Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

EDITORIAL >>King panel in turmoil

As the chief executive of the government, Gov. Beebe seemed obliged to do something about the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, a small state agency that is supposed to promote the great leader’s goals of peace and understanding but has often seemed impelled toward warfare and discord. What he chose to do last week did not seem quite satisfactory, but the governor’s half-measures always have a way of moving us along toward a resolution.

Beebe said he was not going to appoint anyone else to the giant commission until the legislature next year reviews its work and finds a way to recreate it into a workable program.

The law authorizes 26 commissioners, surely the largest policy-making body in state government — the commission over highways and transportation has only five members and utility regulation only three — and simply winnowing that unwieldy body through attrition ought to help a little.

For at least four years, the agency has been in turmoil. A faction of the commission tried to oust its director, state Sen. Tracy Steele, whose two government hats created an irreconcilable conflict for the agency. Steele survived that attempt but resigned 18 months ago, triggering a fresh battle over his successor, who has legal problems of his own.

Lawsuits and rancor apparently have kept the agency distracted because it would be hard to pinpoint much that it has done.

Having a worthy purpose is not a suitable reason to exist without good works. Taxpayers may consider the agency’s annual appropriation of $337,000 too high a price to pay for bedlam when it can be had for free.

Restructuring with a manageable commission that actually meets and acts is the least that should happen with the MLK Commission, and Beebe’s minimalist action may move it there.