Friday, June 29, 2007

Equal Justice in Benton County

Former Arkansas State Police Trooper Larry Norman was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail for shooting and killing 21-year-old Erin Hamley, who had cerebral palsy and was disabled.

Carolynn Hayes of 8 Sidebottom Lane, Bella Vista, was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in prison for having sex with a 13-year-old boy and buying him and other youths alcohol and cigarettes.

Green Parking at Gulley Park

In a city increasingly marked by the concrete jungles of huge parking lots like those at UA athletic facilities, parking decks like that being constructed by Central United Methodist Church, and the proliferation of strip mall parking along every arterial street, there was some good news yesterday. Mayor Dan Coody and UA landscape Architecture professor Mark Boyer were breaking ground on a new “green” parking space at Gulley Park. In one way this is an educational demonstration project, but it could be an important part of the city’s future efforts to encourage sustainable development.

Traditional parking expanses reflect the car culture that continues to dominate most Arkansas transportation planning and results in non-point source pollution from increased stormwater runoff resulting from non-porous concrete and asphalt surfaces. This presents problems for local water quality and for aquatic life in area streams. Fayetteville’s new green parking space will include increased planting of shade trees and other vegetation on the site, as well as four bioswales designed to filter pollutants, slow water runoff, and improve overall water quality.

The project is a joint effort of the Arkansas Forestry Commission, the UA Landscape Architecture Department, and the City of Fayetteville, with supplemental funding from the U. S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Assistance program. Thanks to everyone involved in this innovative approach to an old problem. Other local governments and private commercial developers could learn much from this effort, and it should be hoped that they will consider such designs in future construction.

The Gulley Park area will soon be even more accessible by the new bike lanes to be built along Crossover Road, further reducing the amount of public park space devoted to traditional parking lots. Mayor Coody said, “We’re greening our city as quickly as we can, not only because it’s a beautiful thing to do but also because it’s the right thing to do. This is just another part of Fayetteville’s sustainability movement. We can’t do it all at once, but each day we’re getting a little closer to becoming the perfect, world-class community we want to be.”

Floating Bobby Ferrell

A couple of comments posted here have suggested that Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Ferrell might be considering a race for Mayor in 2008. I’ve asked around City Hall and various civic groups for opinions from people who know a lot more about politics than I do, and there are three theories about this in play. I use the term play in more than one sense, because all perspectives seem to be just guesses or imagined possibilities.

Script One. Bobby Ferrell is really running for Mayor, because he and his financial backers have no faith in the administrative ability or the political priorities of the current administration. They think the city should be run like a business and primarily for businesses, and they think they could do a better job. Those of this view cite the multi-million dollar cost overruns on city projects and the decision to purchase the Brooks-Hummel property as examples.

Script Two. Bobby Ferrell is not really running for Mayor, but he and his financial backers think the threat of a serious political challenge will make the current administration compromise more readily and roll over more frequently to meet the demands of the developers and the business community. Those of this view cite the way the Mayor and his administration backed off supporting the road impact fees and led the charge to replace Planning Commission members who raised questions about projects proposed by developers.

Script Three. Bobby Ferrell is not really running for Mayor, but he and Coody are working together and want people to think that they are preparing for a big race against each other. This will discourage other challengers from considering the race and limit their ability to raise funds, then Ferrell will not file, leaving Coody with a clear shot at reelection. Those of this view cite the fact that Ferrell has always voted with Coody in a crunch to sustain the Mayor’s veto of ordinances or appointments and the way they worked closely together with the Fayetteville Economic Development Council in the campaign against impact fees.

Any of these are believable, but none of them may be true.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Happy Trails to You

At a special called meeting yesterday the Fayetteville Sidewalk and Trails Task Force, chaired by Ward 2 Alderman Kyle Cook, voted to support the version of the Crossover Road widening project that includes a median and ensuring that bike lanes remain a part of the project in compliance with the city’s Master Street Plan.

Opposition to bike lanes is coming from residents of the exclusive Candlewood Estates subdivision. Property owner Eva Madison recently protested that bike lanes on Crossover Road would interfere with the elegant entrance to her special housing development and that bike lanes were a waste of money.

John McLarty, transportation planner for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, explained that abolishing the bike lanes would not save the city a dime. Fayetteville taxpayers are responsible for $7.7 million to expand Crossover Road for the benefit of Eva Madison and her wealthy neighbors, even if she gets her way to have a special exemption to eliminate bike lanes from the Master Street Plan.

Matt Mihalevich, city trails coordinator, said the on-street linkage is included in the Fayetteville Alternative Transportation and Trails Master Plan. Laura Kelley of the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks, said streets need to be built according to city policy, and if people are against bike lanes, they should work to change that policy instead of demanding special treatment.

The Fayetteville City Council will discuss the project and consider a resolution in support at its meeting next Tuesday at 6 p.m. We will know then where the Mayor and Council stand on the issue.

Quote of the Day

"As one who would have to live with having that fifth lane along Wedington, I say lay that asphalt as fast as you can. The Lindsey mega-project is just around the corner and this already congested area needs every lane it can get its tires on."

Mike Masterson, "Every Lane Matters," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

No Joy in Mudville

Lowell residents cannot be too pleased with the stewardship of their local tax dollars, nor can state officials who provide state turnback funds to city and county governments. Some will question the judgment of the city officials, and everyone will be disgusted with the poor management of fiscal resources.

A few years ago, the City of Lowell purchased a replica stagecoach, supposedly as a symbol to promote the city's rich history at various events. They paid Ray Dotson $16,500 for the stagecoach and an additional $10,000 to restore it. Dotson retained possession and use of the stagecoach, used it in his business Ozark Mountain Carriages, and now has demanded that the city pay him $28,248 for storage and expenses. That’s more than $50,000 for a stagecoach said to be a symbol and sometimes used in the Mudtown Days festival one weekend a year. This is all in court now, running up additional legal expenses to be paid with tax dollars.

Mayor Perry Long also promised he would construct a city park by the end of the year to be built by Lowell Street Department employees. In April, the city rented an Ingersoll-Rand SD 70 Roller, a Caterpillar 325 CL Trac Hoe, a Caterpillar Dozer, and a TA27 Terex Dump Truck for a total of $23,050 a month (or $755 a day), and it has now been rented for two months without much to show for it except bills to be paid with taxpayer dollars. The equipment is sitting idle, and city officials blame the rain. Jimmy Hendrix, Lowell street department manager said, “I don't know exactly how many days we worked out there or when.” Mayor Long said, “We know it's eating our lunch.” So do the citizens of Lowell.

It's not as bad as a $62 million cost overrun on a sewer plant, but it is still a shameful waste of taxpayers' money.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

News Nugget of the Day

The Fayetteville Alternative Transportation and Trails Master Plan earned Mayor Dan Coody an award for climate protection at the 75th annual meeting of the U. S. Conference of Mayors.

According to a release issued by the conference, “through [Coody’s] leadership, the city of Fayetteville’s Alternative Transportation and Trail Master Plan has created 129 miles of multiuse trails and 163 miles of on-street linkages to the city. ”

[I]t wasn’t entirely correct. The master plan calls for that many miles of trails and linkages; however, only about 16 miles of trails have been completed, according to Matt Mihalevich, city trails coordinator.

Coody said he did not know where the information came from.

--Adam Wallworth, Coody Wins Award for Fayetteville Trails Plan, Northwest Arkansas Times

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Mill at West End

Good news! The Fayetteville Planning Commission this evening unanimously approved plans for The Mill at West End project at the intersection of West Avenue and Prairie Street. Ken Shireman is the architect for the project planned by Milver Investments that consists of two buildings on either side of West, along Prairie Street, featuring 17 condos geared toward young professionals, 3,700 square feet of restaurant space, and 8,327 square feet of office space on 1.25 acres.

The funky Fayetteville Mill District, south of the square between Center and Sixth Streets and connected to Dickson Street by the Frisco Trail, includes the studio where the World Peace Prayer Fountain was created, a French bakery, a book bindery, glass blowing, graphic design classes, art galleries, book art classes, digital arts, custom-made furniture, and Nightbird books among the shops and services that can be found in the area.

We commend those with the vision to propose this vibrant development that enhances the sense of community in south Fayetteville and is consistent with the Downtown Master Plan.

Chamber of Horrors

When did the Chamber of Commerce quit being concerned about our community and the future of the diverse array of people who live here? They used to care about the quality of life. They used to care about small independent businesses. They used to care that people had good jobs. They used to care about neighborhood schools. They used to care about parks where families could enjoy time together. They used to be willing to make a civic contribution and pay their fair share for making ours a more livable city.

Not anymore. It seems all they care about now is helping a few rich people become richer while everyone else carries a higher tax burden to subsidize the corporate class of welfare bums. Looking at the list of fine people who pay dues to the Chamber, I can’t believe they support what’s happening, but here are three examples, just within the last month.

First, the future of Fayetteville High School. At a public hearing almost every parent and concerned individuals among the 50 attending favored keeping the high school near the present location for safety, environmental, and educational reasons. Who were the advocates for constructing an entirely new high school at the edge of town, leading to sprawl, higher infrastructure costs, and higher profits for developers? Steve Rust, president of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council and front man for the campaign against road impact fees for developers, and Bill Ramsey of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Ramsey said the Chamber heavily favors and recently passed a resolution endorsing the idea that the board build one new school at a new site. However, when asked about an essential factor in the decision, Ramsey said the maximum size of the school hasn’t really come up. “I don’t know what the magic number is,” he said. That would be something those concerned about the best learning environment for our children might consider. It might also be wise to ask if the Chamber members are ready to pay the taxes to build a new school opposed by the majority of patrons.

Second, water rates charged in Fayetteville. Residential customers already pay 75% higher rates than the large industrial customers using millions of gallons. Aldermen Kyle Cook and Lioneld Jordan suggested that the rates should be more equal and that, if large users paid their fair share, residential rates could even be reduced. Chamber CEO Bill Ramsey squawked he was sure that the council will give large industry a special low rate like they did in 2003 because a significant increase in water rates could hurt industrial users such as Tyson Foods. “We view those large increases as a killer,” Ramsey said. The Chamber isn’t concerned about the impact on the elderly and low income. Deference needs to be given to big industry, Ramsey said, “because if we lose those, who’s going to pay the bills?” The largest water customer is the UA; does anyone think they’re going to pack up and leave if water rates increase? If big corporate customers will leave town when asked to pay their fair, then they should beware the door knob.

Finally, special treatment for big developers with lots of money. When Mayor Coody floated the idea of letting big developers pay an additional fee to move their projects faster through the approval process, Alderman Kyle Cook said, “That’s like buying influence to me.” Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Ramsey said he believes the development community would be willing to pay more and that raising the fees might even help the economy. “We just have a reputation, and it isn’t all just perception, of being a little more difficult of a community for developers,” Ramsey said. “If we shorten the process and change that perception, we’ll get developers looking a little more friendly at Fayetteville.”

That’s the Chamber today—they want construction of a new school regardless of the data about optimum size for quality education, they want special low water rates for big industry subsidized by homeowners, and they want special treatment for quick approval of projects for big developers with money to pay for it. Take their word for it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Quote of the Day

"Build Smart favors the staggered construction of two new buildings on FHS’s current central location, one for older students and one for younger, with shared facilities for athletics, dining, and the performing arts. Such a configuration brings together the best of everything. Specifically, it combines the facilities and curriculum advantages of a 3,000-student school with the social and student performance advantages of smaller learning communities; it leaves our community greater flexibility to 'follow the growth' when we do make the inevitable transition to two high schools; and it provides Fayetteville with a 21st century high school without compromising students’ access to existing resources like the University of Arkansas, the city library, and the Walton Arts Center."

Janine Parry, Current Site Key to High School’s Prosperity,” Northwest Arkansas Times

How Cool Is That?

The 75th annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which made the environment one of its top agenda items, announced yesterday in Los Angeles that Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody had won first place honors in this year's Mayors' Climate Protection Awards Program. The awards honor mayors for measures to curb global warming and increase energy efficiency. Mayor Coody was selected for a city alternative transportation program that created 129 miles of multi-use trails and 163 miles of on-street linkages to the city.

Mayor Coody is also recognized as one of America's Cool Mayors, which claims he has "placed an emphasis on planning for responsible growth." Although Coody folds almost every time when the real estate developers and business interests request exceptions, the "City Plan 2025 has won him international accolades for encouraging infill and alternative modes of transportation, while discouraging sprawl and auto-dependency."

It is not easy for Fayetteville's mayor dude to win such honors. As he said, "You mayors in California have it easy being cool. If you really want a challenge try being cool in Arkansas."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

L'√Čtat, c'est moi

Rogers Mayor Steve Womack has taken a break from bashing Hispanics to demonstrate his arrogance about other aspects of His city government. The Benton County Daily Record tells it this way: When asked how the search for the new fire chief was going, Mayor Womack said, “It’s going.” He said the search is his initiative. “I’m pursuing my plan, and I’m not going to talk about it,” Womack said. He declined to answer why the position is not being advertised on the city’s Web site or any other place, how many applications the city has received for the position and why he is being so secretive about the search. "I’m just not going to discuss it.”

Alderman Mark Kruger, a member of the Public Works Committee, said “I guess he’ll let us know when he’s ready.” Porky Wenzel, a Civil Service Board member, said Mayor Womack was "a little cocky sometimes." An editorial in the Daily Record said it appeared to be "a one-man show" and "a pretty dictatorial attitude to take as head of a representative local government."

Hey, the citizens of Rogers elected Steve Womack, and they're getting what they deserve. Real hard. And it doesn't sound as if they're getting much better from the City Council or the Civil Service Board.

Brown's Grocery Store Robbed

On this date in 1933, Buck Barrow and W.D. Jones staged a daring daylight robbery of Robert and Nell Brown's Grocery Store at 111 West Lafayette in Fayetteville. They fled south on U.S. 71 and engaged in a gun battle that was fatal to Alma Marshall Henry D. Humphrey.

The above information and photograph come from a website about Bonnie and Clyde Barrow. Brown's Grocery Store is no more; Fayetteville's historic heritage was robbed, too. Despite the valiant effort of local preservation advocate Paula Marinoni, the building was demolished by Central United Methodist Church to make way for an unsightly parking edifice that pays homage to its unchecked ability to destroy trees and historic buildings in order to glorify its congregation and make a shorter walk with thee.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Eureka Springs Domestic Partner Registry

Rev. Philip Wilson, pastor of First Christian Church of Eureka Springs, failed to collect enough valid signatures to call a referendum on the Domestic Partner Registry ordinance enacted by the City Council on May 14, so the ordinance went into effect today. A domestic partnership is a legal or personal relationship between individuals who live together and share a common domestic life, but are not joined in a traditional marriage or civil union, both of which are barred by a homophobic amendment to the Arkansas Constitution.

Trella Laughlin and Marie Howard, partners of 39 years, were among the first to register today. Debra Thompson and Robert McGrew also chose to register their relationship on the domestic registry. The world did not end.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Quote of the Day

But the “reward” for getting elected is, or at least should be, that you get to do what you campaigned to do. You get to fulfill your promises. Once someone gets elected, he [sic]goes to work for the public. He [sic] should not expect to earn some perks that simply aren’t available to the average citizen. ... [S]erving in public office should not be rewarded with anything other than the public’s appreciation for a job well done. Special privileges for those in elective office, or those who have been, simply flies in the face of American democracy.

Editorial, "The Elkins Way," Northwest Arkansas Times

Citizens First Congress Issues Report

The Arkansas Citizens First Congress has released its Community Guide to the 2007 Arkansas Legislature. It is a legislative scorecard assessing the 2007 voting records of all Arkansas legislators on 21 legislative bills favored or opposed by the progressive citizen coalition in the areas of civil rights, economic justice, education, environment, governmental and election reform, public health, and agriculture.

Scores for State Senators ranged from a high of 90% to a low of 67%. In the House of Representatives the range was from 87% to 46%. The complete scorecard is available here, and it provides information on the target legislation and an explanation of the CFC positions. The scores of Northwest Arkansas legislators are below.

Sen. Sue Madison (D-Fayetteville) 90%

Rep. Lindsley Smith (D-Fayetteville) 83%

Rep. Marilyn Edwards(D-Fayetteville) 80%

Rep. Jim House (D-Fayetteville) 78%

Rep. Jon Woods (R-Springdale) 78%

Rep. Keven Anderson (R-Rogers) 78%

Sen. David Bisbee (R-Rogers) 76%

Sen. Kim Hendren (R-Gravette) 67%

Sen. Bill Pritchard (R-Elkins) 67%

Sen. Ruth Whitaker (R-Cedarville) 67%

Rep. Mark Martin (R-Prairie Grove) 65%

Rep. Eric Harris (R-Lowell) 61%

Rep. Mike Kenney (R-Siloam Springs) 61%

Rep. Aaron Burkes (R-Lowell) 57%

Rep. Donna Hutchinson (R-Bella Vista) 57%

Rep. Daryl Pace (R-Siloam Springs) 54%

Rep. Horace Hardwick (R-Bentonville) 46%

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Quote of the Day

"To Jesus, God’s law was not written on stone or paper, but on the human heart. . . . To claim devotion to laws, rules, beliefs and doctrines, but fail to heal the sick, assist the poor and feed the hungry was then and is today nothing more than fakery and hypocrisy. He believed the rich should help those less fortunate, that those with opportunities should help those with less.

"Jesus was basically a liberal. He did not hate anyone, nor did he condemn those who broke the laws. If those who claim to follow him today would spend less time on rigid laws, beliefs, doctrines and hating those who differ and lived in his spirit, our world would be a much more loving and less violent place."

--Grady Jim Robinson, "Jesus Was a Liberal," Northwest Arkansas Times

The Queen of Candlewood

The rich are different from you and me. They have more money, but they also have an irritating sense of entitlement to whatever they want and a callous disregard for the concerns of others. This was demonstrated once again this week during the Fayetteville street committee meeting to hear citizen comments about bike lanes on Crossover Road.

Eva Madison, president of the Candlewood Property Owners’ Association, said the current design will have a negative impact on the entrance to the exclusive subdivision and the wealthy residents would like to see the proposal for bicycle lanes abolished. Developers spent more than $ 200,000 to make the entrance look impressive, and the residents have spent another $50,000 to maintain it, she said. With the bicycle lanes in the design, the entrance will have to be adjusted, she said, and replaced with a design much less to their taste.

The Candlewood property owners are very opposed to bike lanes, she said, and they find the idea unrealistic. Madison said the bike lanes were an "unnecessary expense" given the $860,000 cost and the lack of bicyclists using the busy street. “How many people actually use bike lanes,” she said with a tone of disdain. “It’s expensive, and the money could be put to a better use.”

There are houses in Candlewood on the market for more that $900,000, so the idea of a waste of money might be relative, especially to people who drop a quarter million dollars on an entrance to their exclusive neighborhood. As Josh Thompson and Jerry Bailey explained, it is too dangerous to ride bicycles on Crossover without bike lanes, but adding them would allow cyclists to use that north-south route without as much fear from being hit by fast-moving Hummers and Escalades roaring out of Candlewood.

The Street Committee supported the construction of bike lanes, 3-1, with Alderman Bobby Ferrell voting against them. The final decision rests with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and Eva Madison’s mother is State Senator Sue Madison.

School Board Elections Are Important

Today is the first day that petitions are available to be picked up and circulated by anyone wishing to be a school board candidate. To qualify for the ballot, a candidate must be a qualified voter, be a resident of the school district or electoral zone that the board seat represents, and file a petition with the County Clerk’s Office containing at least 20 signatures of qualified registered voters from the district or electoral zone. The filing deadline is August 6.

This is very important. School boards can shape the curriculum, protect intellectual freedom, support good teachers, stop fundamentalist attempts to inject religion, control administrative and athletic costs, and decide where future schools are built. It is an often thankless task, but we must have citizens who care enough to perform this valuable service.

Fayetteville has only one seat up for election this year, the Zone 4 position currently held by Chris Bell who has said she does not plan to seek re-election. It is important that the seat be filled with a committed progressive citizen who will stand fast for the highest educational standards to benefit our students instead of administrative formulas or convenience. Give it some serious thought, then become a candidate or recruit someone who shares your views.

Elections also will be held for the following school board seats in Washington County: Greenland School Board, the Zone 2 seat held by Board President Bill Groom and the Zone 7 position currently held by Charles Dwyer; Prairie Grove School Board, at-large positions currently held by William Dick and Eric; Elkins School Board, two at-large positions, currently held by Joey Smith and Krystal Gano. Additional at-large positions and current members include ; Sally Zelenka, Farmington; Connie Meyer, Lincoln; Karen Daugherity, West Fork; Mike Luttrell, Zone 4, Springdale

The seats up for election in Benton County and their current board members are as follows: Bentonville Position 1 Marshall Ney; Bentonville Position 2 Bruce Painter; Decatur Zone 4 Bryan Wilkins; Decatur Zone 2 Donald Morgan Jr.; Gentry Zone 2 Dani Cypert; Gentry Zone 3 Brenda Willett; Gentry at-large 7 Merrill G. Reynolds; Gravette Position 1 Jim Hendren; Gravette Position 2 Jack Skillett; Siloam Zone 4 Brian Lamb; Rogers Zone 1 Joye Kelley; Pea Ridge Position 2 Rick H. Webb

Monday, June 18, 2007

Quote of the Day

"It’s a running joke that because I love Fayetteville so much and because I get paid by Fayetteville’s taxes, I won’t shop outside of it. I always try to stay loyal to Fayetteville. I really encourage people to shop at our local shops and support our local folks, because they pay taxes and send kids to our schools."

Allyson Twiggs quoted in the Northwest Arkansas Times

Don't Meddle with the Pedal

The planned Fayetteville road improvements on Crossover Road from Mission north to the Springdale city limits and the project on Wedington west of Rupple Road currently include bike lanes. The City Council Street Committee is meeting at City Hall on Monday the 18th at 4:30 and will be discussing removing the bike lanes from these two road improvement projects.There is a lot of pressure being applied to do away with the bike lanes on 265 in order to preserve a Lindsey subdivision’s landscaping that over-reaches 3 feet into the existing right-of-way. I have been told that SWEPCO Sue Madison opposes the bike lanes on Crossover. This will be a real test of whether the Master Street Plan will reflect the goals of City Plan 2025

The Wedington project is receiving pressure to remove the bike lanes and replace them with a continuous (fifth) “suicide” turn lane. Numerous citizens have contacted the state highway department advocating a median be included for both the Crossover and the Wedington projects. Mayor Coody has not taken a public position on this and is not providing any leadership, so it is important that citizens take the lead and make their voices heard.

Bike lanes are an important part of an alternate transportation system, but to be successful they must be widely available. We believe they should be integral to all future road improvements. This is another opportunity to show local officials and the State highway department that we are committed to bike lanes and trails that can be central to alternate methods of transportation. Please make the effort to attend this street committee meeting and support keeping bike lanes in the planned improvements.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I would like to see more equality between what we charge the business community and citizens."

--Alderman Lioneld Jordan, "Slippery When Wet," Northwest Arkansas Times

Friday, June 15, 2007

Short Memories and Poor Public Policies

An editorial in today’s Northwest Arkansas Times notes approvingly that “City staff is working on a plan that would convert all city parking lots in the downtown area into paid parking.” This is a sign that both the editorial writer and the Fayetteville city administration have no institutional memory and a poor sense of good public policy.

Once upon a time, the City saw a chance to make money by installing parking meters at every available space in the downtown area. Then came Evelyn Hills and the Northwest Arkansas Mall with free parking, and many downtown businesses deserted the square and followed the developers to the sprawling areas of free parking. To level the retail playing field, the City decided to offer free parking around the square and near Dickson Street so businesses might attract a few more customers. It worked.

Now come the developers back to the Downtown-Dickson area, and we see pay parking lots springing up, operated by the developers and by the University Baptist Church of Mammon with it’s 322 parking spaces where neighborhood homes once stood. The Northwest Arkansas Times sniffs that “people sometimes take developments like this one as a sign that the almighty dollar is the key thing — and if that means bulldozing community spirit as a result, so be it. Paid parking, however, can be a good thing.”

The editorial pontificator asks rhetorically, “Isn’t it better for those who make use of the parking to pay for it rather than continue free parking at a cost to all taxpayers?” If that is the prevailing assumption, why didn’t the editorial staff advocate passage of the road impact fees for developers on the same principle? And why doesn’t Mayor Coody propose a toll road to the mall area ”enterprise zone” instead of throwing millions of our sales taxes to help customers get to those businesses with free parking? Why do the developers always get the free lunch and the common people get stuck with the tab?

Peace Garden Tour

The OMNI Center is sponsoring its 2nd Annual Peace Garden Tour tomorrow from 10:00 until 3:00. It is a self-guided tour of seven special gardens, and the hosts will be available at each garden to show off, answer questions, and serve refreshments. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at any of the gardens. Here's a link to a map of this year's gardens. They will throw in a free copy of Feeding Your Friends: Gardening with Nature by poet and gardener Leigh Wilkerson.

OMNI says, "Connecting with nature within beautiful garden settings such as these helps us to discover ourselves in relation to the abundant life of our locality and to define the kind of society we wish to inhabit." Maybe so, and that would be nice. At the very least you will get to see some neat gardens, have a good time, and support a worthy organization.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quote of the Day

"Many of the best students fear that the University of Arkansas is seen as a party school dominated by athletics and that this perception devalues their undergraduate degrees … Reputation matters. Athletic programs run with integrity and a modicum of professionalism may or may not bolster the image of a university. Programs run by clowns, however, make fools of us all and contribute to the perception that the University of Arkansas is third-rate."

--Steve Striffler, "Reputation Matters," Northwest Arkansas Times

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How to Evaluate City Employees

A couple of months ago, the Fayetteville City Council approved a contract for $46,885 with HR Factor, a personnel management consulting group headed by former Alderman Don Marr, to improve the way the City administration does employee job performance evaluations. As usual, since most of the city’s consulting and construction projects run over budget, they also approved an additional contingency fee of $1,000.

Marr gave an initial report to the City Council yesterday, so we now can see what the taxpayers are getting for their money. He said his firm has been conducting “focus groups” with Mayor Coody and his “Executive Staff,” and they also sat around and talked with about 15% of the City’s 700 and something employees. “We’re feeling really confident about the feedback we’re getting,” Marr said. Then he disclosed a major finding about what’s been missing that probably startled the Mayor and his Executive Staff, “The most critical thing that we hear is that there needs to be consistency and fairness in the process.” Duh.

The City's Human Resources Division Manager also revealed, “The new job performance evaluations are going to have the job descriptions attached, and the person will be evaluated on how well they are performing their job function as part of their overall score. That right there is going to be very different.” Double Duh.

So there you have it. In the future, performance evaluations should be based on actual job descriptions, and they should be fair and consistent. That speaks volumes about past practices and about what kind of advice Mayor Coody can get for $47,885 of your money.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Your Tax Dollars for Public Welfare

In 2004, the Census Bureau reported that there were 14,229 children in Washington and Benton Counties under the age of 18 living below the poverty level. They are among the 24 million Americans eligible for food stamps providing average benefits of less than $1 per meal. About 80 percent of the benefits go to low-income families with children, and the rest go to elderly or disabled people. Food stamp funding is a small part of the budget of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Also tucked in the USDA Farm Bill is corporate welfare for millionaires, provided from your federal tax dollars. You might be surprised by who is suckling on the federal teat and getting your tax dollars in Northwest Arkansas. Totaling benefits received or disbursed from 2003-2005, Sara Nann Lindsey received $360,263 and John David Lindsey received $360,259. Relatives listing an address in St. Francis County included James Edgar Lindsey $542,863; James Elmer Lindsey $479,525; Elmer B Lindsey $471,423; and James Earl Lindsey $360,348. That's more than $2.57 million for these six people.

There are 208 people or corporations in Bella Vista slopping at the same trough, the largest for 2003-2005 being $164,281 to Gracy Creek Farms. Other Northwest Arkansas folks living large on USDA benefits in that same time period include: Joseph Guziewicz, Rogers, $166,807; Richard Ray Trammel Trust, Rogers, $139,268; Steve Butler Lost Acres, Siloam Springs, $361,725; Grace A. Haberman and Chief Trading Co LLC, Bentonville, $107,591 each; and Richard Harris, Jr., Springdale, $176,854.

There are many more local business folks on the federal dole, but I doubt you will read about that in the local chain newspapers owned by their friends. If you want to know who’s getting federal welfare, you can look it up and search by name, zip code, or city right here. And if you want to bitch about the poor and disabled getting food stamps, hold off until you’re scolded these welfare queens and kings who pocket much more of your tax dollars.

Congress ladled out $80 billion over 10 years in the 2002 farm bill -- of which 71% went to farm subsidies and just 9% to increases in food stamps. For any Congressman or Senator, of any party, to choose corporate farm subsidies over hungry children by 71% to 9% is unconscionable, but you could make big money betting against John Boozman or Blanche Lincoln to do the right thing when voting to reauthorize subsides for the rich in the 2007 Farm Bill..

Joke of the Day

Will Rogers once confessed, “There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” That’s what I thought when I saw the headline, “Mayor Calls for Citywide Tree Preservation,” under Latest News on the Unofficial Mayor Dan Coody Reelection Website. You will remember that Mayor Coody’s 2006 Earth Day joke of April 21st that year was to veto important parts of the ordinance providing for tree preservation on Fayetteville hillsides.

For more than ten years, concerned citizens pushed for special guidelines for building on Fayetteville’s beautiful hillsides, asking for rules that would provide protection from excessive tree loss, steep grading, and eroded drainage areas. After four years of debate and compromise, the Fayetteville City Council unanimously adopted the ordinance regulating construction on about 3,000 acres of hillsides and hilltops inside a Hillside Overlay District . Then Mayor Coody vetoed two key sections of the ordinance, and the Council voted 5-3 to override the veto, one vote shy of what was needed. Voting to go along with the Mayor’s veto were Robert Rhoads and Bobby Ferrell.

Now Developer Dan wants you to know that he supports citywide tree preservation. If you don’t believe him, take a look at the approved hillside development erosion above the southeast corner of College and Township or drive by Highland and Lafayette and see the parking deck construction that wiped out every old post oak on that site. If you do believe him, ask him why we've been waiting 14 months to enact his proposal.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Benton County Leads the Way

While other cities and counties talk the talk, the Benton County Solid Waste District is leading the way for recycling and sustainability in Arkansas. Two good examples make the point and demonstrate what other local governments could be doing.

Electronic waste recycling
. Earlier this year, the District held a
no-fee week for recycling electronic waste--old computers, monitors, televisions, microwaves, VCRs, radios, cell phones, and other obsolete gadgets . Fourteen pallets of out-of-date computer monitors were collected and taken to Unicor Recycling in Texarkana.

Styrofoam recycling.
Benton County has the state's first such operation. Working with Rogers-based Advanced Environmental Technologies Inc., the Benton County Solid Waste District is collecting and mixing polystyrene, commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam, into a big tub of Hydro-Sol, a liquid that almost instantly breaks plastic foam down to a reusable polymer. Currently, the district accepts plastic foam from businesses for $ 3 per cubic yard, and the Benton County Road Department is currently testing the polymer as filler for patching county roads.

Public officials in other cities and counties give lots of speeches about sustainability, but Benton County gets 'er done.

Bureaucratic Obfuscation Award

Susan Thomas, Mayor Coody's chief policy adviser and communications expert, should make a lot of money to use such big words in new and confusing ways. This week she was quoted as saying, “What I’d like to do is have professional economic development-type folks visit with the council on the basic fundamentals of how different policy arenas interplay with one another.” Have you ever heard anyone other than some oddball professor say "how different policy arenas interplay with one another?" Interplay is a verb? Can you guess what that means?

Here's what I think she was trying to say in a way she could sound smart without being understood. She meant: "With two or three exceptions, our alderman don't understand basic economics. They keep yapping about trails, green space, saving trees, overtime pay, affordable housing, and neighborhood integrity, all of which cost money and do not produce tax revenues or subsidies for business. I am smarter than them, and I want to make them listen to some professional business boosters tell them what the Chamber of Commerce wants them to do to help local businesses make more money."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Big Business Bobby Goes Both Ways

Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Ferrell pretends he believes in free enterprise, but he talks like a big government guy, saying that city government should take an active role in helping local business grow. How? Coming in and making wise management decisions for them? No, Bobby Ferrell is the latest in a long line of advocates for “Aid to Dependent Corporations” — corporate welfare with no strings attached.

Bobby Ferrell used to work for a big out-of-state corporation that had a near monopoly granted by the government and guaranteed an annual profit by the state. It seems he wants special city fee waivers for business and industry and giving them “incentives”—another word for giving your tax dollars to businesses and reaching into your pocket to make up the difference. It’s like the TIF project that gave land to a group of developers and put a cap on funds going to the public schools. Yummy.

Alderman Ferrell, who opposed city funds for preserving natural areas, lectures that “if you’re going to spend, you have to have money coming in — if you get right down to the nut-cutting. I don’t think everybody understands that you can’t keep having the amenities you have in Fayetteville and not grow the tax base.” So, his solution is to reduce taxes and fees on business? You’ll remember that Alderman Ferrell opposed impact fees on developers in the recent election. He supports increasing your sales taxes to improve roads clogged by commercial sprawl. You know, just like that 2% tax you pay at restaurants so the city can hire more bureaucrats, buy them a nice office, and spend your tax dollars on advertising to promote private businesses.

At least when Bobby Ferrell runs for Mayor, you'll know what to expect. Incumbent Mayor Dan Coody, who is up for reelection next year, said he will wait before offering any opinions about what Fayetteville needs to do in terms of economic development.

Quote of the Day

"That foul stench in the air in Benton County is the recent action of the Bella Vista Property Owners Association. Well, that and chicken litter. . . . Welcome to Club Nazi. The number of elected people who think proceedings that affect the public are better when made hidden behind closed doors never ceases to amaze me. . . . Who's running the show in Bella Vista these days anyway? Monty Python?"

--Bob Caudle, "There's No Telling What's Going On in Bella Vista," The Morning News

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Quote of the Day

Light rail is a real possibility for the Northwest Arkansas corridor. An in-depth feasibility study is needed now, before further discussion of expanding I-540 to eight lanes and a new “western beltway” to bypass the I-540 bypass. But Congressman Boozman, stating that “the time is not right for commuter rail,” has not freed up any federal money for the needed study.

--Art Hobson, "Stuck in Concrete," Northwest Arkansas Times

Friday, June 8, 2007

Coody's Tax and Spend Policies Exposed

The City of Fayetteville, relying on the regressive sales tax instead of a diverse source of revenues, now finds itself in the hole. Bad assumptions at work here, as city staff ignored the impact of the new mall in Rogers. Even the greatly increased appropriation from the state legislature this year cannot pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

Mayor Coody and his chief ciphers Gary Dumas and Paul Becker projected a budget that is heading toward a $1 million deficit for the year. Rather than cut expenses by reducing the bureaucracy, they want to raise our taxes to fund their follies. In the past, Coody always pushed the regressive sales tax to fill the treasury. Now everyone knows that didn't work, because it can't even pay off the bonds on the Mayor's $60 million cost overrun on sewer improvements, so now Coody and Dumas have a new screw to turn.

It looks like Developer Dan and his merry band have found an even more regressive tax. They want to raise your water rates to pay for new water lines out in the sprawlville of Jim Lindsey developments, specifically debt financing bonds to construct high capacity lines out in the high income wards on Highway 265.

The sales tax is regressive because it
causes lower-income people to pay a larger share of their income than wealthier people pay. The current Fayetteville water rates are even more regressive because it actually charges low-income people more than the wealthy business interests. A widow surviving on Social Security pays $2.81 per thousand gallons of water; industrial users pay only $1.60. There is no good reason why we charge retirees, students, and the working poor 75% more for basic necessities than we charge the Country Club to water the golf course; there are some bad ones.

Not only is this pricing scheme immoral, it also encourages waste rather than conservation of water. For all Developer Dan's fine speeches about sustainability, his policies put the lie to that idea. A flat rate for all water users would be more fair than the current rates; a progressive rate schedule would be even more fair and would encourage conservation. Let us hope that the City Council will consider this approach. It could lower basic residential water rates and also increase overall revenue, but it will take five votes to override a veto.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

One and Done

Republican State Representative Aaron Burkes, a freshman from Benton County, announced yesterday that he won’t run for re-election next year. For the record when talking with a reporter, he said he wanted to spend more time with his family, and that's what was printed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

More forthcoming when talking with the Benton County Daily Record, Burkes said it was frustrating being in the state legislature. He said some lawmakers just don’t care for the northwest region of the state, and "being a conservative northwest Arkansas Republican, I had a lot of strikes against me." It is tough being taken seriously when area Republicans vote against all new revenues and then complain about not getting enough funding for education or highways in Northwest Arkansas. It is even worse when many Northwest Arkansas Republicans seem obsessed with legislation about school prayer, intelligent design, school vouchers, abortion, gays, socialistic pre-K education, pornography, and immigrant bashing.

Representative Burkes was not among the reactionary Republican fringe like former Representative Jim Bob Dugger, former Senator Jim Holt, or the term-limited Representatives Eric Harris, Mike Kenney, and Daryl Pace. He appeared to be a thoughtful conservative.
"When I got there, it seemed that many were out for themselves and getting credit than making decisions for the long-term interest based on logic and economics," Burkes said.

Burkes said "a number of the Republicans we have are not limited-government conservatives; they’re big-government conservatives, like Bush. I was down there to do some good. I realize that’s very difficult to do when you’re so hugely outnumbered. ”
He said he'd just as soon not name names of lawmakers he described as big-government conservatives, at least at the moment. Benton County is presently represented by three GOP Senators and seven Republican state representatives.

Burkes' decision means that there will be six open House seats in Benton County. They could do a lot worse than Aaron Burkes and probably will.

Quotes of the Day

“There’s plenty of blame to go around in this whole sorry enterprise. . . . Coach Nutt and Chancellor White avoided some embarrassment that might have come from the lawsuit, but neither has come off looking good.”

--Editorial, "Offsides," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (NW Ed.)

“So, we’ve oddly given schools the task of enforcing a sanction on themselves.”

--Professor Jay P. Green, quoted in "Cited Schools Quiet on Option," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (NW Ed.)

Second Verse: Cell Tower Controversy

The Rogers Planning Commission approved conditional-use permits for two cell phone towers this week, despite residential concerns about property values and possible health impacts of the towers, and there are more to come. Verizon Wireless is building an independent northwest Arkansas network that will likely include new towers in Rogers, Bentonville, Springdale, and Fayetteville.

One planned 90-foot-tall telecommunications tower disguised as a bell tower behind the Rogers Freewill Baptist Church, was dropped after crowds of angry neighbors waved protest signs, filled petitions, and packed City Council chambers during three Planning Commission meetings. The tower might be moved a half block away to the Rogers Public Library, which could benefit from leasing income.

Pastor Randy Burris of the Rogers Freewill Baptist Church sounded disappointed about missing out on the anticipated earthly riches of a $900 monthly lease and said the congregation was still eager to locate a tower on church property. “If it didn’t satisfy the neighbors here, I don’t know why they’d put it a half block away,” he said. “We saw it as a service to the public and a chance to help our ministry.” Uh huh. Preacher Burris sounds like Mayor Coody.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Winston Churchill, sometime politician and art critic, said, “Beginning with audacity is a very great part of the art of painting.” The same might be said of art museums, and Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville is an excellent example. Although not scheduled to open until 2009, it is quite the buzz these days.

Last week, Crystal Bridges launched its new website. On June 16, Crystal Bridges at the Massey will open in conjunction with Bentonville’s ArtWalk. Director Robert Workman, who has a new blog, said, “If you are in the area, please join us that day as we open our exhibit space with photos and models of the construction project, as well as our opening special exhibition, soon to be announced.”

Today’s issue of the Arkansas Times has an excellent piece by Leslie Newell Peacock about Crystal Bridges and hints about what paintings the collection might hold. On first reading, I saw no mention of the special tax breaks the legislature handed to the museum or the critique of that largess that usually follows its mention in the newspaper.

I don't know nothing about art or art museums, but I know that Alice Walton, like her mother before her, is sharing part of her fortune to enhance the cultural experience in Northwest Arkansas. It is a far more worthy contribution than some others have made, like virtual charter schools and voucher programs.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

New Blogger on the Block

Don't miss checking out and adding a bookmark for Street Jazz, an exciting new blog that promises to enrich the dialog about public affairs in Northwest Arkansas. Richard Drake is a familiar voice in Fayetteville -- author, local historian, former editor of the Ozark Gazette, champion of community access television, and currently Chair of the Fayetteville Telecommunication Board -- and he brings both the insight of his experience and the talent of his craft to the blogosphere.

Street Jazz is the newest of the community blogs associated with the Arkansas Blog, the foremost blog about Arkansas politics and culture hosted by the Arkansas Times under the direction of Max Brantley, the Big Dog of Arkansas Bloggers and the master salon leader of a stimulating, engaging, online political conversation.

Please give a big welcome to Street Jazz. May it meet our high expectations!

Quote of the Day

"Here’s the real puzzle: Why did Fayetteville’s City Council override the planning commission in the first place? . . . It wasn’t one of the City Council’s finer moments. But the abandonment of the Divinity project isn’t a sign that Fayetteville rejects growth. The opposition to the project was nothing more than a healthy sign that Fayetteville wants to preserve the qualities that make it a special place."

--Editorial, "Goodbye, Divinity," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (NW Ed.)

Brooks-Hummel Nature Preserve

The Fayetteville City Council last night approved the purchase of a new nature area of about 14 acres near Lake Lucile. The Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association, the group that led the earlier move to acquire and preserve the Mount Sequoyah Woods natural area, calls the Brooks-Hummel tract a “hidden treasure, this beautiful, unspoiled woodland and meadow nestles in a valley between two ridges right in the middle of Fayetteville! This 13.75 acre tract lying North of Lake Lucille is teeeming with wildlife, the property includes a pond fed by Sublett Creek that runs through the valley. A wide variety of trees and other plant life, both aquatic and terrestial, abound on this beautiful tract.”

The Brooks-Hummel Nature Preserve will be purchased with a combination of private donations from local residents through the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association, purchase of part of the property by the First Presbyterian Church, and five years of payments of about $70,000 per year from the city. To appreciate the urgency of this action, one only has to look at the visual and environmental damage and loss of tree canopy caused by the action of Central United Methodist Church on Lafayette Street or that rape of the landscape on the hillside east of College Avenue and south of Township Road. Thanks to those citizens who worked to identify and secure the purchase, preserving this natural oasis in the center of Fayetteville.

Alderman Bobby Ferrell of Ward Three was the only vote against the city purchasing and protecting the property as a nature preserve. His constituents should let him know whether they believe he represented their views or was acting on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and the developers.

An Educational Experience -- of Sorts

I thought the public meeting about the future of Fayetteville High School would be enlightening, and it was, but not in ways I had imagined. I had hoped to hear what citizens thought about appropriate class and school size, about how we can do best by our children and advance their educational endeavors, about how to connect high school students with the resources of the UA and Walton Arts Center, about how to have our school facilities enhance our sense of caring and community. Silly me.

I was truly amazed when Bill Ramsey showed up and said the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce wanted the district to build a brand new school out west of the bypass to promote economic development. Steve Rust said he and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council did too, because constructing a new school several miles from the present one would encourage more development in the sprawl ring. Ramsey even tried to tell everyone that the present school wasn’t built in the downtown area in 1951, as if moving the location six blocks south from the old one on School Street was the same as moving one to a pasture four miles away. It wasn’t about education; it was all about how their members could make more money on the deal. It was about greed.

These two jokers were leaders in the fight against road impact fees to pay for new development, and now they are pushing even more sprawl. Neither suggested raising taxes on their members to pay for the new school or its associated development costs. I was embarrassed for them, although I am certain that they were not.

The school board members denied that it was already decided to build a new school out at Deane Solomon and West Howard Nickell roads, the scheme being pushed by the Chamber, the real estate speculators, and the developers. Maybe some in the audience believed them.