Talk Business held an interview with Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan yesterday about the agency’s need for a larger budget. He said he’s planning on asking the 2015 legislature for an additional three staff positions (there are currently nine staff with the Commission) and about $25,000 in new operating money.
In addition to the high profile ethics issues that have shook in state politics in the past year or so — most notably, the resignations of Treasurer Martha Shoffner, Lt. Governor Mark Darr, and State Sen. Paul Bookout — there are also a host of other complaints to investigate, directed towards elected officials large and small. It’s the job of the Commission to sort through various allegations of wrongdoing and sort the wheat from the chaff. Sloan says the agency’s resources are insufficient to keep up with the workload:
“The time has come where we stand at a crossroads and in order to effectively meet our duties, we need more people,” Sloan said in an appearance on Talk Business & Politics on Sunday morning.
Under current scenarios in 2014, Sloan said the Ethics Commission expects to see a 40% increase in the number of cases it will handle from just two years ago. The average length of those cases has been extended by 60% due to their complexities. And, citizen filings (versus staff filings) have risen by 50% from 2012, Sloan says.
Sloan also spoke of the need for more space, which should be evident to anyone who’s ever stopped by their office. It’s shoehorned into a small suite on the bottom floor of a house several blocks from the Capitol and marked with a small, nondescript sign. While we’re at it, someone please, please appropriate some money for the Ethics Commission to update their website.
Surely no one can dispute the importance of having a reputable agency that’s tasked with keeping government honest, especially when major incidents of dishonesty and impropriety are so fresh on the public mind in Arkansas. The Ethics Commission should be equipped with the staff and resources necessary to do its work well — as Roby Brock says in the interview, “not just reactively, but proactively.” In other words: investigate the little stuff, and we’ll have fewer big, ugly scandals in the long run.
Not only is it the obviously just thing to do to aggressively curb elected officials’ incidents of malfeasance (or even simple errors) as early as possible, it would also discourage similar behavior on the part of others and perhaps go a long ways towards rebuilding trust in state/local government. We’ll see what the legislature thinks about that when budget hearings roll around this fall in advance of the 2015 session.