A Service of UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arkansas PBS under fire for procurement procedures

Arkansas State Capitol building.
Chris Hickey
Little Rock Public Radio
State lawmakers grilled Arkansas PBS executives Thursday about their external purchases.

Leaders of Arkansas PBS were questioned by members of the Arkansas Legislative Joint Auditing committee Thursday.

The broadcaster has drawn criticism from lawmakers for its hiring, firing and procurement procedures. A 2022 audit found Arkansas PBS violated state procurement laws.

These laws regulate the way external contractors are hired by government agencies. Goods and services over $20,000 trigger a public bidding process under state law.

Arkansas PBS CEO Courtney Pledger said she was under the impression that her behavior was not illegal.

“We had a manager of procurement,” she said. “And a chief fiscal officer who handled that. Even though I would like to be in every room in every minute, I cannot be. I put my trust in that department and the procurement officer. I will never do that again.”

According to the audit, Arkansas PBS made several purchases at or around $19,900, circumventing the legally required public bidding process by making purchases just under the minimum amount. State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, was quick to point this out in Thursday's hearing.

“I can go, 'Well this company can go right at $19,900 so that we don’t have to bid it out, but we can help our buddy here who owns multiple companies,'” she said.

Arkansas PBS Chief Financial Officer Karen Watkins said the station had spent around $10 million on procured services.

“It is unfair to hold division directors responsible for knowing procurement rules,” she said, explaining that managers in the organization are not trained on procurement.

Irvin scoffed at Watkins' statement, saying by not training their own employees, Arkansas PBS executives were not performing their state-funded jobs correctly.

“It is your job to be a steward of taxpayer dollars,” she said. “And it is your job to make sure your employees are equipped to be able to be trained, to be able to handle that.”

In the past, Pledger has said she is open to training staff on procurement.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.