Arkansas legislators approve $200,000 salary for former Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri after board’s firing

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Former Department of Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri has a new job with the Arkansas government, and after a Friday meeting, he also has a new salary.

Profiri’s new job as senior advisor to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was announced immediately after he was fired by the Board of Corrections a few weeks ago, and the Arkansas Legislative Council approved a $104,000 appropriations transfer to pay him for the remainder of the 2023-2024 fiscal year.

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This week, while the salary was up for discussion and approval, some legislators raised questions regarding the pay and actual job description, though lawmakers quickly approved the salary proposal with no discussion or voiced opposition.

One lawmaker told KARK 4 News after the meeting that despite concerns from some on both sides, it was not worth the fight with this majority.

Profiri’s new salary comes out to $201,699.69, according to the Arkansas Transparency website. That is less than his $210,000 salary as secretary, though is still higher than several other secretaries and most state employees.

It is also a few cents short of the next pay grade, $201,700, which would have required approval from the full General Assembly.

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Republican leaders said the decision to keep Profiri’s pay a few cents below that threshold was made not because of concerns of a lack of support from the legislature. Instead, the GOP lawmakers note that this was the easiest and fastest way to get him on the payroll while taking the lowest pay cut possible.

Sen. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) raised questions over the salary earlier in the week in the ALC Peer Review Subcommittee meeting. He asked for clarification on Profiri’s job description as senior advisor specifically, which he said he is still unclear on.

“I feel the governor should have quite a bit of latitude who they want paying what they want, within reason, and this is straining reason,” Leding said.

KARK 4 News reached out to Sanders’ spokesperson for clarification on Profiri’s new role and its responsibilities.

“The Governor values Mr. Profiri’s decades long law enforcement experience and having him advise on policies that support law enforcement and keep Arkansans safe is a top priority,” the spokesperson said.

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Leding said as this heated fight over Profiri has played out, he has some concerns over his leadership.

“A lot of what I’m getting is feedback from the board and what we’re seeing in the press, and it certainly sounds like it was not a constructive relationship, and he might not have been the most cooperative person,” Leding said.

Regardless of the salary, this new job is essentially Plan B for the state and Profiri, and it may not be long depending on an appeal before the Arkansas Supreme Court.

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The board was able to fire Profiri because of a ruling from a circuit judge that went against a new state law.  Act 185 placed Profiri under the governor’s authority instead of the board’s, but the judge’s decision to block that law put the power back in the board’s hands to hire or fire a secretary, which resulted in Profiri getting fired from the Department of Corrections.

Sen. Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) sponsored the massive prison reform law that Profiri was working to implement with the Department of Corrections, focusing first on adding prison beds. The board pushed back on this, pointing to inadequate space and staff in state prisons to carry out the plans safely.

“Joe Profiri came from Arizona to run the Department of Corrections and he was doing a good job up until the board said they didn’t like what he was doing because he checked their power and help them accountable,” Gilmore said.

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Gilmore added that if the state’s supreme court appeals the judge’s decision and places the secretary back under the governor’s authority, he expects to see the state bring Profiri back to the Department of Corrections to continue carrying out the new reforms.

“He [Profiri] is someone who sat at the table in committee and literally said he is accountable to the people,” Gilmore said.  “That is what we need.”

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