Lawmaker: Open Meeting On Deficit Needed For Sake of University of Arkansas and Legislature

Jan 6, 2014

Rep. Terry Rice (R)
Credit Arkansas House of Representatives

The co-chairman of the state legislature's Joint Performance Review Committee says he hopes a meeting tomorrow in Little Rock will provide transparency and open discussion. The matter at hand is finding out more details about what led to a multi-million dollar deficit in the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's fund-raising division.

Two former employees of the fund-raising division who've been blamed for the mess and lost their jobs as a result will now have a chance to speak in front of the Joint Performance Review Committee, along with four other current and former employees of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, including Chancellor David Gearheart.

This meeting comes after some controversy over a December 13 meeting of another legislative committee, the Joint Auditing Committee. At that meeting, the two former employees, Brad Choate and Joy Sharp, wanted to testify about the deficit issues but were not given the opportunity.

Representative Terry Rice, who co-chairs the committee now hearing the matter, says he wants to see a fair and open meeting this time.

"I think for the good of the institution of the University of Arkansas and the legislature, we need to have an open meeting with questions and people being able to answer," said Rice. 

Some members of the audit committee defended not hearing testimony from the former employees by saying it's not the job of the audit committee to unveil wrongdoing, noting that was placed in the hands of the Washington County Prosecutor and the committee was only there to accept the state audit report that found the shortfall.

But Representative Rice doesn't buy that.

"Very few times have I been where we couldn't have discussion before something's reviewed. It's not that we would change anything that the prosecutor found or didn't find, but it would have been the opportunity to have questions," said Rice. 

There was also confusion that day, with other members saying they didn't think voting to approve the audit report would then mean testimony would not be heard and the meeting would end right after.

Also scheduled to speak this time is former university spokesman John Diamond, who has said he was fired because he spoke out against the University withholding public documents related to the $4 million deficit.

Tomorrow's meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Room A of the Multi-Agency Complex at 1 Capitol Mall in Little Rock.