Arkansas senators debate ethics complaint for hours with no outcome

Debate will resume Sept. 8

By: - September 1, 2022 10:24 pm

Sens. Alan Clark and Mark Johnson were sanctioned by the Arkansas Senate earlier this year after Johnson tried to sign Clark in for mileage reimbursement and per diem for a meeting he didn’t attend. (Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Senate)

The Arkansas Senate Ethics Committee did not reach a decision Thursday after almost 10 hours of privately debating a complaint that state Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, filed earlier this month against another senator.

The committee will meet again Sept. 8 at noon and resume deliberations for “as much time as necessary in order to get to a conclusion,” said chairman Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, after the closed-door meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m.

Under Senate rules, the Ethics Committee can consider complaints in executive session, limiting participation to the committee members and those involved in the complaints.

When voices rose inside the meeting room Thursday afternoon, committee members sent Capitol police to the corridors outside to ensure that reporters were not close enough to hear what was said.

Clark’s complaint comes after he tried to collect $155 in public funds for mileage and per diem for a meeting he did not attend.

The substance and target of Clark’s complaint are not public information, but rumors in State Capitol circles indicate Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, is the target.

Flowers is usually a member of the ethics committee but was replaced for the proceedings of Clark’s complaint by Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis.

Senate rules allow for a party’s top senator to replace a member of their party on the committee if that member is making the complaint or is the subject of the complaint.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Aug. 26 that Flowers reimbursed the Senate earlier that month for nearly $3,000 in improperly received per diem and travel payments, an issue for which Clark was disciplined in July.

Flowers and Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, were incorrectly paid for meetings they attended via videoconference. Garner also agreed to reimburse the Senate for the payments. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, told the Democrat-Gazette he considered the payments to Flowers and Garner “clerical” errors.

Background

Clark’s complaint comes after he tried to collect $155 in public funds for mileage and per diem for a meeting he did not attend. He previously admitted to the Ethics Committee that he was not present at the Senate Boys State committee meeting June 3 due to illness, and he asked Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, to sign him in so he could be reimbursed.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Ethics Committee’s recommendations to discipline both Clark and Johnson. Both were stripped of committee chairman and vice chairman posts, as well as their eligibility for per diem and mileage reimbursement for the rest of 2022. They were also formally reprimanded by the Senate, and future Senate presidents pro tempore are not allowed to consider either Clark or Johnson for appointment to serve on Boys State, Girls State or the Senate Ethics Committee.

Clark took to social media to express frustration about the Senate’s decision.

“Expect people, especially in leadership, to be jealous,” Clark wrote in a lengthy Aug. 9 Facebook post. “Don’t forget to collect your earnings as agreed on in the contract.”

Clark and Flowers have butted heads in the past, most notably in March 2019 when the Senate Judiciary Committee was considering a bill to eliminate the “duty to retreat” from Arkansas’ self-defense laws.

Flowers, the only Black member of the committee, raised her voice to speak against the bill, saying she feared for her son’s life if the “stand your ground” bill became law and was used by armed vigilantes.

Clark, the committee chairman, told Flowers she needed to stop.

“No, the hell I don’t. What are you going to do, shoot me?” Flowers responded.

A video of the interaction went viral and attracted national attention.

Flowers then walked out of the committee meeting and returned later to vote. The committee voted 4-3 against the bill, but a similar law was enacted last year.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.

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