Getting right to it: Arrogant and incompetent may best describe state Treasurer Martha Shoffner.
You may remember Shoffner for her ludicrous statements a couple years ago during "car-gate." After discovering that Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox was abusing his state-provided car privileges, reporters began sniffing around about the use of automobiles by other constitutional officers.
When they asked Shoffner, she decided it was a stupid question. Of course, she deserves her state-provided 2009 Chevy Tahoe; after all, the governor has his own manservant to drive him around. She was referring to Gov. Beebe’s state police detail assigned to him for security purposes. Naturally, the comment did not go over well.
But the uproar died down a bit as Shoffner, a Democrat and former legislator, said she would hang up her keys until the lawsuit filed by the Republican Party was settled. It was dismissed a few months later and Shoffner resumed driving her Tahoe. Her office at first disputed that, but later said it was correct after I pointed them to the inventory listing from the Department of Finance and Administration, which showed the Tahoe was assigned to Shoffner.
Her office insists she does not take the Tahoe home anymore and uses it only for business purposes. However, the office does not maintain mileage logs to back that up as some constitutional offices do. The new state land commissioner even installed GPS devices to keep a detailed account of the six vehicles assigned to his office. The treasurer’s office did provide information showing about $1,000 in fuel charges for the past year for Queen Martha’s Tahoe. And on Monday, employees informed me that they moved the Tahoe from being assigned to Shoffner to a vehicle pool.
However, much more troubling than the vehicle use is Shoffner’s unwillingness and inability to answer questions about the investment practices of her office.
The primary function of the state treasurer is to ensure that state funds are invested in the most effective manner possible. A report released this month by Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit found a number of "significant deficiencies" in the treasurer’s office — the most troubling the way the office buys and sells bonds.
It gets complicated very quickly when talking about bond trades, but the primary area auditors highlighted was that the treasurer was selling bonds before they reached maturity and allowing those funds to be invested in a money market earning only 0.01 percent. The funds were out of the market for weeks before being reinvested, resulting in a loss of over $800,000 in interest compared to holding the bonds until maturity.
That could be the tip of the iceberg. One audit committee member estimated that low return rates from investments by Queen Martha’s office could add up to as much as $32 million per year.
Obviously, the committee wanted to ask Shoffner to explain the findings. But when the scheduled meeting came, Shoffner sent her staff to field questions. The committee responded with the unusual step of issuing a subpoena to compel Shoffner to attend, which she did a few days later.
Shoffner told the committee she could not attend at the original time due to a last-minute economic development meeting in Jackson County, where she resides. However, Jon Chadwell, director of the Newport Economic Development Commission, tells me he and the director of the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce were out of town for training and did not meet with Shoffner. The treasurer’s office has declined to comment further regarding any meetings she had that day.
Once in front of the committee, Shoffner offered no explanation for the issues raised on her office investment practices or why it had done so much business with a small firm in Russellville. Her standard response was that she would have to research that and get back with the committee.
The most dramatic moment of the meeting came when her chief investment officer, Autumn Sanson, asked for whistle blower protection. Sanson told the committee she had advised Shoffner against some of the investment decisions but Shoffner disputed that claim. That means one of them was lying under oath.
You can count on more facts coming out; the audit committee has requested an additional examination of bond transactions over the last four years. At the least, it is evident Queen Martha’s self-perceived crown has been tarnished. It also is becoming increasingly clear to almost everyone except her that she is not competent to do her job.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com