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Questions continue on use of taxpayer funds for Board of Corrections attorney

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(The Center Square) – Hearings on a $207,000 contract between the Arkansas Board of Corrections and a private attorney continued Thursday with more questions about whether the board followed proper procedure.

The Board of Corrections hired Little Rock attorney Abtin Mehdizadegan in December to represent it in two legal cases involving state officials.

The board is suing the state over a law that gives the governor’s office the authority to appoint the department’s secretary. Attorney General Tim Griffin is also suing the board, saying it violated the state’s open meetings act when it hired Mehdizadegan in an executive session.

Chad Brown, chief financial officer for the Arkansas Department of Corrections, said the funding for Mehdizadegan’s $207,000 contract would come from the state’s general fund.

“As I look back on this process, I’m not real sure the department should have been involved in it. This is not a department contract,” Brown said, referring to the Board of Corrections. “If boards can get into contracts, they need to have the ability to go through the proper protocols to do that with you guys getting approval from y’all,” he told the Joint Performance Review Committee.

When asked if he thought the board operated outside of their scope of authority, Brown said it was a tough question for him to answer.

“The only thing that I’m worried about when it comes to the board and what they’ve done is the procurement piece and trying to fix the procurement piece correctly,” Brown said. “Utilizing state general revenue, you have to follow procurement law.”

Also testifying were Brandon Tollett, who joined the board in January, and longtime board member Rev. Tyrone Broomfield.

Thursday’s meeting followed a nearly 8-hour meeting last week where lawmakers questioned Mehdizadegan, Corrections Board Chairman Benny Magness and board members William Byers and Lee Watson.

The committee agreed to subpoena Mehdizadegan, who did not appear as requested on Thursday, and board member Alonza Jiles.

“When the Legislature is ignored then it is our responsibility to hold those people accountable,” said Committee Chairman Mark Berry, R-Ozark. “In order to get them into this room to answer questions of this body that answers to the constituents in the state of Arkansas, we’ll use the subpoena power.”

The committee will meet again to discuss the contract on April 22.

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