Bill Walker’s tenure as director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education was marked by not one, but two, payouts to people who said they’d been fired for blowing the whistle on improper practices at the state rehabilitation facility his department operates in Hot Springs.
I mentioned one of the earlier cases yesterday in recounting the checkered record of Walker as a state agency head. In that case, a jury awarded $110,000 to a psychologist fired from the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center on orders of Walker. The case also produced significant attorney fees for the lawyer, Scott Hickam. The psychologist had tried repeatedly to report wasteful practices at the center. Walker, vacationing in the Cayman Islands, called a subordinate, Robert Trevino, to fire Bob Means. Means had alleged political favoritism played a role in who received services.
Prompted by the news here yesterday about KATV’s discovery that Walker had been developing a pyramid marketing business while head of the state agency and that his department had provided grants to pay the parent marketing firm to help develop a similar business for Walker’s sister, Hickam told me of a recent settlement of another whistleblower action against Walker’s department.
In that case, Lavonda Leonard, who worked part-time in cosmetology at the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center, said she’d talked with Walker and Trevino about getting a full-time job, including when Walker and Trevino periodically received free pedictures at the center. A position became available and she said Walker and Trevino assured her the job would be hers, though it would be advertised first and a screening panel would interview her. Leonard said the interview went well, but matters became complicated when she reported to at least three people what she believed to be theft of supplies from the cosmetology department. By her account, she was discouraged from reporting the thefts and even admonished for reporting it. Finally, she was told someone else got the job she’d applied for. The complaint alleged that she was denied the job because of the theft report.
March 24, the case was dismissed after the state and Leonard reached a settlement. Hickam said it provides for a payment of $33,500 to Leonard, including his attorney fee. The state admitted no wrongdoing, as is customary in such deals.
While Bill Walker was establishing himself as a multi-level marketing tycoon sufficient to win a new BMW, his agency was piling up taxpayer expense for retaliating against employees trying to report wrongdoing.