MLK Commission's Membership in Turmoil as Holiday Approaches

LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission is in turmoil over the legitimacy of its appointees and a prolonged delay in hiring a permanent director, less than a week before its Drum Majors Leadership Conference honors the slain civil rights leader's birthday.

Commissioner Jimmy C. Norris Jr. filed a lawsuit in November in Pulaski County Circuit Court, challenging the legality of some fellow members serving on the panel.  The lawsuit has delayed the appointment of its new members, which has affected the commission's ability to pick a new executive director.

State Senator Tracy Steele resigned as executive director more than a year ago.

The commission has met regularly, but it hasn't had enough members present for a quorum, and to be able to legally conduct business.

The commission is comprised of appointees by the governor and legislative leaders.  The governor appoints 13 at-large members and one member from each of the state's four congressional districts.

The lawsuit challenges a provision in state law that says no member shall serve more than two consecutive terms.  At issue is whether that rule affects all commission appointees, or just those appointed by the governor.

Morris argues the rule refers to all commissioners.  The attorney general's office, which represents the commission in the lawsuit, argues it refers only to the governor's appointments from the general public, not those made by the House and Senate leaders.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)