Disclaimer: I am not an official spokesperson for Dennis Milligan. He is not responsible for the content of this blog. The information, commentary, opinion and facts contained herein are taken largely from the public record, with some content provided by other sources, including Dennis Milligan on request. I am solely responsible for the writing, conceptualizing or development of this column. In presenting it to MySaline.com readers, I am exercising my rights of free expression under the U.S. Constitution.
THE DENNIS MILLIGAN FACTUAL CLEARINGHOUSE
The purpose of this blog is to clear up, once and for all, the facts surrounding the manufactured and scripted controversies surrounding Dennis Milligan. This does not mean that his detractors will be silenced, or cease to have their own distorted views of what is presented here. To the contrary, they have an investment in keeping those views in the public forum, hoping that they will be accepted and acted upon in a negative way.
Once you read the truth -- as well as my interpretation of facts and events -- it will be up to you, the readers of MySaline.com, to accept or reject what I have presented here.
As an 18-year-long resident of Bryant and Saline County, who raised two children to adulthood here, I have much skin in this game. I want to see Bryant and Saline County grow and develop past the kind of political bitterness we’ve witnessed over the past ten years. But it probably won’t happen in my lifetime.
Saline County was run with an iron fist for decades upon decades by a single party. Republicans were an oddity, an afterthought and a private joke, if they were even thought of at all. Democrats ruled the roost unchallenged. If a mayor needed a City Council position filled, they called someone that they knew and liked and asked them to sign up. Rarely if ever were city or county positions ever challenged.
And when they were, they always went to the anointed candidate, the one favored by the mayor or the county’s political power structure. To be fair to Saline County, it was no less the same in most any other tight knit county in Arkansas you could name.
Not since Reconstruction (1865-1877) had a Republican served as the Circuit Clerk of Saline County AR. That’s a long time by any measure. Until 2010, a pivotal year that saw an exponential growth of the Republican base statewide, a Democrat had always ruled in most elective offices of the county. Former Circuit Clerk Doug Kidd alone served an entire decade.
It follows that those who served as Kidd's staff members did so with a sense of complete security and entitlement, confident that as long as he remained in office and they did their jobs, they would never be touched. As you will soon learn from the attached exhibits, every single one of the staff members of these offices knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they were employed in what are deemed “at will” positions. That means something that many longtime residents simply don’t understand, something that almost seems “unfair” on face value, and that is this:
If you work in an elected office, you work at the pleasure of the elected official who oversees that office. You can be removed at ANY time and for ANY reason, unless that reason is related to the violation of a civil right or in violation of Federal discrimination laws, circumstances that are highly unlikely for reasons I will explain later.
Is that fair? Is that right? What about all those women who served for so long? Don't they deserve their jobs? The short answer is no, they do not. What many will have a hard time grasping is that they never did. More importantly, they all knew it but felt insulated by Democratic party domination. No job in any elected office is guaranteed for reasons that should be obvious.
Often forgotten, and even ignored, was the fact that there were TWO parties in the county. And in a year of Republican sweeps, a difficult lesson was about to be learned.
In a shocking turn of events, two people were elected to office that absolutely no one in the Democratic elite circles saw coming. Jill Dabbs was elected Mayor of Bryant, while Dennis Milligan was elected Circuit Clerk for Saline County. No one expected either of these candidates to win. Confidence was abnormally high among the elite, perhaps even suspiciously so. And when the shoe dropped, the reaction was swift and severe.
Former Bryant Mayor Larry Mitchell reportedly went into a blind rage of denial, while Doug Kidd’s reaction on election night was far more subdued. But one thing was for sure -- each man was bruised, beaten and angry, and more significantly, defiant. Neither would allow their vanquishers to have access to their public offices, and both Dabbs and Milligan would be denied any semblance of transition into their new jobs. Many residents found their reactions to be arrogant and even unforgivable, as this was a repudiation of them as much as it was the candidates they chose.
But neither Dabbs nor Milligan was daunted. They set about carrying out their promises to voters, to effect change and some of that change involved quick changes of major positions within their individual administrations, using powers vested in them by State law to determine their own staffs.
AND THERE, AS THE SAYING GOES, WAS THE RUB....
Like Dabbs, who immediately released her HR Director in a firestorm of protest, Dennis Milligan made changes when it became apparent to him that a smooth transition was not in the works. His attempts at arranging interviews for the ladies in the Circuit Clerk’s office were unsuccessful, and what contact was made with them established an atmosphere of intense animosity.
Their boss of ten years had just been defeated for re-election. From where they sat, for all practical purposes, a marauder had just come in the front door. Their inner circle had been penetrated and violated. A beloved leader was removed under force beyond their control, by voters who had been misled by what they viewed as a manipulator playing off of a single issue. They clearly had no respect for him whatsoever. How would they perform as a staff? Dan Harmon, the former prosecuting attorney for the county, had committed the previously unthinkable act of actually running a drug operation out of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office, something that took an unnatural amount of time to discover and finally prosecute. But once on his way to prison, many Saline County residents felt a sense of relief, knowing that a monster who had harmed the lives of residents through drug dealing while he was destroying law enforcement morale and compromising an important prosecutorial office was finally behind bars. But as it is far too often the case, with good time served, Harmon’s original sentence was shortened, he was granted parole and released.
The public's relief was short lived. New public rage exploded when it was revealed that Harmon had actually been hired by Doug Kidd as a clerk in the Circuit Clerk’s office. Most suspect that it was done to allow Harmon to reach sufficient hours to qualify for a county pension at the taxpayers’ expenses -- yet another slap at the same taxpayers he had harmed through his illegal drug activities, and his impact on drug prosecutions in the county. Kidd excused it as an act of “Christian charity” to help an old childhood friend.
Later, in one of the most bizarre twists ever, County Clerk (and elections supervisor) Freddy Burton would claim both Kidd and Harmon as childhood friends, defending both and all but endorsing Kidd for re-election -- in a published newspaper editorial. A man overseeing elections endorsing anyone is a stretch, but this man? Who hired a convicted felon?
The idea of such a scenario is so immediately off the wall that few can even find a way to respond to the idea, but it’s true. It happened. After all, this is Saline County. Miligan made a public complaint about Burton's endorsement, and the shadow that it cast over the integrity of election outcomes. Realizing his collosal mistake, Burton stepped aside for the election season and played no active role in running county elections.
When Milligan first learned of the Harmon hire, he immediately went about the job of trying to find someone, anyone willing to run against and remove Kidd for such a violation of the public trust. He found no one willing to take up the charge, no one willing to defy the elite of Saline County and run to remove the incumbent. In Saline County, it has long been an unwritten rule that no one is voted out of office. They simply decide not to run again, and someone anointed by the elite takes their place, usually unchallenged.
But not this time. Milligan made the difficult decision to be the lightning rod and run for the job himself. In his mind, he could not know what he knew about what had happened and do nothing. That was simply not in his character. Everyone was outraged, but had nowhere to turn without some candidate for Kidd to face.
History was made when Milligan won decisively. But the elite had a whole different take on it..
HOW DARE MILLIGAN WIN AN ELECTION
The defiant county elite did not consider the idea that a democratic process had just taken place, that a clerk who had done something distasteful and despicable had been ejected from office and replaced by a vote of the people.
No, that is not at all how they looked at things. An intruder, an unwelcome man who was no part of their circle, had broadsided a friend of theirs, manipulating a single issue over a hiring into a political upset. Voters looked upon Milligan as someone who had exposed an abuse and had stepped up to set things right. The elite looked upon him as a thief who had stolen something belonging to Kidd. That’s the nature of partisan politics, especially when one party ruled for so long.
Denying him access to the office was the first strike that Kidd could muster, followed very quickly by his raid of Circuit Office funds in the amount of $800,000, which he ripped from Milligan’s hands as a lame duck and handed over to the Quorum Court in a deft move to keep them out of the new clerk’s control. It was a classless, thuggish act, but a legal one that Milligan simply had to accept.
A brief struggle ensued between the Quorum Court and the new clerk that allowed loud critics like JP Tom Lish to lash out at Milligan and publicly express his disgust at his election success (“Some people here just don’t like you,” he reportedly said.) Those in the elite circles were not only offended by Milligan’s election success, but actually objected to him even running for the office. They liked Doug Kidd, despite him hiring a felon, and it was obvious that none of the Circuit Clerk’s office staff had supported the Milligan candidacy, something that a local attorney would attempt to play out later as a denial of First Amendment rights.
You simply aren’t supposed to win in Saline County unless the right people, and their attorneys, say it’s okay. Voters? “We don’ need no stinkin’ voters…..” the elite seems to say. (My apologies for plagiarizing the Cisco Kid.) You ask first. You kiss the rings. Dennis Milligan is not and never will be that kind of a man, and that lesson was just around the corner.
THE FIRESTORM BEGINS: WHO HAD A RIGHT TO A JOB?
The vast majority of raucous charges, phony claims of bullying, confronting teenage girls and all of the unsubstantiated and false accusations contained in an infamous “letter” allegedly sent by mail to constituents, posted by a man suspected to be an anonymous blogger using a pseudonym sounding like a proper name all came out of a single event that occurred right before Milligan took office.
He exercised a lawful right to determine the members of his incoming staff.
As a matter of fact, Kidd had exercised the same right as required by law, presenting his staff with forms to sign informing them of their selection to serve in the clerk’s office. He simply did what everyone else in the county did -- he selected the same women who had worked their for what has now been revealed as a collective period of a HALF CENTURY -- 50 YEARS. An unelected, entrenched oligarchy exists in Saline County. You didn’t vote for them. Neither did I. But there they sit, untouched, unchallenged, doing what “everyone” considers to be a “good job.”
That they were in place for an aggregate of a combined 50 years is not a testament to their competency, their reliability or their entitlement to employment as much as it is an indictment of the entrenchment of an elite that made such longevity of service in an elected office possible in the first place. It is a stinging confirmation of the "Tribe" I have so long referred to, who simply chose never to make any changes ever of office personnel and staff, and who are responsible for the sense of entitlement that these and other employees have felt -- despite signing documents to the contrary, knowing full well that such entitlement was not part of the job description.
And being good employees (by the standards of the elite), they are entitled to keep working in the Circuit Clerk’s office as long as they want. All of the Circuit judges liked them, and appreciated their work. They were likely considered to be friends. But there was only one problem.
The law did not support this idea of entitlement in elected offices. And that problem is called “at will” employment. Brace yourselves, because this is going to be the most difficult of all concepts for some MySaline.com readers to grasp:
NONE OF THE WOMEN IN THE CIRCUIT CLERK’S OFFICE WERE ENTITLED TO A JOB. THEIR EXPERIENCE, THEIR LONGEVITY AND THEIR POPULARITY WITH EVERYONE AND ANYONE CONNECTED TO THE COURT WAS IRRELEVANT.
The three affected women were Ronda DePriest, Amy Daniel, and Kim Wright. A fourth woman, Shirley Eidson, was given a letter only because she was retiring, and it was issued on recommendation of the county attorney. Dana Mattingly, who had been selected to remain, decided on her own that she could not work with Milligan and told him so. She wrote private messages on Facebook that resulted in angry, abusive, profane phone calls being made to the Milligan residence, and when she was asked to intervene in the attacks she unintentionally brought about, a local attorney found a way to parlay it into a groundless charge that her First Amendment rights had been compromised. For purely financial reasons, none of which were related to any confirmation of the charge, the county settled the resulting lawsuit from insurance provisions.
So in summary, and contrary to persistent versions that "five women were fired," NO women were fired. Three women were not selected for continued service -- a lawful provision of "at will" employment in elected offices -- a fourth was retiring and was presented with a letter on legal advice, while the fifth brought about her own termination by indicating an unwillingness or inability to work in the office.
Employment rests entirely with the Circuit Clerk, not with the judges, or the other staff members, or the Quorum Court. Sounds unfair to you? Probably, until you, the reader, are the one elected to that office and have to face a room full of people who instantly hate you for defeating their boss. Who, in their right mind, could expect these staffers to support Milligan in any capacity?
Check out the following forms, signed by Ronda DePriest, Amy Daniel, Kim Wright, Shirley Eidson and Dana Mattingly. These were provided to me under a recent FOIA request and on approval by the Attorney General of the State of Arkansas, who rejected a plea by one of the women not to release the information. The AG ordered certain information in their files to be withheld or redacted, but allowed for the release of the remainder of the files.
The forms prove beyond all doubt that each woman knew the law, as attested by their signatures, that provides for "at will" employment and that they could be removed at any time for any reason. All but two of the forms actually contain the language of the terms. The other two indicate that the handbook has been read, and that document contains the same language regarding "at will" employment.
It is immediately a logical absurdity, in contradiction to the scenario that the local attorney for two of the women is trying to present, that a clerk with a free pass card to release any staff member for any reason would instead choose an illegal reason in a thoughtless moment after consulting with the county attorney. An example was the attorney's wild claim (repeated by the circuit judge) of a violation of the women's free speech rights. It was literally the only path to judgment or money left to the attorney, despite the lack of logic to the claim.
That is the reason that Senator John Boozman gave similar letters of non-selection to every single staff member who had served in the excruciatingly long Senate career of Blanche Lincoln. Not one of them sued, or accused Boozman of violating their civil rights or their rights of free speech, despite the fact that none of them supported his Senate bid against their boss. It follows that they also knew that fact could not be used later.
They simply knew and understood that this is how Washington works, that when your boss is beaten in an election, you’re out of a job. Why? Because his right to have a pleasant work place that is productive and meets his goals trumps YOUR right to a job. Again, why? Because loyalties to the previous office holder and/or his political party are to be assumed, and as the one who successfully removed someone you’re assumed to have liked working for, it can be equally assumed that you will not only oppose the incoming office holder but actually work against him or her to restore your party to power and regain the office.
That is why we have “at will” provisions for elected office staff members. There is a political outcome to an elected office. If that outcome is not achieved in a satisfactory way, the office holder will be voted out of office for failing to reach it. In turn, he or she has a right to have a staff that is loyal to them, their party, their goals, and the success of the office so that the new office holder can stay and continue to do well.
It’s simple common sense. But instead, the elite have painted a very different picture. Their image, and the one they want you, the public, to buy into is one of a vicious, bullying, uncaring man who cast wonderful, qualified, experienced people to the side, wrecking their lives and rendering the Circuit Clerk’s office unable to get the job done.
HERE COME DA JUDGE
None of this is true -- but supporters of the elite have a friend in Circuit Court Judge Grisham Phillips, who just composed a nonsensical editorial outlining the reasons that he refused -- actually REFUSED -- to administer a 30 second oath of office to Milligan on January 1, 2011. At the time of his well-publicized refusal, he claimed in news accounts that his reason then was not wanting to be seen as the one “foisting” Milligan on the public -- though he never got around to explaining how that would happen, when the people had just elected him.
In an April 29, 2012 Saline Courier editorial, this angry, misinformed judge -- who despised Milligan for releasing his friends in the Circuit office -- had this to say:
“The Oath of Office of the Circuit Clerk reads as follows: ‘I, [name], do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Arkansas, and I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of the Circuit Clerk upon which I am now about to enter.’ I could not in good faith administer the oath to a person whom I believed had already violated it. In firing five women who had a combined experience of over 50 years, I believed that Mr. Milligan had, in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, denied some of these women their rights to free speech and their rights to associate with whom they pleased. I also believed he had jeopardized the operations of the Circuit Clerk’s office, upon which the Circuit Judges depend, and thus could not in good faith swear to “faithfully discharge the duties.” -- Judge Grisham Phillips
This one quote, this one pathetic, completely disconnected-from-reality quote takes me to the entire conclusion of this blog. The only thing the judge got right in this statement was the oath.
Not only was he incorrect in stating that “I could not in good faith administer the oath to a person whom I believed had already violated it,” but in so doing, he actually repeated language from a libelous letter that he referenced in the opening remarks of his editorial -- directly implicating himself in the writing of that libelous letter.
Contrary to his claims, that letter did NOT “rekindle discussion” about his refusal to swear Milligan in. Literally no one online was discussing it. Here's a question everyone should be asking: What was a Circuit Judge and his case administrator doing online, auditing a social website?
He claimed that he was responding to having been called a “misfit” (he was actually called a “nitwit”), and an embarrassment to the judiciary. Those statements were not in the libelous letter referenced. As later confirmed in a blog comment by Lisa Graves, his case coordinator, the remarks were attributed to an ANONYMOUS BLOGGER known as The Shadow…..on MySaline.com, NOT in an official statement from the judge's office. A social website was being used as a forum for an official statement from a circuit judge responding to an ANONYMOUS blogger -- something as irregular as the remarks made by the judge.
And Phillips presented this an an appropriate response under the Code of Judicial Conduct, in the context of which he went on to present a scathingly critical editorial about the Circuit Clerk just weeks before an election, politicizing his robe and the court -- and we’re supposed to buy the idea that this is acceptable conduct from a Circuit judge.
HE claimed that five women were FIRED. NO ONE WAS FIRED. THIS IS WRONG.
"Firing" implies a tone of misconduct, poor performance, or other fault. This was more akin to a layoff or a staff reorganization than a dismissal, minus the implications of those other terms.
THREE women were NON-SELECTED. See the documents shown below. These are copies of the actual letters they received, legal documents one and all:
It would follow that as a longtime member of the Circuit judiciary, Judge Grisham Phillips had to know that these things were true -- which takes his public comments to the level of a deliberate fabrication written for political purposes, NOT a public defense of himself or his actions.
It is also important to note that Phillips is not the authority on the job performance of the Circuit Clerk, nor does the clerk answer to him in any way, shape or form for his job performance. He is to conduct his business as a circuit judge, and leave all other functions of elected officials to their offices without comment, unless and until his work as a judge is impeded -- which it had not, and has not ever been.
Nor is the Circuit Clerk required to check in with this judge or any other judge when making staff decisions and selections. It is the height of presumptuousness and arrogance for him to publicly chide the Circuit Clerk, branding him as a violator of an oath he had yet to take, not withstanding the fact that this same judge refused to administer the oath.
He went on to actually accuse the clerk, by virtue of the non-selections, of disabling the office (keep in mind, at this juncture, he wasn't even sworn in), impairing its abilities to perform its services to the court, thus nullifying his oath to “faithfully discharge the duties,” yet another act of libel.
The remarkable performance of Milligan with his new staff not only invalidated these reprehensible remarks by the judge before Milligan took office, but actually earned the praise of former Presidential candidate Governor Mike Huckabee, who recently endorsed Milligan for re-election and praised his office as an example for all other Circuit Clerk’s offices statewide.
I am deaf to the observation that the JDDC supposedly dismissed the ethics charges that were filed after Phillips’ initial misconduct. His violation of Canon I was as clear then as his violation is now, and the JDDC, in order to protect its own credibility, needs to review not only his actions from 2011 but the content of his editorial. He also needs to be compelled to provide the alleged names of other judges he quoted anonymously in his support when writing the article. He has crossed serious lines that are far beyond the pale for a circuit judge.
LET’S SUMMARIZE THE FINDINGS
Like it or not, the following facts are true and proven in this document:
ONE: None of the affected non-selected employees, namely Ronda DePriest, Amy Daniel, or Kim Wright were entitled to jobs in the Circuit Clerk’s office. Their previous experience and length of service were not relevant to the issue of selection. With a change in administration, the new clerk had every right, legally, morally and ethically to present these women with letters of non-selection, and NOT have it misconstrued as firing or dismissal.
TWO: All three (not five) of these women were aware of this provision and possibility, and signed documents to that effect, presented here for public viewing.
THREE: Shirley Eidson, who was retiring, was presented with a letter of non-selection on recommendation of the county attorney to protect both the county and Ms. Eidson from future claims, and she was reassured that her letter was not presented to her for any reasons other than those stated by the attorney.
FOUR: Dana Mattingly created her own situation, having NOT been initially presented with a letter of non-selection. While her case has been settled (wrongly, I believe), I am of the opinion, based on the record, that NO violation of First Amendment rights took place, that Mr. Milligan released her for the precise reason stated in the letter shown below:
Her Facebook postings were non-abrasive, but nonetheless started a firestorm of angry, abusive and even profane phone calls to the Milligan residence.
Mr. Milligan requested only that Ms. Mattingly ask the attackers to pull back and assist them in making others understand the circumstances under which she was leaving. Since the Facebook remarks played no role whatsoever in her non-selection, and since the record also proves (in the Facebook postings accompanying court documents) that Shayne King (who was working with Milligan) had invited Mattingly to the office to try and find a road back to her job (which she refused), I can only come to the conclusion that the decision to distort the Facebook postings into a First Amendment complaint were the sole idea of the attorney who represented her. But the charges were FALSE.
FIVE: Milligan has performed in a highly professional, ethical, and effective way and has managed the office in an exemplary way, despite unsubstantiated claims to the contrary. His motto has been “Promises made, promises kept,” having done everything he assured voters he would do following the last election.
SIX: Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips compounded one abuse upon another, the first having been dismissed and forgotten until he put his pen to paper and published a bizarre, incoherent rant explaining why he committed the first offense by not swearing in a duly elected official. In so doing, he affirmed the abuses of the county by entrenching and entitling employees to “at will” jobs, even provided us with the length of the abuse (50 years), and then maliciously and libelously accused the clerk of violating an oath he hadn’t taken, rendering it null as undoable by falsely claiming that the office had been crippled as a result of him exercising his prerogatives under law.
MY CLOSING COMMENTARY
None of this has ever been about the success or failure of Dennis Milligan. It’s about possession. He dared to challenge the elite -- or as I have called them in the past, the Tribe -- and the success they hate him for is not his success in office, but his success in taking from them what they had always felt was their property.
His actual actions were to restructure staff and exercise his lawful option of selecting or non-selecting staff members. Instead, it was contextualized as an attack by him on an irreplaceable group with massive experience and long years of service, completely ignoring the “at will “ reality of their jobs and the fact that each had signed a statement to that effect, proving that they knew of the provision.
That did not dissuade an enterprising local attorney from conjuring up images of women whose rights had been violated, even though none suffered such violations. Many now fear that the unfortunate decision by Saline County to settle a meritless case solely on financial considerations rather than a finding of fact could lead to the precedent of remarks on a social website being used to deflect “at will” dismissals.
In turn, it could begin a new spate of abuses, with “at will” employees rushing to the internet to post comments attacking newly elected officials, and use them later to provide context for future First Amendment claims to preserve jobs or extract money from counties. Every aspect of the Mattingly case went wrong, made worse by the revelation that the majority of the settlement (paid out of an insurance settlement, not tax dollars) reportedly went into the pocket of the attorney, not the litigant.
The only concern of the elite -- The Tribe -- is not what Milligan has done for the office or for the people of Saline County, but what he has done to them. They are invested in one thing only, and that is his removal so that they can restore, in their minds, what they think he has destroyed. That is how the judge portrayed him in print -- as a destroyer standing amidst ruins that could not serve the court, hence, his alleged reason for refusing to administer an oath as he struggled to make his mistake look like a principled choice, instead of the offensive act of misconduct that it was.
All of this, at the end of the day, happening for a single reason -- restructuring his staff, keeping who he wanted in the office, and hiring who he wanted as allowed by law. For that "crime," the elite believes, he must be punished. It is my hope that the public will repudiate and reject the elite, and send them a fresh message on May 22, as early voting begins today -- you don’t own this county anymore.
The people do.
Editor's note: Comments will be allowed but will be closely monitored. Abusive critics not operating within the boundaries of decorum will be deleted. No one will be allowed to distract this presentation but thoughtful commentary for or against will be permitted, provided that it does not digress into character attacks or continued misrepresentations of fact, i.e., "Five women were fired," "Milligan is a bully," "The office is incompetent and doesn't work," "He denied them their right to speak." None of this is appropriate commentary, given the facts presented in this blog, and those wishing to post these same repetitive, tired, disproven falsehoods can post them elsewhere. All intelligent discussion and debate is welcome. I will counterpoint with any reasonable commenters who wish to present ideas open to discussion.