Today is Mark Stodola’s last day as Little Rock mayor after a 12-year run, but the succession of Frank Scott Jr. will include tying up a few loose ends from the Stodola era.
* Sometime in January, the City Board must decide if it will accede to Stodola’s claim on some $170,000 for unused vacation time, a singular benefit not given to another elected official in Arkansas, but arguably provided by terms of an ordinance that entitles Little Rock mayor to pay and benefits comparable to those of other highly paid city officials. City Manager Bruce Moore can accrue unused leave time, thus Stodola claims it. The Board has already voted a last-minute improvement to Stodola’s pension, at a cumulative cost to the city of some $500,000, so that he may retire at half-pay, with a COLA. He’s being allowed to retain for rollover into a private retirement account his contributions to the old retirement fund in which he participated. The city’s past contributions will defray a portion of the cost of the new pension.
Before we get too deep into Scott’s tenure, it might be time to clean up the pay accrual matter.
* And speaking of pay accrual: Still bubbling is a claim by Little Rock district court judges — Traffic Judge Vic Fleming, former Criminal Judge Alice Lightle and environmental court Judge Mark Leverett — that THEY were entitled to accrued leave time for the period when they were city court judges. In 2016, they became part of the state system, in which judges do not accrue pay for unused leave time. A lawsuit may be necessary to decide this issue. At one time, the judges were seeking about $237,000, but that number was later reduced to $86,000.
* Will Stodola continue to hang onto a carryover campaign fund that held $78,496 when he last reported on it early this year. It was compiled in an unchallenged re-election bid in 2014. A 1997 city ordinance requires that unspent campaign money be turned over in 30 days to the city general fund or nonprofits or refunded to contributors. Stodola contends state law prohibits the city from putting restrictions on carryover funds. State law also requires distribution of campaign carryover to a nonprofit, political party and similar beneficiaries, but carries a significant exception: The candidate can hold on to an amount equal to salary (Stodola is paid $160,000) for “future” political races. None need be in the offing. The amount in the fund must be reported annually, which Stodola has done. Apart from refunding about $1,100 in campaign contributions, Stodola’s annual reports have shown no distributions of the money to charitable or other causes.
The carryover fund became an issue for a time in this year’s mayor’s race when it wasn’t known that Stodola wouldn’t seek re-election. He objected to the use of exploratory committees by Warwick Sabin and Frank Scott Jr. as a way to dodge the city ordinance-mandated late start to raising money to run for mayor. They contended that state ethics law controlled, a position upheld by the state Ethics Commission. Stodola was arguing that state law did not apply to their committees at the same time he was arguing state law overrode the city restriction on carryover money.
I’ve sent an inquiry to Stodola about the carryover fund. Here’s an idea: Contribute it to the city general fund to offset the cost of his enhanced pension.
Scott said during the campaign that this was a matter that needed clearing up. Agreed