Wilkins’ wife can reapply for UAMS job, official says

LITTLE ROCK — A state legislator’s wife recently fired from a $60,000-a-year job at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences because her employment violated state law could reapply but would have to receive a waiver to go back to work, a UAMS spokeswoman said Monday.

“I don’t think there is anything in the statute that would prohibit that,” said Leslie Taylor, associate vice chancellor of communications and marketing. “But, if she were chosen as the most qualified applicant then we would have to ask for that waiver.”

Phyllis Wilkins, the wife of state Rep. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff, was determined the most qualified applicant for a job as a mental-health professional in the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute when she was hired in December, Taylor said.

“She’s a master’s level social worker who was seeing patients, and she’s very good at what she did, from what I was told,” Taylor said.

However, Phyllis Wilkins was fired earlier this month after UAMS officials determined her hiring violated Act 34 of 1999. That law provides that a spouse of a legislator cannot work for the state if the employment begins after the spouse took office, unless the employment has prior approval.

Taylor said Monday that Act 34 does allow for a spouse to be hired if a waiver is approved by the governor, the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee or Legislative Council.

“What we should have done is ask for approval” of a waiver, Taylor said. “We were not aware of this (law) at the time … and it’s become apparent from recent publicity that we weren’t the only (agency to do so), so we we took action when we found out we had done something wrong.”

Last month, state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, resigned from her $80,000-a-year job as executive director of the Central Little Rock Promise neighborhood after questions arose about whether her job violated Act 34 of 1999.

Elliott was hired last September.

Wilkins originally was hired as a mental-health professional at UAMS in 2003. She left in 2010 as a social-work program manager. She was re-hired in in December, Taylor said.

Rep. Wilkins and his wife did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment Monday.