Arkansas agency employee resigns for another state job, weeks after emails about $19,000 lectern purchase

The $19,029.25 lectern purchased by the Sanders administration in June, seen in the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol in Little Rock on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
The $19,029.25 lectern purchased by the Sanders administration in June, seen in the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol in Little Rock on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. .(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

An Arkansas government employee who was part of email exchanges regarding the governor’s office’s reported purchase of a lectern for $19,000 submitted her resignation letter Friday.

Cassie Cantlon, an administrative service manager at the Department of Transformation and Shared Services, said in her resignation letter dated Friday that she will leave the department Nov. 24 to take a position with another state agency.

Cantlon was one of several state employees who discussed in emails the purchase of the lectern, which has become the subject of a legislative audit.

The $19,029.25 purchase — an $18,475 lectern including travel case, taxes and shipping, plus a $554.25 fee for the use of a credit card — came to light in a post by attorney and blogger Matt Campbell on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Campbell published an invoice for the lectern Sept. 15.

Questions regarding the purchase have prompted widespread attention locally and nationally, including ridicule from late night television host Jimmy Kimmel and a cartoon in The New Yorker.

Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement issued in October that Sanders welcomed the legislative audit into the purchase, saying that questions raised about it are “nothing more than a manufactured controversy by left-wing activists to distract from the bold, conservative reforms the governor has signed into law and is effectively implementing in Arkansas.”

[DOCUMENT: Read Cantlon's letter of resignation »]

The invoice for the lectern's purchase includes a note reading, “To be reimbursed.” Cantlon said in a Sept. 15 email that the reimbursement notation was made by Laura Hamilton, an aide to the Republican governor.

“Laura [Hamilton] was instructed for either our office or herself to make a note on the original invoice that it was ‘to be reimbursed’,” Cantlon wrote in the email. “As you can see on the attachment, she made the note. I asked if she wanted to date the note and she stated that she was told not to date it, but to just make the note that the invoice was to be reimbursed.”

Cantlon, who wrote the email to Transformation and Shared Services Chief Fiscal Officer James Caldwell, also included a blind copy of the email to her personal email account.

Attempts by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to reach Cantlon on Friday for comment regarding her resignation were unsuccessful.

Campbell said Friday morning in a post on X that he had heard from sources that Cantlon had tendered her resignation. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette obtained Cantlon’s resignation letter from the department through an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request.

On Oct. 13, a panel of lawmakers signed off on an audit of the governor’s office regarding the purchase of the lectern. The governor’s office bought the 39-inch custom Falcon Podium and custom travel case from Beckett Events LLC, an events management firm based in Arlington, Va.

Sanders contends that taxpayer money was not used to pay for the lectern because the Republican Party of Arkansas reimbursed the state for it.

Emails from state employees show the purchase of the lectern was made June 12 using a state credit card, and the Republican Party of Arkansas’ check reimbursing the state for its cost is dated Sept. 14.

State Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr., R-Texarkana, requested the audit.

“I am a member of the Republican Party, but if the Republican Party had actually made this purchase themselves then, no sir, we would not be here,” Hickey told members of Legislative Joint Auditing Executive Committee in October. “It’s just that a state credit card was used.”

The purchase has prompted questions about why the governor’s office spent so much on the lectern, and why it was bought from Beckett Events LLC, a company that doesn’t advertise the sale of lecterns on its website.

Asked in October about the lectern’s features, Sanders said the lectern contains components that make it easier to plug in multiple audio cables, and that its 39-inch height is specific to her stature, compared to a standard lectern of up to 48 inches. Henning said the lectern is a similar model to the one Sanders used for her inauguration in January.

The governor’s office allowed the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to view and photograph the lectern in September, but Sanders has yet to use it since it arrived at the state Capitol in August, saying it would now be a distraction.

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