Leader Blues

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

FROM THE PUBLISHER >>Finding out more about state firings

Gov. Mike Beebe promises he’ll run an open administration, unlike his predecessor, the secretive Mike Huckabee, who used to walk out with the office furniture when no one was looking.

If Huckabee couldn’t portray himself and his administration in a positive light, he’d reach for his rubber stamp marked “Secret.”

Except for bragging about his weight-loss program and the state surplus, Huckabee thought everything else about his administration should remain a secret — his freeloading at taxpayers’ expense, behind-the-scenes pardons for pals — while Beebe insists he’ll be upfront with the people of Arkansas.

At least one week into his administration, he has done what he’s promised and has opened the files on a former member of the state parole board whom Huckabee fired last year without telling us why.

Huckabee said it was none of our business, but it was: Larry Zeno, the ousted parole board member, was harassing women at work and downloading pornography on a state computer while taxpayers were paying him a stratospheric salary and all the snacks he and his mom in the nursing home could eat.

But Huckabee wasn’t protecting the disgraced Zeno as much as hoping people wouldn’t question the ex-governor’s judgment about people: If the public knew why Zeno was fired, folks might wonder why Huckabee appointed him in the first place. Or were darker forces at work?

A year ago we were wondering the same thing about another Huckabee appointee who suddenly lost his job, but the Huckster wouldn’t say why: Again, it’s no-body’s business but his own.

Wayne Ruthven lost his job as director of the state Department of Emergency Management just over a year ago, but Huckabee gave no explanation.

We know all about Zeno: Was Ruthven let go under similar circumstances? We’ve asked the attorney general’s office to open the files on Ruthven, and we’ll let you know as soon as we find out.

Huck set Ruthven up as Jacksonville police chief for a few months, which supposedly qualified him for the emergency management post. He didn’t last longhere either.

Zeno’s file confirms what many people suspected: He was a serial sexual harasser who collected pornography on his state computer, and an all-around boor who demanded special privileges because he was a state employee.

But why didn’t Huckabee release Zeno’s file after his firing? Was he afraid Zeno might retaliate if the governor embarrassed him any further?

Apparently Zeno is going around telling pals he’s got enough dirt on Huckabeee to derail his long-shot presidential aspirations.

One can only speculate what that dirt might be, but we do know that Huckabee spent a lot of time lobbying the parole board in behalf of notorious criminals he wanted freed, including the rapist Wayne DuMond, who wound up killing two women in Missouri after Huckabee’s parole board freed DuMond and sent him up there.

Zeno surely was key player in that sorry episode.

Good government is an open government. It could spare people’s lives, but even if lives weren’t at stake, the public deserves government that’s transparent and fair. Huckabee never learned that lesson, but the new folks at the state Capitol know better.