Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Skimming, Spinning and Self-Beatification

Walt Eilers, one of the candidates for Mayor, is almost a saint. On his campaign website, he wrote, "As a part of my process deciding to run for Mayor, I spent considerable time scrutinizing my life and actions to ensure that there was nothing competitors might spin to question my ethics and integrity that are integral to public trust." Self-reflection is always good, and even better when you find your entire life almost spotless. "The only negative" Eilers could find, he said "is the highly politicized circumstances surrounding my departure, 23 years ago, from my position as Arkansas Education Association Executive Secretary."

On this one occasion," as Mr. Eilers tells it, "I submitted an expense from a previous trip for which I had lost the receipt. I recall the expense being less than $200. I admitted then and now that I submitted an incorrect statement for my airline ticket. ...The reimbursement never presented any chance for personal benefit. Nevertheless, I felt uncomfortable about the inconsistency, so I corrected and resubmitted the voucher."

All of this became an issue because on March 21, Matthew Petty posted a comment on this blog, in which he said, "Anyway, so Walt lied on a receipt (corrected it immediately on his own). Koenig won't listen to a citizen survey, and Steve Clark is a convicted embezzler." Another comment from Mr. Dooley in reply to Petty said, "Before you start making wild charges, some of which might imply criminal acts, please provide some evidence to back it up. Steve Clark's crime is a matter of record, but your allegations appear unfounded."

On his website regarding the controversy about the false expense statement, Mr. Eilers claims, "The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette covered the matter in 1985." That is unlikely, since the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette didn't come into existence until 1991.

On the same thread where Mr. Petty first made the charge against Mr. Eilers, Fact Checker on March 22 wrote, "I don’t know the factual basis for Matthew Petty’s allegations about Jeff Koenig or Lioneld Jordan, but Mr. Petty’s charge against Walt Eilers can be verified from news accounts by John Brummet, James Scudder, and the Associated Press in 1985 that discuss the situation, summed up thusly:

On May 19, 1985, Walt Eilers was suspended with pay, after less than a year on the job, by the Executive Committee of the Arkansas Education Association as a result of an unsatisfactory job performance evaluation, questions about the effective date of a pay raise, and questions about an expense voucher Eilers submitted for airfare on a trip to Washington for National Education Association business.

Peggy Nabors, the AEA president, declined to discuss Eilers' suspension except to confirm that he was not on the job and that his future with the Association would be considered at the board meeting. Eilers told the Associated Press that his only direct communication from the AEA had been a letter from Nabors informing him that a suspended employee shouldn't come to the AEA offices without making prior arrangements.

Eilers admitted later that he had padded the expense voucher for reimbursement at a higher price than he had paid. He said it was "a dumb thing” for him to submit the false voucher, and he had asked the National Education Association to send it back so he could submit an accurate one. "It was a mistake in judgment. and I've corrected it,” he said.

The AEA’s Executive Board announced after a meeting Friday night, May 30, that Eilers would be fired at the end of the day Monday, June 2, unless he submitted his resignation before then. Asked to comment on the board's decision, Eilers refused to do so, saying, "I don't think there is any value in it.”

Eilers finally signed an agreement that permitted him to leave the job without either officially resigning or being fired. He said the agreement was "something in-between” a firing and a resignation and was the result of negotiations between him and Nabors and their attorneys, Richard Mays for Eilers and Richard Roachell for the AEA.

"My plans are to get a resume out and find a job in the private sector that would suit the talents I have,” he said after the agreement was signed. "I've found a place I like here in Little Rock, and I plan to stay.”

Mr. Eilers moved to Louisiana, and to Mississippi, and then to Fayetteville a few years ago. Now he says, "The newspaper coverage alludes to an unnamed source reporting both the expense account and an unsatisfactory evaluation. I stated at the time that I did not receive any evaluation, nor to this day does my personal file contain one." The AEA says the separation agreement does not allow them to comment on the matter, although it does not appear to have restrained Eilers in offering his version.

Of the only mistake in his life, Eilers says, "The experience taught me to be even more careful when dealing with my receipts, particularly when other people's money is involved. Since 1985 I have held responsible positions … handling budgets, financial matters and expenses with high marks for ethics, integrity and accuracy."

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