A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe today brushed away a suggestion that politics played a role in the addition of a “do not rehire” message to Leslie Rutledge’s personnel file after she resigned as a staff attorney at the Department of Human Services in 2007.
The Repblican candidate for attorney general raised that as a possible defense of her negative evaluation after it was disclosed last week.
We first reported last week after receiving docents under an FOI request that Rutledge’s supervisor had added a notation to Rutledge’s termination form after she resigned Dec. 3,2007. The form had a blank for “termination” crossed out and a hand-written note referred to an e-mail 10 days later from Lisa McGee, now deputy chief counsel at DHS, that she wished a “do not rehire” note be put in the file. It was coded with a 21, which denotes “gross misconduct.” I am attempting to learn from DHS if there’s any further definition of the term in the personnel manual, though DHS has refused to discuss further details about Rutledge’s work.
After our report, the Democrat-Gazette also reported on the file Friday. In addition to speculating, as she had to me, that her failure to give notice before resignation might have been cause for the rating. she added:
“Whether it was politically motivated because I was going to work for a Republican governor and these individuals were [working] for a Democrat, [Gov. Mike Beebe,] I don’t now.” Rutledge said. “It’s clear that they went back and scratched it and it went from voluntary to not [voluntary]. That’s something as attorney general that I’ll look into.”
Beebe had taken office in January of 2007 after Republican Mike Huckabee’s two terms in office. Rutledge had worked 10 months on Huckabee’s staff, then for a Jacksonville attorney before going to DHS. I asked Beebe’s office about her political suggestion. Spokesman Matt DeCample replied:
The governor didn’t know who she was until the campaign, so any claim of political connection to the designation is groundless.
Should Rutledge release other information about her time at DHS? Said DeCample:
The decision to make the personnel file public is hers and hers alone, but we’re confident that if she does choose to authorize its release, you won’t find party politics involved in the DHS decision-making process.
There’s almost certainly other material in DHS records pertaining to Rutledge — work by her and about her work and e-mail, among others. She went straight to work for the Huckabee campaign. One immediate question is whether her e-mail would reflect any political activity.
The state is limited in what it may reveal about Rutledge’s work because she resigned and was not fired or suspended. But Rutledge herself is free to release all material she generated during that time, so long as it doesn’t bear on otherwise confidential matters, such as information about juveniles.
I’ve asked her campaign if she will do so. I’ve also asked for the reason for her departure from Huckabee’s staff In January 2005 after only 10 months on the job. She didn’t take another job at that time, but went to work in March for the Lonoke prosecutor at less pay — $40,000 a year versus the $43,000 she made in the governor’s office. An employee of the office at that time insists Rutledge departed amid some unspecified controversy. But Rutledge did work later for the Huckabee presidential campaign and he’s endorsed her in the race for attorney general
Rutledge should reveal everything about that work, too. Getting hold of Huckabee-era files from storage wouldn’t be an easy task, particularly because Huckabee always jealously guarded all information in his office. (Remember the crushed hard drives?)
In short, Rutledge shouldn’t wait until next year to look into the matter of what her personnel files reveal about her work. It’s within her power do do so now. She seeks to be the state’s top attorney for an agency that won’t hire her. Voters need to know more.
Nate Steel, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, has emphasized his resume as attorney and prosecutor against Rutledge who’s bounced through a number of mostly political jobs in her career.