Arkansas DHS Director Search Could Go ‘Outside The Norm’

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said Wednesday he’s looking “outside the norm” in finding a replacement for departing Department of Human Services Director John Selig.

Speaking to reporters after announcing a Healthy Active Arkansas initiative, Hutchinson said, “We’re looking outside the norm, so we’re both looking at what would be somebody that is not expected to be in that arena. I know what we need. We’ve got to have somebody that can understand $200 million IT contracts, that can minimize the risk for the taxpayers, that can work with the Legislature, that can recruit the right talent for the different levels of DHS as well.

“So big shoes to fill, but sometimes we limit ourselves in government by saying we’ve got to have somebody who’s had experience in that arena of government.”

Hutchinson first hinted at a different direction for hiring a DHS director during a recent interview for Sunday’s airing of Talk Business & Politics with Roby Brock.

“I’m going to look in the private sector for people with business backgrounds. The most important thing about a new director of DHS is that they understand business process, they understand managing people [and] very technical IT projects,” Hutchinson told Brock.

Selig announced he is resigning at the end of the year. Hutchinson said his timeline is to have someone in place by Jan. 1.

EXPERIENCE, SALARY ISSUES
Hutchinson said he did not have experience in drug enforcement when he became director of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency or in Homeland Security when he became that agency’s first undersecretary.

Hutchinson said he had a meeting about the hire Wednesday and had identified some candidates. However, he said, “There are some salary constraints for being able to attract someone from the private sector or someone that’s led a large organization, so we’ll have to look at that, but we’ll see what we can do.”

Selig was paid $162,647.68 annually. The salary for new Arkansas Economic Development Commission Director Mike Preston was supplemented using private dollars from the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation. Asked if a similar arrangement could be considered at DHS, he said, “There’s not an expectation of that at this point. That option would be considered. Actually I think the Legislature would support additional funding if we find the right person that can justify that. And I’ve got to be careful because I’m going to be negotiating with somebody at some point on this, but we want to be competitive. We want to find the right person, and whatever obstacle is there, we’re going to try to overcome to get that right person.”

EXECUTION RULING
In other business, Hutchinson called “inappropriate” a ruling made by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin Monday that the Department of Correction must identify the manufacturer, seller, distributor and supplier of all lethal injection drugs used in executions by Oct. 21 or otherwise must object to the disclosure.

Nine inmates, eight of whom have exhausted their appeals and had executions dates set, sued claiming as unconstitutional a new Arkansas law that shields the state from revealing information that could identify its execution drugs’ manufacturers and sellers. The law was passed because drug manufacturers’ reluctance to being identified with the death penalty has made procuring the drugs difficult. The inmates argue that the lack of information about the drugs exposed them to the risk of pain and suffering.

Griffin on Oct. 9 had ordered the executions halted through a temporary restraining order.

“It’s very confusing to me that … we were told to release information that is confidential under the law before the opportunity to litigate the case,” Hutchinson said.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is appealing Griffin’s restraining order halting the executions to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Hutchinson said the case properly should be decided there.