Eddie Joe Williams, the former state senator who was appointed as interim corrections secretary less than a week ago by the Arkansas Board of Corrections, resigned today.
Williams, a Republican from Cabot, was appointed on Jan. 31 following a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Corrections.
Shortly after Williams was appointed, Attorney General Tim Griffin sent him a letter declaring the board’s appointment of Williams, even in an interim role, to be in violation of state laws that give the governor the sole power to appoint the corrections secretary.
In a statement first obtained today by Talk Business & Politics, Williams explained that he was resigning “for the good of Arkansans” and with the hope that the ongoing fight between the board and Gov. Sarah Sanders “can be quickly resolved so we can go about the business of making Arkansas the safest place it can be.”
Williams was appointed on an interim basis to fill the day-to-day operations role left empty when the board terminated Sanders’ choice for corrections secretary, Joe Profiri, on January 10. Profiri’s termination came roughly a month after the board suspended him with pay for insubordination, saying that Profiri had shown disdain for the board’s authority.
Update: Griffin praised Williams’ resignation in a statement emailed through a spokesperson. “Sen. Williams made the right and honorable decision by refusing to accept the illegal appointment offered by the Board of Corrections,” the attorney general said. “I appreciate and applaud his clarity of thought and strength of character at a critical and undoubtedly stressful time.”
Williams’ full statement on his resignation reads:
As we have previously discussed, if I was unable to accomplish my goals while working with the Department of Corrections, I would gladly step aside. Numerous times before and during our executive meeting, we discussed the goals of expanding prison beds, hiring and retaining employees and bringing stakeholders together. I regretfully find myself in the position today that I am unable to accomplish those and must step aside.
This took on a life of its own, with assumptions being made by all, the moment the motion was made to hire me as “interim Secretary” for the Department. This is something I guarded against in multiple conversations.
For the good of Arkansans, I hope the environment we find ourselves in can be quickly resolved so we can go about the business of making Arkansas the safest place it can be. I believe this is a passion we can all agree on.
While today’s resignation was what the Sanders administration wanted, at least based on Griffin’s earlier letter threatening to sue over the appointment, Williams’ departure is yet another black eye for the administration related to corrections.
In November, Sanders held a press conference to blast the board and its chairman, Benny Magness, for refusing to add beds to existing prisons at the pace the governor wanted. It was later discovered that Sanders and Profiri had not spoken to the board about having a special meeting, contrary to the governor’s allegations, and that the board had not been asked to place the issue of adding beds on the board’s agenda.
A short time later, in December, the board filed a lawsuit against Sanders and Profiri seeking to strike down two changes to Arkansas law made by the Legislature during the 2023 regular session, which would have given the governor supervisory authority over Profiri. Circuit Judge Patti James agreed with the board, rejected the arguments made by Griffin’s office in defense of the statutory changes, and entered a preliminary injunction preventing the governor from proceeding under the new statutes.
Also in December, Griffin filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the board, arguing that they violated the FOIA by going into special session to discuss hiring outside counsel to represent them against the governor. That case was recently dismissed by Circuit Judge Tim Fox after Griffin’s deputies falsely claimed that they had complied with Fox’s order to assist the board in obtaining outside counsel.
According to Dina Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, the board does not have a statement at this point in response to Williams’ resignation. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.