Ethics Committee investigates Benton County Sheriff
We’ve got Democrats Bill Halter and Blanche Lincoln tit-for-tatting like two-years-olds while running for the Senate. Meanwhile, there’s a hubbub over Republican Steve Womack’s alleged (well, not alleged — he admitted it) use of public property in his race to represent the 3rd District in Congress (he’s the mayor of Rogers and some have pointed out that his use of his mayoral computer to send campaign literature is a no-no under Arkansas law).
What’s the latest? Andy Lee sent some emails to us here at First Arkansas News last week alleging that Benton County Sheriff Keith Ferguson has been using a public vehicle for campaign use. KFSM-5, the CBS affiliate in northwest Arkansas, posted this story and video today about those allegations.
Truth be told, Northwest Arkansas News was the first media outlet (that I know of) to put together a story about Lee’s allegations. You’ve got to subscribe to one of that company’s publications in northwest Arkansas or pay cash money to read their take on the whole affair. Go ahead and click the aforementioned KFSM link for more details because that outlet doesn’t charge a dime for its story and streaming video.
The long and short of it is that Lee — the former Benton County Sheriff — has taken issue with Ferguson’s over his alleged use of a county vehicle for campaign purposes. Lee filed a complaint with the Arkansas Ethics Commission against Ferguson and sent this reply from the Commission to First Arkansas News.
The letter states the Commission has decided to investigate the matter further. The folks from the Commission had no further comment on the matter and, when asked for one by First Arkansas News, sent the following email:
Please be advised that pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 7-6-218(b)(3)(B) and § II (D)(6) of the Commissions Rules of Practice and Procedure, the Commission is required to keep confidential all proceedings, records, and transcripts of any investigations or inquiries. In addition, such matters are not subject to disclosure unless the respondent in a case requests disclosure, there is a public hearing before the Commission, or there is a judicial review of a Commission decision.
It is noted that thirty (30) days after any final adjudication of a case in which the Commission makes a finding of a violation, all records relevant to the investigation and upon which the Commission based its decision, except working papers, shall be open to public inspection.
If you are interested in a general discourse on the manner in which complaints are handled by the Commission, it can be found in Sections VI-VIII of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure. A copy of those Rules may be viewed online at www.arkansasethics.com.
The Commission is not in a position to confirm the existence of any matters which are currently pending.
In other words, Commission members are prohibited from saying a thing about the case unless and until they hold a hearing and find there’s a violation. Or if Ferguson requests that people know about it. Or if there’s a public hearing. They won’t even comment on whether the letter is genuine or whether there’s a case pending as these matters are kept strictly confidential. Fair enough.
What Lee has alleged is a violation of of Ark. Code Ann.7-1-103 (a) (3) (A), which states “It shall … be unlawful for any public servant to use for campaign purposes any item of personal property provided with public funds.” If the Commission finds that Ferguson violated that law, he could face fines up to $2,000 for each incident (Lee alleged four separate violations).
Ferguson, in the KFSM report, appears to admit to the allegations. Interestingly, Ferguson was issued a letter of caution for just this very type of thing two years ago.
For the record, Lee was the sheriff of Benton County for quite a long time and wanted to serve in that capacity again back in 2008. Lee was up against Ferguson and Sgt. Kelly Kradduck of the Rogers Police Department in the Republican primary (where the election was decided) and, of course, lost.
Ferguson faces Kradduck in Republican primary again on May 18. Just like last time, the race will be decided in that primary. Lee, meanwhile, said he’s going to continue asking Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Van Stone to file charges against Ferguson for the alleged misconduct. So, stay tuned.
Congratulations to both KFSM and Northwest Arkansas News for reporting on this before we could get to it.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.