Arkansas lawmakers unable to reach decision on ethics complaint
The Arkansas Senate Ethics Committee will meet again next Thursday to consider a complaint made by one senator against another. It comes despite the intention of the committee chairman to resolve the issue during a marathon meeting on Thursday which was mostly conducted behind closed doors.
The complaint was apparently filed by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, against Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff. Clark had been sanctioned by the committee earlier this summer for seeking per diem and travel expenses for a meeting he did not attend. He has since suggested there are problems with the legislature’s ethics rules and that other lawmakers have committed similar violations.
State documents obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette show Flowers reimbursed the state last month nearly $3,000 for travel expenses she had received for meetings attended via Zoom. Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, also received the payments, which Senate President Jimmy Hickey said he considered “a clerical error.”
Thursday’s meeting was called to order shortly after 9 a.m.
“It is my intention to finish the hearing and deliberations today, and we will stay as late as needed to do so,” said committee Chairman Kim Hammer, R-Benton.
The hearing lasted until 8:30 p.m., including a midday break for lunch. Members were kept together during that time, Hammer said, “to minimize interaction with anyone who may wish to discuss the proceedings with you, similar to the sequestering of a jury.”
Two members of the committee joined via Zoom because one said he had an exposure to COVID-19, while the other was out of state.
“I hope that these matters can be handled as expeditiously as possible for the sake of all members involved,” Hammer said at the start of the hearing. “I also want to provide the opportunity for all parties to be able to fully present their information to the committee and for the committee to have ample time to question, consider, and deliberate on these serious matters.”
The hearing then went into executive session with only committee members and staff allowed to remain in the room. Clark and Flowers came in and out at different times during the day.
In rules detailed by Hammer, Clark and Flowers would each be placed under oath, then allowed to make opening statements. They could then call witnesses who would be available to be questioned. Then Clark and Flowers would each be allowed to make closing statements before deliberations began.
Shortly after 5 p.m., a staff member said deliberations had begun. Because the discussion was being conducted via Zoom, with two members’ comments coming through speakers, Arkansas State Capitol police officers came to the area to keep reporters who were outside the hearing away so deliberations wouldn’t be overheard.
Both Clark and Flowers looked exhausted at different times in the hallway outside the committee room. Flowers paced while looking at her phone. Clark walked toward reporters, but when asked how he was doing, Clark shrugged and suggested he had better not talk. Members of the committee also looked drained when taking breaks to go to the restroom.
Hammer had said at the start of the meeting that once deliberations were concluded, the public would be allowed back into the meeting with a motion made and voted on. But by the end of the meeting it was apparent members were not able to reach a consensus.
Reporters were allowed back into the room with Hammer announcing that the committee would meet again on the matter next Thursday at 12 p.m.