The independent citizens commission that will review state constitutional, legislative and judicial salaries and legislative per diem and reimbursements for expenses and travel will meet at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 30 at a place yet to be determined to get to work on the considerable task that the recently approved Amendment 3 creates for them. They expect it to be an all-day meeting.
The commission set the date at an organizational meeting held this morning at the state Capitol, and also agreed to meet at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 7 and 14 after getting a rundown on the legislation that created the commission from Assistant Attorney General Brandon Robinson. Robinson talked about the commission’s Feb. 4 deadline to complete its initial review of salaries and make recommendations on the legislative reimbursements, a deadline that Commissioner Chuck Banks said he feared would require the panel to work “at lightning speed” and might not be “logistically possible unless you want us all to move out to the Marriott.”
The commission does have a mountain of information to go through. Besides the information on salaries, which Peggy Gram of the state auditor’s office said could be provided the commissioners by tomorrow, by law the panel is to take into account the state’s economic health, which will require a report from an economist from the Department of Finance and Administration. Commissioner Brenda James, a math coach at McClellan High School, suggested that information on the CPI (Consumer Price Index) as well as comparable pay in other states also be provided by the Bureau of Legislative Research.
Should the commission decide to adjust the pay of any employee, there will be a public comment opportunity. The commission is to submit final adjustments to the auditor, and adjustments will go into effect 10 days after they are submitted.
Sen. Jonathan Dismang handled the meeting until the commission voted in a chairman. Larry Ross of Sherwood, a retired businessman and consultant, and Banks, senior partner at Banks Law Firm and the former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, both were nominated to chair the commission. Banks withdrew after Ross was nominated; Ross is now chairman and Banks vice-chairman. Ross said the commissioners will have to have “courage” and “trust one another.”
Scott Trotter, a lawyer who offered, gratis, his guidance in their work, was at the meeting but did not speak. So was John Burnett, who with Bettina Brownstein handled the Arkansas Public Law Center lawsuit against members of the General Assembly over illegal reimbursements of per diem and travel. The terms of the settlement of the suit required changes in how payments to the legislators are figured and that the legislature’s rules on reimbursements be submitted to review by a CPA.
Robinson also instructed the commission on the state Freedom of Information Act, recommending that they use new email addresses created for them by the state for business and reminding them that they cannot discuss commission business outside their meetings either in person or in written communications. As the panel adjourned, chair Ross suggested they “break bread” together and not talk business but get to know one another. Hard to see how that would work.
Other commissioners are lawyer Mitch Berry of Little Rock, banker Stephen Tipton of Cabot, White County Medical Center vice president Stuart Hill and retired businesswoman Barbara Graves