Gov. Sarah Sanders and Joe Profiri Governor's Office

A legislative subcommittee approved Gov. Sarah Sanders’ request for $104,000 in additional-help money on Tuesday to cover six months of salary for former Secretary of Corrections Joe Profiri in his new role as senior advisor to the governor, clearing the way for the Arkansas Legislative Council to take up the request later this week.

Earlier this month, the state Board of Corrections fired Profiri from his job running the state prison system after months of conflict with Profiri and the governor. Sanders brought Profiri to Arkansas from Arizona roughly a year ago to serve as her corrections secretary, but he quickly drew the ire of members of the corrections board based on his alleged failure to discuss decisions with the board and repeated statements about how he answered only to the governor and not the board. 

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The board filed suit against Sanders and Profiri in December, alleging that statutory changes made in 2023 that placed Profiri under Sanders’ supervision were unconstitutional. Circuit Judge Patti James sided with the corrections board and blocked enforcement of the challenged statutes, leaving Profiri under the direct control of the board. On Jan. 10, the board voted to terminate Profiri’s employment.

Almost immediately, Sanders announced that Profiri would function as her senior advisor on corrections issues. While his salary with the corrections department was $210,000 plus free housing, Sanders said that Profiri’s salary as an advisor would be $201,699 and housing would not be provided. (Any state employment salary over $201,700 requires approval from the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, so the figure is likely not a coincidence.)

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During yesterday’s meeting, the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review subcommittee (ALC-PEER) took up the governor’s request, along with requests for money from several other departments and agencies. Most requests were approved without discussion or dissenting votes, but the the one involving Profiri did not go as smoothly.

State Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) first clarified that the governor’s request for $104,000 covered only half of the salary for the embattled former corrections secretary. Leding asked whether there was anyone at the meeting who could explain what Profiri would be doing as an advisor that would justify such a high salary. Jim Hudson, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, replied that the governor’s public statements about Profiri adequately explained his role and that Profiri “is very, very experienced in corrections,” which made the governor “comfortable” with the $201,699 salary.

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Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) then made a motion to pull Sanders’ request out for a separate vote, instead of including it with the other requests. Hickey, Leding, and Sen. Scott Flippo (R-Bull Shoals) were the only senators to vote against the appropriation.

The full Legislative Council is expected to take up the governor’s request at its regularly scheduled meeting on Friday.

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