RIP to Asa's good name. The former governor is persona non grata at the Arkansas Capitol lately.

Lawmakers threw up their hands Wednesday over hundreds of complaints from state employees angry about being denied a raise this year. And while some of the legislators blamed a governor for shorting good state employees, it’s not the governor you might expect.

Asa Hutchinson left Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders with a shoddy employee evaluation system that needs revamping, Republican Rep. Mark Berry of Ozark and Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville told fellow legislators during an Arkansas Legislative Council’s personnel committee meeting this afternoon. Davis and Berry blamed the Hutchinson-era system for Sanders’ recent decision to award raises to fewer than 6,000 of the nearly 23,000 employees working in the state’s executive branch agencies.


“Gov. Sanders inherited a flawed evaluation system from the previous administration,” Berry said. “I hate it. It’s the worst evaluation system I’ve ever seen.”

This criticism felt especially scathing considering Berry served in Hutchinson’s cabinet as adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard. Berry suggested Hutchinson’s system is forcing Sanders to be stingy on raises.


“We were dealt a hand of cards and we’ve got to work through it. Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Berry said.

Davis also chimed in to defend Sanders and her decision to leave 75% of  employees in executive branch state agencies without a pay boost this year.


“The governor was doing what she could with what she said was a flawed system. She’s still rewarding employees who did get a ‘four’ or ‘five,'” Davis said. “I applaud her effort to reward those employees.”

Of course, Sanders is the one who sent the memo Friday announcing that only employees who score four or five out of five on annual evaluations will see raises beginning July 9. The cost of the raises is $16 million.


Could Sanders not have bumped everyone up a notch to give raises to the level threes, too? Hundreds of those three-star state employees are bombarding legislators’ inboxes to make their case, despite this decision being out of legislators’ hands and solely within the governor’s purview.

“I’ve never gotten this many emails in my life,” Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) said. “I have no control over it. They don’t understand this is an executive decision. They’re looking for the people they elected to give them some relief.”


Arkansas has plenty of money in the bank and could theoretically be far more generous with payroll. But in a memo sent last week, Sanders blamed inflation coming out of Washington, D.C., for the penny pinching.

State lawmakers’ efforts to pin the lack of raises on Hutchinson was a surprising twist, although we might have expected it. Dumping on the former governor has become a favorite past time among Arkansas Republicans, who seem disgusted by Hutchinson’s limp-wrist reticence to embrace #MAGA-brand extremism.


Republican Sen. Kim Hammer of Benton at least acknowledged an obvious injustice that came to light Wednesday. In years past, state supervisors were expected to grade employees on a curve, meaning most employees had to fall right in the middle and only a limited number were allocated grades on the high end of the scale.

Evaluations for state employees started months ago, but Kay Barnhill, director of the state Office of Personnel Management, acknowledged word didn’t go out to supervisors that they could freely award scores of four and five until the end of May. She said she sent a memo to chiefs of staff of every department letting them know there was no limit on the number or percentage of employees who received higher grades this year. Even so, Barnhill said it’s possible not everyone got the word.

“We tried to alert people, but how that trickles down is a whole other issue,” she said.

Hammer noted that an untold number of state employees might not be getting raises this year because news that this bell curve expectation was no longer in place came to their supervisors too late, or not at all.


Hammer said he’s heard from state employees whose supervisors told them they deserved a four but received a three because there weren’t enough fours to go around. He asked Barnhill if state employees with a three should appeal their grade. Barnhill said she didn’t think that would work.

“You’ve got an unfair system, but you got what you got till we get it changed,” Hammer said.

The committee did sign off on Sanders’ recommended raises for the 1,400 four- and five-star state employees whose earnings will now shoot beyond their designated salary range. The lawmakers’ blessing is required for this category of raises because it deviates from standard pay scales. You can peruse that list here.