zoom."

In a check dated Sept. 1, Garner reimbursed the Senate $906, according to Senate records. "Zoom" was written on the check.

In her response to Clark's complaint, Flowers asked the Ethics Committee to dismiss the complaint against her as spurious and frivolous and recommend that Clark should be sanctioned by the Senate with the loss of seniority.

The committee recommended the Senate's punishment of Clark include immediate loss of seniority for the remainder of the 93rd General Assembly this year and a recommendation to the 94th General Assembly that Clark's loss of seniority be sustained for the next two years.

The committee also recommended the Senate punish Clark by suspending him for the remainder of the 93rd General Assembly, including the loss of reimbursement for conference registration fees or travel reimbursements related to in-state or out-of-state travel; attendance and participation at legislative committee meetings or Senate meetings, with the exception of any Senate organizational or Senate orientation meetings for the 94th General Assembly, including access to the member- and staff-only areas of committee rooms and facilities; and access to and use of the Senate, the Bureau of Legislative Research, Legislative Audit and other legislative facilities, equipment or staff resources, including his Senate email account.

Clark is running unopposed for his District 7 seat.

On June 15, Hickey filed an an ethics complaint against Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, for Johnson signing in Clark's name on the sign-in sheet for reimbursement at the Senate Boys State committee meeting June 3 that Clark didn't attend. He also filed a complaint against Clark for asking Johnson to seek reimbursement from public funds for Clark for that meeting. The Senate didn't pay the $155 per diem to Clark for that meeting at the behest of Senate leaders.

On July 21, the Senate approved the Ethics Committee's findings that Clark and Johnson violated the Senate's ethics rules as well as the committee's recommended punishments. At that time, Clark told senators he made a mistake and it wouldn't happen again.

For violating the ethics rule, the Senate's punishment for Clark on July 21 was to strip him of his committee chairman and vice chairman posts and block his eligibility for per diem and mileage reimbursement for the rest of this year. He also was reprimanded by the Senate, and future Senate president pro tempores are not to consider Clark for appointment to serve on Boys State, Girls State or the Senate Ethics Committee.

Clark had been chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vice chairman of the Legislative Council Review Subcommittee, co-chairman of the Legislative Council Occupational Licensing Review Subcommittee, and chairman of the Child Maltreatment Investigations Oversight Committee.

Print Headline: State Senate to resume deliberations on ethics finding against Lonsdale senator


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