The Legislature’s Joint Performance Review Committee meets at 1 p.m. today to discuss the management of money by the fund-raising arm of the University of Arkansas. The subject will include a look at the degree of candor with which Chancellor David Gearhart has responded to inquiries about the deficit-ridden operation. He ought to be asked, too — if, in his day as leader of fund-raising — whether he staffed up for major fund-raising, anticipating that future revenue could recoup the spending. Betting on the come, so to speak, as fired division leader Brad Choate did.
Gearhart also should be asked about the multiple witnesses who testified he said at a staff meeting last January to “get rid of” budget documents in a fit of pique about continuing inquiries. This is tricky. His statement that he never ordered document destruction was under oath. Statements today presumably will be under oath as well. The discrepancy in witness accounts has already been referred to a prosecutor for review. It is the classic sort of situation where, in abundance of caution, a witness under oath might avail himself of 5th Amendment protections on advice of counsel and decline to answer a question. Hard to imagine that could happen today, given the poor PR of such a move. But, to date, Gearhart’s public relations strategy has been abysmal and unsuccessful, save perhaps with columnist Mike Masterson. Masterson seemed to suggest again today that this search for clarity by the legislature is much ado about a good man, his buddy Gearhart, unfairly accused by disgruntled former employees. Gearhart’s statement is not the only time there have been variance in UA statements, as this exhibit notes.
Today would be a good day for Gearhart to try a kinder, gentler and more conciliatory approach with questioners. But, to date, he’s taken it wholly personally and angrily, to the point there’s talk he’s working on a Nixonian enemies’ list. Big mistake if so, just as his circle-the-wagons PR strategy has been. He has a good record as UA leader and — until recently — was held in high regard across a broad spectrum of people. Admit mistakes and embarrassment and move on.
But my delayed point: Though the meeting will have plenty of press coverage (Benji Hardy of Legislative Digest will be on hand for us), it will not be fully available to the public at large because the Senate prohibits live broadcasts of its meetings and its preference applies to joint meetings such as this one. It’s a shame. Good as the reporting has been on this issue, there’s nothing like gavel-to-gavel coverage by an unblinking camera, a la C-SPAN, for those obsessed with a particular issue.
The Senate, now firmly in control of Republicans, is just as resistant to sunshine for the Senate club as the old Democratic leadership was. They’ve offered no good excuse for how this serves the public. You’d wish, at least, that they’d let House rules prevail on joint committee meetings. Don’t the baseball leagues swap off on use of the designated hitter in the World Series based on home field? Why should every committee hearing be considered the Senate’s home field?
Let the sun shine in. going to be a touch awkward if pre-arranged seating below stays in place. It has the UA combatants arrayed at same table, with Gearhart at the elbow of Choate.