Lawmakers Deaf to Community Needs at Interpreter Hearing

By now you may have seen the video I posted from yesterday’s Personnel committee meeting. It contained stunning revelations about the state’s hiring of Clara Taylor, an unqualified sign language interpreter. Unfortunately, I was unable to capture some of the most disturbing parts of the meeting–the reactions of some of the legislators.

When I first arrived, just before 1:20 p.m., the area where the legislators sit was about half full.  By 2:00, the meeting was still in order, and only a handful of legislators remained.  The overwhelming majority had left. Unfortunately, they missed the most important part of the meeting.

Just as my video was concluding (due to the hard drive limitations of my iPhone), several legislators began to chime in with their own concerns–but the concerns were not related to the circumstances surrounding Clara Taylor’s hire.  Instead, one by one, they hammered committee chairman Bryan King with some very strange questions.  It was almost like a Broadway play:  it was as if every word had been planned, every criticism premeditated.

Senator Joyce Elliott chimed in first.  She asked Rep. King if the questioning could be delayed until she had time to review the OPM report, despite the fact that the report had been public for over a week.  Heck, I even summarized it for her in this article!  Perhaps Senator Elliott needs to bookmark The Arkansas Project so she can keep up with what’s going on in state government.  She called the questioning “isolated investigations and questions.”

After Senator Elliott made her point, she collected her things and left the meeting.  Perhaps she was in a rush to go defend Martha Shoffner?

Then Senator Linda Chesterfield spoke. She wanted to know “what the purpose of this committee is.”  She asked Rep. King to have his assistant “read the charge of the committee,” and said she did not think that this type of questioning (towards Trevino & Daugherty) was within the scope of what the committee should be doing.  After Senator Chesterfield’s comments, she left.

Then Senator Mary Anne Salmon–who had been audibly talking in the back of the room up to this point–took her seat and jumped in, saying Rep. King’s line of questioning was “getting very close to an investigation. You need a letter from counsel to have an investigation.”  She accused King of not going through the proper channels to have an investigation.  Rep. King said it wasn’t an investigation, he was simply asking questions.  The casual observer might have thought it was Representative King who had been called forward for questioning.  After Senator Salmon’s comments, she left.

Then Speaker-designate Darrin Williams jumped into the fray, with perhaps the strangest comments of all:  He told Rep. King that the review of Clara Taylor’s hire was “outside the purview of this committee,” repeatedly asking King, “What are we doing?” (which reminds me of testimony that recently occurred before another legislative committee…)  King responded by saying, bluntly enough, that “the personnel committee is supposed to review personnel matters.”  Imagine!  A committee actually fulfilling their stated purpose!

But this didn’t satisfy Williams.  He persisted, asking what the committee was going to do with any findings:  “Are we going to draft new rules?  Why are we doing this?  What can we do other than discuss it?”  Apparently, the notion that legislators would spend any time overseeing state government struck Williams as a frightening and alien concept.  King told Williams that since Mr. Walker’s last appearance before the committee, Walker has expressed gratitude for the chance to give his side of the story and has also expressed interest in helping the committee draft new requirements for the interpreter position in the future.  King said, “That’s progress.”

Sitting in the committee room on Monday, I was shocked.  I’m not surprised that some legislators don’t do their jobs or take their jobs seriously–I’m not that naive.  But to see legislators try to impede other legislators from doing their job and belittling them for doing so?  It was breathtaking.

Rep. King has been shining light on this issue for months now and he’s not just fighting for taxpayers–he’s fighting for the deaf community.  Meanwhile, people who claim to be on their side (some of their names are mentioned above) are doing everything within their political power to protect Bill Walker, despite his misconduct that has cost the deaf community the support they need.  It’s unconscionable.

Speaking of the deaf community: there were about twenty of them in attendance at yesterday’s meeting as well.  They’ve been consistently showing up to these meetings, demanding answers in this case.  While the other legislators scurried out the door, Rep. King came out into the audience and spent a good 20 minutes listening to their concerns.  I eavesdropped just a bit.

One lady said she used to work for the agency and expressed her frustration with its current state: “We used to lead the nation on deaf issues. Other states used to look to us. Not anymore.”

A gentleman expressed his frustration: “[The agency] used to be so professional. Over the years, all the hires have become political.”

Another lady chimed in, “Arkansas deserves better than this.”

As Democrats circle the wagons to protect Bill Walker, it’s important to remember:  taxpayers aren’t the only ones suffering the cost of Walker’s corruption–the deaf community is suffering from it every day. Yet, somehow, these lawmakers remain completely tone deaf to their needs.  They seem to be more concerned with protecting a corrupt bureaucrat.

After the meeting, Rep. King told me he plans to petition Governor Beebe’s office for Bill Walker’s removal.  He also plans to look further into some of Walker’s other hires.  We’ll keep you posted.

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