Library employees are not entitled to one-time benefits, panel says
Saline County Library employees would not be “duly entitled” to certain benefits such as childcare and eldercare allowance and student loan repayment if those benefits are different from those approved by the Saline County college court for other county employees, the Arkansas Ethics Commission found.
These additional benefits could be recognized as having been conferred in violation of state law, the committee said in an approved 2-1 advisory opinion after a nearly 20-minute discussion on Friday.
Commissioners Lori Klein and Ashley Driver Younger voted to approve the opinion, while Commission Chairman Tony Juneau dissented. Commissioners Alice Eastwood and Sybil Jordan Hampton were excused by their meeting colleagues.
The commission issued the advisory opinion in response to a request from Saline County Civil Lawyer Clay Ford. Ford could not be reached for comment by phone on Friday.
Ford asked the commission whether certain benefits granted to Saline County Library employees by the Saline County Library Board with the approval of the board – but not approved by the Saline County College Court and not provided to other county employees – were considered a “gift”. and, therefore, prohibited under the Arkansas Code annotated 21-8-801, or if such benefits are considered “income and benefits of the government agency to which … [an employee] is entitled, “and therefore authorized under that law.
The advisory opinion was drafted assuming that the benefits in question – including childcare and eldercare allowance, student loan repayment, welfare repayment, recognition of childcare services, career and quarterly benefits – exceed $ 100 and do not fall within the exceptions to the definition of a gift under the Arkansas code annotated 21-8-402 (5), the commission said.
“The facts provided clearly show that these benefits are provided by the government agency served by the library employees and that these benefits are granted for the performance of the duties and responsibilities of the employee’s office or position,” said the commission in its opinion. .
The commission said the Saline County Library Board was vested with the power to set, regulate and pay the salaries of library employees under an order approved by the Saline County College Court on January 5, 1978.
But the order did not go so far as to empower the board to offer library employees additional benefits, the commission said.
“In the absence of such power, it is [the commission’s] is of the opinion that the decision of the library board to grant additional benefits to library employees ultra vires [beyond its power] and, therefore, that library employees are not “duly entitled” to these benefits within the meaning of Ark. Code Ann. 21-8-801 ”, according to the commission.
To the extent that the library’s board of directors voted to provide these benefits to its employee, the commission said it “believes there would be a” good cause “not to impose a penalty. to library employees in the event of a violation of the Ark code. Ann. 21-8-801 (a) (1) was found. “
Further, the committee noted that “employee benefits do not appear to be the basic type of illegal gratuities” that the Arkansas code annotated 21-8-801 (a) (1) was designed to prohibit.
Further, the commission said that nothing in the Arkansas code annotated 21-8-801 (a) (1) “would prevent the Library Board from increasing the salaries of library employees instead of provide these employees with benefits beyond those provided to other county employees. “
The Library Board, for example, could increase a library employee’s salary by an amount needed to help pay for child care expenses or student loan payments, the commission said.
The commission said its advisory opinion “should not be interpreted as limiting in any way the traditional compensation and benefits received by other county employees and generally granted to Arkansas officials, such as the health insurance benefits, retirement benefits, payroll deduction options or payment of expenses related to the employee’s ability to discharge his or her job responsibilities. “
The advisory opinion “is intended to provide guidance relating to future conduct – not past events – and is forward-looking in its application”, and therefore the committee “cannot rule on the validity of a specific past event “, according to the commission.
Juneau, who is an in-house lawyer at Walmart, said commission attorney Jill Barham Rogers “did an excellent job of putting together and drafting” a revised advisory opinion after the commission discussed the project. initial at its meeting last month.
“My concern goes back to public servants all over the state who may be in this position that when they register, agree to take a job, it’s part of their pay or benefits. (…) This notice would find those public sector employees breaking the law when they only receive their normal paycheck for a job, ”he said.
“I feel like the law is trying to prevent the influx of third party money, third party gifts,” Juneau said. “I did not have the impression that the law prohibited this kind of allowance or payment from your employer. (…) It is difficult for me to say that it is a gift that they do not are not duly entitled. It is part of their salary, it is part of their contract that they entered into with their employer when they accept this job. “
He said he would be comfortable with the commission issuing an advisory opinion that the library board exceeded its authority in making these payments to its employees.