Benji Hardy of the Legislative Digest tells me that a hot debate is underway at the Legislative Audit Committee this morning.
Sen. Bill Sample has made a motion, seconded by Sen. Linda Chesterfield, to accept the University of Arkansas audit without discussion. Objections are being made.
Who would want to stifle discussion of the UA’s financial mess and contradictory testimony about accountability and transparency? The list of suspects begins with UA officialdom, of course.
UPDATE: Motion approved to accept audit without testimony from Brad Choate, the fired advancement division director, and Joy Sharp, the former UA employee who took the fall in the mess.
Choate had been expected to take exception to Chancellor David Gearhart’s version of events.
Vote was 21-13. I’ll get a roll call.
Sounds like the UA still swings a big stick at the legislature.
UPDATE: The stench increases from this heavy-handed move by the UA to stymie discussion of its shortcomings. The UA did itself no favors by working to silence Brad Choate. Democrats, who made up a significant portion of the vote to cut off debate, did themselves no favors. I’m no fan of the likes of the bullying Sen. Bryan King, Rep. Kim Hammer or Rep. Nate Bell, but they were on the side of the angels this morning in seeking to provide a forum for the rest of the story on the UA financial disaster. Chesterfield told Benji Hardy this wasn’t the purview of the audit committee. What? Not getting both sides of a story to which it had already given Chancellor David Gearhart much time? Rep. Charlie Collins was among the Republicans who went in the tank for the UA, which is in his hometown. Remember this when he campaigns on a high integrity platform.
Choate told reporters afterward that the move was a “whitewash.” As has been reported previously, his separation from the University of Arkansas, which included several months of severance pay at $340,000 per annum, included his agreement not to speak critically about the university except in limited official places, such as before the audit committee. That venue has now been closed to him. His statements to the Fayetteville prosecutor should be open to inspection. I called Deputy Prosecutor David Bercaw about that. He’s out of the office today, it so happens.
UPDATE: Bercaw says he’s iced in at his West Fork home. He said he’ll provide a copy of Choate’s statement to me as soon as he can get to the office. But that might not be until Monday. Choate also told Benji Hardy that he thought the audit itself had shortcomings, but said he was reluctant to say more because of his agreement not to “disparage” the UA or Gearhart in public comments. Soon, I hope to have a letter provided to Audit director Roger Norman by John Diamond, the fired university spokesman who’s contended Gearhart ordered document destruction.
It was not a strict party line division. Republican Sens. Jonathan Dismang, Eddie Joe Williams and Johnny Key were among those Republicans voting for the motion to prevent additional testimony. Democrat Greg Leding, another Fayetteville resident serving the hometown university officialdom, also voted to stifle Choate. Some progressive he is.
PS — Benji Hardy said one of the weirdest elements of today’s successful effort to silence Brad Choate was Sen. Bill Sample’s vociferous push for the silencing. He even resisted a debate on his motion to accept the audit without further testimony. A reader notes, for the record only, that Sample heads a pest control company that does business with the University of Arkansas, about $4,200 worth in 2012 according to the state online checkbook.