Republican State Rep. Kelley Linck of Flippin resigned from the legislature Friday to become chief of legislative and governmental affairs for the state Department of Human Services. He’ll be paid $108,243.
He’d said last year he was not seeking re-election because he planned to seek a “new opportunity.” He’s been widely expected to land a state job in the Hutchinson administration.
No word yet if a special election will be called to file Linck’s seat for the roughly six months remaining. At the moment. no sessions of the legislature are scheduled for the remainder of the year. Jack Fortner is the unopposed Republican nominee to succeed Linck.
The agency declines to call this lobbying. That is exactly what Linck will do, of course — work with the legislature on DHS issues. Such moves are not unprecedented. Sen. Johnny Key became a lobbyist for the University of Arkansas before landing an even richer job as state education commissioner, after the law was changed so that his lack of background didn’t disqualify him for the job.
Normally, a legislator is barred from becoming a lobbyist for two years after leaving the legislature, but that does not apply to state jobs. Also, state legislators may not be hired for state jobs, but Linck’s hiring will take effect June 13, after his resignation. Though Linck may lobby in the conventional sense of the word, he is barred from one activity of lobbyists — spending money on entertaining legislators. To do that, he’d have to register as a lobbyist. He’s exempt from registration so long as the only money spent in his state job is his salary to do the work.
DHS news release:
“Given our size and how often we at DHS sit before legislative committees, it was important to me that we have someone providing a link between us and legislators and other elected officials,” said Cindy Gillespie, DHS Director. “Kelley has extensive knowledge about DHS and the legislative process, and will help us keep legislators informed and engaged in the work we’re doing. We weren’t doing that as well as we should have.”
Linck has served as a State Representative from Flippin since 2011, and is the chair of the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. He submitted his letter of resignation to Governor Asa Hutchinson on Friday.
“When I was elected, my goal was to do the best things I could for the people of District 99, and I have enjoyed my tenure representing them. I feel that helping DHS become a better and more effective organization is the best way to serve not only the people in my District, but also people all across the state. I look forward to this new and exciting opportunity,” Linck said.
In his role at DHS, Linck will oversee the Office of Legislative and Governmental Affairs. That office will work with legislators and others to handle constituent concerns about DHS services and policies. This office also will serve as the contact point for the Bureau of Legislative Research.
Over the last 60 days, Director Gillespie has conducted a review of the overall structure and organizational needs for the department. Linck’s hire is part of a broader reorganization resulting from the review, details of which will be released tomorrow.
Kelley’s legislative biography lists his work background as “work in tourism” at Ozark Mountain Region Inc. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Arkansas Tech.
Here’s some DHS response from spokeswoman Amy Webb on the legal issues of moving from legislature to this job:
As I mentioned earlier, we do not lobby the Legislature. We work with them, provide them information about programs, services and legislation; and answer questions. That will continue to be our practice with Kelley in this role.
As for the legal question, our Deputy Director Mark White (our former chief counsel) reviewed AG opinions and relevant statutes and opined that Linck can legally take on this role.
First, the position we are discussing is not a “civil office.” It is not established by statute, nor are the tenure, compensation, or duties of the position fixed by statute. The position does not require the taking of an oath or the giving of a bond. It does not exercise the state’s sovereign power, in that it has no independent authority — any authority exercised in this position is derived entirely from Cindy’s authority as DHS Director. Therefore, the restrictions of Ark. Const. art. 5, § 10 do not apply to this position.
Second, regardless of what it is titled, the position into which a member would be placed is an existing DHS position already in the relevant appropriation. Assuming that the member was to be paid a salary at or below midpoint, which Linck is, no legislative action would be necessary to set or increase the salary. The position we are discussing is not one “newly created by legislative action within the twenty-four (24) months prior to the member’s leaving office.” Therefore, the restrictions of Ark. Code Ann. § 21-1-402 do not apply to this position.