JASEN KELLY

Ginny Monk reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today on the shocking hiring of a Republican state legislator, Rep. Jasen Kelly of Benton, to manage the state center for troubled youth in Alexander.

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The state center is being operated by a private company, Rite of Passage, under a $70 million state contract.

Kelly naturally saw no conflict of interest in taking a $110,000 job as a state legislator. He says he’ll recuse from votes concerning Rite of Passage. Will he recuse from a discussion of the Medicaid budget?

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Tom Masseau, director of Disability Rights Arkansas, complained about the hiring and the red flags it raises about a host of issues related to Youth Services, which has the contract with Rite of Passage. After his complaint, Kelly got a sign-off from the Ethics Commission, which opined that, though Kelly is managing a state facility and being paid with money flowing from the state, he’s not a state employee.

Maybe that’s technically correct. The Constitution says: “No Senator or Representative shall, during the term for which he shall have been elected, be appointed or elected to any civil office under this State.” Kelly would argue this isn’t an office of the state

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Nonetheless, the provision was added to the Constitution precisely to prevent legislators from nabbing cushy jobs paid by the state. You can’t even resign, as Masseau has said Kelly should do, to take such a job. Yes, it has happened before and gone unchallenged.

So Kelly not only gets the $110,000 from a state source, he gets the $60,000 or so most legislators knock down in annual pay and per diem.

Think about why a contractor might hire a legislator from the controlling political party. Might it provide some cover should something go wrong at a youth services center? (As it so often does.)

It it isn’t legally double-dipping, it is in practice and it stinks.

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Kelly will be back to single-dipping from the state come January. Kelly resigned somewhat unexpectedly as director of the Boys and Girls Club in Saline County last October and said he wouldn’t be seeking re-election this year. More time needed with family, he said.