OPINION: Nominee declines state prison CEO nod, rightfully so

With a wise and thoughtful 'thanks but no thanks' for being asked to be the next CEO of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, former state Senator Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot may have begun the process of healing between an embattled corrections board and Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Williams, you see, while a centrist Republican in Arkansas, is a wise and studious legislator and a solid fellow.

He declined the Department of Corrections' request for him to come out of political retirement and take over, at least on a temporary basis, the spot as CEO of the state's prison system.

It was a job that Williams certainly had the ability, the knowledge, and the demeanor – a cool head in factitious political times, to make the best of the position.

But he is also a strict reader of legislative acts, laws, rules and of course, the Arkansas Constitution.

So, he wisely said 'thanks but no thanks' to the offer.

The appointment, under the recently passed act to allow governors (no matter their ability or inability) to name the cabinet secretaries to the division of state government, is still the law.

However, the state Constitution, predating this recent legislative update, does allow the Board of Corrections to discipline, hire, and fire the head of the state prisons.

For Williams, a nice fellow, to immerse himself in this frothy, bubbling, political fight, was, well, not worth it. As his decision to decline the post, as expected, so in chimes Attorney General Tim Griffin, never late to a controversy to insert his own opinions.

Griffin's "... see, I told you so" on this matter rings so flatly and vacantly like sound from a tin can.

Williams, in a letter published in the State's largest newspaper, states, "This took on a life of its own, with assumptions being made by all, the moment the motion was made to hire me as 'interim Secretary' for the Department. This is something I guarded against in multiple conversations."

Going on in the letter, Williams said he and the board had decided that, "if I was unable to accomplish my goals ... I would gladly step aside."

After a review of the goals (from the Prison Board) and a reading of the laws and Constitution, Williams said the expectations came to an impossible position.

Before exiting the matter, Williams, always the diplomat and gentleman, had high hopes all this brouhaha would come to an end with positive results for Arkansas.

"For the good of Arkansans, I hope the environment we find ourselves in can be quickly resolved so we can go about the business of making Arkansas the safest place it can be," he wrote. "I believe this is a passion we can all agree on."

As expected, the Corrections Board was disappointed Williams was declining the offer.

And in a rare move for our seemingly verbose governor, her press agent, took the high road, at first glance.

"The Governor appreciates Eddie Joe Williams' service and respects his decision to do the right thing and follow the law," according to an emailed statement to the newspaper provided by Alexa Henning, spokeswoman for Sanders' office.

Yet, the turn of words, from the governor, still shows some resentment toward any board decisions.

"The Board of Corrections knows that it is only the governor who selects and nominates the secretary," Henning said in her statement on behalf of the governor.

As odd as all this may seem Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, the prisons are still operating, over-crowded and as backed-up as ever, within the state and federal courts guidelines about conditions for housing Arkansas' incarcerated men and women.

As this writer has pointed out time and time again, for nearly every inmate in the state's prison there are moms and dads, spouses, and children living out their lives here in Arkansas. So don't act like this doesn't matter. It does matter.

One real gem of the entire matter came from long-time Corrections Board Chairman Benny Magness of Mountain Home. Magness said, "... [Williams] felt like he might have the ability to bring us all together, and so did the board. And we'll keep trying."

Glad to hear who is really trying to fix this mess, aren't you?

--Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.