AR Briefly

Arkansas panel rejects appeals from complainants against Bureau of Legislative Research

By: - May 8, 2023 8:30 pm

The Arkansas State Capitol. (Dwain Hebda/Arkansas Advocate)

The Arkansas Legislative Council’s executive subcommittee voted to affirm the findings of an investigation into the Bureau of Legislative Research on Monday after two employees filed complaints, though no details about the complaints were made public.

The eight-member subcommittee heard testimony in two executive sessions from each complainant and from Bureau Director Marty Garrity.

After nearly four hours of testimony, discussion and document review behind closed doors, the subcommittee voted publicly twice to uphold the March 31 report from Carolyn Witherspoon, a Little Rock-based employment attorney who investigated both complaints.

Senate President Pro Tempore Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Both complainants appealed Witherspoon’s report, and Bureau policy requires the ALC executive subcommittee to oversee appeals, Garrity said.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, mentioned one complainant by name during the brief public portion of the meeting. Barbara Brown, a committee staffer, filed her complaint Feb. 6.

Legislators did not name the other complainant or say when the complaint was filed, but Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, said this bureau employee “specifically denied having filed a formal complaint” during Monday’s hearing.

“We are concerned about the veracity and the accuracy of many statements made during the investigation,” said Cozart, the subcommittee’s House vice chair.

Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

Both the unnamed employee and the Bureau had a deadline of Thursday to provide documents to back up their cases to the subcommittee. Cozart said the employee did not meet the deadline but provided documents Monday.

Cozart and Hester both said the Bureau of Legislative Research should continue to enforce its policies and “performance expectations” but that the subcommittee did not have the authority to vote on potential disciplinary action toward any bureau employee.

There was no audible dissent on either vote to uphold Witherspoon’s findings.

Garrity said she could not comment further on either complaint, including about whether any disciplinary action has been or will be taken. Hester told the Advocate he also could not comment on personnel matters.

The nonpartisan Bureau of Legislative Research assists members of the General Assembly with drafting legislation, researching state policies and financial matters and codifying legislation that becomes law, among other things.

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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.