Arkansas’s governor has unveiled the 15 people slated to head the state’s reformed cabinet. Gov. Asa Hutchinson released the names Wednesday during a news conference. The newly announced secretaries will have until July 1 to prepare for their new roles. They are:
Wes Ward - Department of Agriculture
Michael Preston - Department of Commerce
Wendy Kelley - Department of Corrections
Johnny Key - Department of Education
Becky Keogh - Department of Energy and Environment
Larry Walther - Department of Finance and Administration
Dr. Nathaniel Smith - Department of Health
Cindy Gillespie - Department of Human Services
Elizabeth Thomas Smith - Department of Inspector General
Daryl Bassett - Department of Labor and Licensing
Major General Mark Berry - Department of the Military
Stacy Hurst - Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism
Jami Cook - Department of Public Safety
Amy Fecher - Department of Transformation and Shared Services
Colonel (Ret.) Nathaniel Todd - Department of Veterans Affairs.
Hutchinson said he was grateful for the transformation transition team that will help brief new secretaries on numerous topics, including potential areas of efficiencies, on the make up of departments and possible challenges.
“We’ll be having a training session for the 15 new cabinet secretaries and which we’ll outline our expectations and what they’ll need to engage in over the next six months,” Hutchinson said. The training session will be offsite and have a “casual atmosphere.” The secretaries are also expected to come into the job with “transformation action teams” within each department and plans on what they will need as a department, stating that no new positions should be created as a part of this transformation.
“I expect the secretaries to draw up what they would envision as to the makeup of the secretary’s department,” Hutchinson said.
In addition to the names of the secretaries, the office also listed the proposed salaries for each cabinet secretary, with the combined increase in salary totaling $154,302. When asked about the salaries, Hutchinson said multiple factors were considered when determining how much they would be paid.
"Salaries were set individually for the different departments partly based upon their span of control, partly based upon where they had been in the past in terms of salary," Hutchinson said. Furthermore, those raises come from their existing budgets, meaning the secretaries will need to find the money in their own budgets for their salaries, though Hutchinson did say there would be savings in the departments that exceed the prospective raises.
"There will be budget savings that will far exceed this $154,000 so that’s not a concern. They have that flexibility within their budget and the savings will be created from that," Hutchinson said. He also said the state still expects to save around $15 million in the second year with the new departments.
"After hearing some of the conversations with the secretaries I interviewed, I think there’s greater ideas in the long term, but it takes time to build up those savings whether it’s in physical space, or whether it is in positions, or whether it is in IT function," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson spoke on a few cabinet secretaries and why they were chosen over others. One example was Jami Cook, the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety. Hutchinson cited her experience with law enforcement and her educational experience with training officers as reasons for selecting her. While Hutchinson did consider Col. William Bryant, the director of the Arkansas State Police, he said he needed Bryant where he was.
"I articulated the reasons that he’s critically important where he is and that this does not diminish the state police in any way," Hutchinson said. While no new positions will be created through this transformation effort, Hutchinson also said there will not be any layoffs either with departments instead choosing to downsize through attrition, such as not rehiring for a position once it opens up.
With the smaller cabinet, Hutchinson did say he has looked at different ways to conduct cabinet meetings and he expects to meet with the cabinet more frequently than he did before, which was two to three times a year.
"It’s going to be a governor-led executive branch with the good advice and council of a cabinet that will be closer knit and will have an opportunity for significant council," Hutchinson said.