From the Arkansas Statehouse...

House committee approves King Commission reform.

In General Business on 25 February 2009 at 1:39 pm

The embattled Arkansas Martin Luther King Commission took a step closer to reform today when the House State Agencies Committee approved a bill that will reduce the commission’s membership and change how employees are appointed. Sen. Hank Wilkins, the measure’s sponsor, has pushed the bill in spite of opposition from some commission members.

If the bill gains approval in the House, as is likely, commission membership will be reduced from 26 to 13. In past years the commission has had difficulty achieving a quorum to conduct business.

The bill will also entitle the governor to select the commission’s executive director. He can dismiss the executive director at any time.

Several current commission members, who stand to lose their positions if the bill is enacted, testified against the change. They said they had not been consulted and took issue with the stipulation that the executive director serve at the pleasure of the governor. Judy Green, a onetime member, said it was a “slap in the face” when Gov. Beebe called the commission an embarrassment last year.

Commissioner Diana Charles said the commission has been unfairly portrayed in the media. “The true story of the King Commission has never come before the people of Arkansas,” she said. She did not elaborate.

None of these arguments swayed the committee, who approved the bill unanimously. Sen. Wilkins said it pained him personally to make the change — his father wrote the state MLK holiday and his mother wrote the law enacting the MLK Commission — but that reform is necessary.

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