Baker resigns, resumes tenured music faculty position

Former Executive Assistant to the President Gilbert Baker is, as of April 4, a nine-month assistant music professor with a $50,000 salary , according to a letter sent by Provost Steve Runge.

Baker was required upon receiving the letter to report to Acting Music Department Chair Paige Rose, who will provide his assignments May 15, the date when the nine-month contract period for faculty ends.

Baker’s new position is based off the tenure status he gained in 2012 after requesting his tenure in the music department be reinstated.

“If there ever came a time for me to leave my administrative post and return to the faculty, I
could teach music appreciation, music literature, basic theory and beginning piano, depending on the needs of the department,” Baker wrote in a Nov. 15, 2012 request to then-Music Department Chair Jeff Jarvis.

The request was specifically for “a faculty rank of Assistant Professor,” the position Baker held before he left UCA in 2001.

According to his resume, Baker received a bachelor of fine arts degree from Louisiana Tech University in 1977, a master of music degree from the University of Arizona in 1978 and completed 30 hours of post masters level work toward a doctorate of church music from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1984- 86.

Baker is a former state senator, ex-chairman for the Arkansas Republican Party and was a U.S. Senate candidate in 2012.

The UCA President’s Office issued a written statement the morning of April 2 stating Baker had resigned from his administrative position at UCA effective immediately.

President Tom Courtway declined to comment on Baker’s resignation.

On April 5, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published an article stating UCA had returned a $100,000 check to nursing home tycoon Michael Morton.

Files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Democrat-Gazette showed the UCA Foundation returned the gift dated July 8, 2013 on March 24 amid controversy involving political action committees (PACs) connecting Baker with Morton, the same person whose checks totaling $24,000 have “since become part of two state investigations of Circuit Judge Michael Maggio of Conway,” according the article.

A PAC is an organization that collects contributed campaign funds and distributes them in support or against specific candidates, legislation or initiatives.

Seven of the eight PACs Morton contributed to gave Maggio $12,950 as of Jan. 31.

Six of those “gave almost exclusively to Maggio,” the article stated.

UCA Foundation President Shelley Mehl wrote to Morton in a March 24 letter to covey the foundation’s appreciation of the money, but “given recent developments we feel it is in everyone’s best interest to return this gift.”

Mehl states in another letter to Kathy Carroll, the foundation’s executive director, that “in July 2013, Gilbert Baker brought me a $100,000 check to the Academic Facilities Fund. Mr. Baker said that the donor wished this gift to be anonymous.”

The check was receipted July 15, 2013.

Courtway sent a letter to Morton dated Aug. 1, 2013 with a handwritten note beneath the typed text.

“When Gilbert came back from his visit with you, I was impressed and very encouraged,” the letter stated. “Thank you so much for this most generous donation – we all appreciate it very much – it really helps us as we move ahead in planning the nursing building. TC.”

Mehl said the UCA Foundation is not subject to FOIA requests, but provided letters and receipts “in the interest of open disclosure and in support of UCA.”

According the Democrat- Gazette, the July 8, 2013 check was received shortly after Morton and Baker visited each other.

The day Morton wrote the $100,000 check is the same day Maggio heard a plea from a Morton-owned nursing home involving a lawsuit resulting from the 2008 death of Martha Bull, 76.

Bull was a patient at the Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, one of 32 nursing homes across four states both — all owned by Morton.

The May trial ended with a Faulkner County jury calling for an award of $5.2 million to be given.

Three days after the plea was heard, Maggio dropped the award to $1 million.

The Democrat-Gazette reported Bull’s daughters’ attorney, Thomas Buchanan, asked the Arkansas Ethics Commission in a letter April 3 to add Baker and Linda Leigh Flanagin to its investigation of Maggio and the contributions he has received via Morton’s PACs.

The Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission are also investigating the case.

Maggio has been stripped of all his cases from the 20th Judicial Circuit by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Maggio has also stopped his recent campaign for the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Flanagin is a woman who worked for LRM Consulting Inc., a political consulting company Baker created in 2012.

She was its only employee.

Flanagin is also a registered officer for the Conservative Persons In PAC, one of the eight committees involved in the investigation.

The article reported that Morton told them Flanagin asked him “to support Maggio’s campaign” while Maggio was still presiding over Bull’s case.

Baker has said previously that he was unaware of Flanagin’s conversation with Morton and “did not tell her to do that or instruct her to do that.”

According to the article, Don Thomas of Conway was asked about the eight PACs since one of them is named Thomas Group In PAC and lists him as a registered officer.

Thomas told the Democrat- Gazette he had “no idea…what [they were]talking about.”

Thomas’s office for the PAC is in the same suite as Baker’s office at 1475 Hogan Lane in Conway.

He said this was just a coincidence. Little Rock lawyer Chris Stewart, the creator of the eight PACs, also owns the Stewart Law Firm, which is the agent registered for both Baker’s consulting firm and the Arkansas Faith and Freedom coalition’s 2010 corporation filing.

According to the Democrat- Gazette, the filing lists Stewart and Thomas as two of the organization’s principals and directors.

Baker is listed as the incorporator/organizer.

The Online Wire for November 20, 2013

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