Friday, August 31, 2007

Get the Hell Here and Drink Up

Economic development continues apace in Fayetteville as a small business owner celebrates a grand reopening this evening -- and does so with free enterprise entrepreneurship consistent with City Plan 2025, with no TIF subsidy, and no help from the Chamber of Commerce or the Fayetteville Economic Development Council.

Having survived the death of the Founder and a major fire, Maxine's Tap Room will reopen with great fanfare this evening! Memories will be relived and new ones made at the venerable establishment at 107 N. Block in Fayetteville. The jukebox will be operational, but live music starts at 9:00 p.m. when Travis Kidd opens the first set with "Maxine's Tap Room Boogie."

A damn good time will be had by all.

Koenig the Republican

Richard Drake's fine Fayetteville blog, Street Jazz, turns to next year's mayoral election with the question, "Is Jeff Koenig of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council considering a run for mayor of Fayetteville? When you run into three people in one day speculating about the matter, well, that could just be idle speculation."

Koenig was in the news this week when the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation announced the 2007 inductees to the Fayetteville Schools Hall of Honor. He has been director of the FHS Lady Bulldog Classic and was a member of the Fayetteville School Board from 1991 to 1995.

Serving on the school board is not Koenig's only political experience. He has been a campaign contributor, giving more than $6,000 to political action committees for business special interests, Republican political candidates, and the Republican Party. In the past four years, his political contributions have included:

2/26/07 Citizens 4 Fayetteville [Against Impact Fees], $1,000

2/12/07 Republican National Committee, $500

4/12/06 Bill Pritchard ® for State Senate, $2,000

10/31/06 John Boozman ® for Congress, $300

01/12/06 Doug Kuntz ® for Representative, $2,000

9/2/04 Sarah Agee ® for State Senate, $500

7/27/04 Arvest Bank Group PAC, $300

7/11/05 Republican National Committee, $300

12/27/05 Republican National Committee, $300

4/12/04 Republican National Committee, $200

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Bad Cop! No Donut

Former Fayetteville Police Detective Jeremy Boyd Grammer has been indicted by a federal grand jury for distributing and receiving child pornography. He has been on the force since 1998 but was fired after an internal investigation in April for conduct unbecoming of an officer and not maintaining integrity in his personal life. Unlike Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), he pleaded not guilty. If convicted, Grammer faces five to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each charge.

Maybe Grammer will say he was just practicing to play a 13-year old girl on the internet to entrap pedophiles? Cops do that, a lot it seems. Whatever, had he not been busted, Detective Grammer would be one of those fine officers with unbridled authority to arrest people under the proposed noise ordinance, with no evidence other than their whim, because we are told we should trust the local cops not to abuse their discretion. Self-abuse, however, is apparently another matter.

Bobby New's Premature Negotiation?

Did I miss something? We've been told that the Fayetteville School Board has not made any decision about how or where to construct a new high school. We have been told that again and again as a majority of the people who have appeared before the board to express an opinion have argued for keeping the high school in central Fayetteville.

So why was Fayetteville Superintendent Bobby New meeting yesterday to discuss the sale of the present 40-acre high school campus to the University of Arkansas? If it means nothing, then why are UA administrators planning to present the proposal to the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees at its September 21st meeting in Fayetteville?

This is sounding like a done deal. It also sounds as if the Fayetteville School Board has not been honest with local residents and school patrons.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ramsey's Chamber Hype Proven False

I am sure that we'll be hearing from the Chamber, the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, and the Free Lunch Club of developers, home builders, and real estate salesmen that road impact fees are bad for business and that taxpayers should cough up more sales tax or real estate transfer taxes to pay for the problems of developers' sprawl.

In April of this year,
Chamber front man Bill Ramsey told us that road impact fees "would be just a killer for economic development and new business opportunities." That bunch of baloney has been shown to be an "untruth" by recent Northwest Arkansas sales tax figures reflecting growth in various cities. I'm not saying that Ramsey told a deliberate lie. It could have been what Steve Rust would prefer to call a "strategic deception."

Here's the truth. Bentonville, which has the highest development impact fees in Northwest Arkansas, saw tremendous economic growth in the past year, reflected in reported sales tax growth of $316,125 -- up 56% over June of 2006. Springdale, which has the lowest development impact fees, saw a drop in business activity and sales tax collections down $125,571 compared with a year ago -- down 11.2%. In Fayetteville, which does not yet have road impact fees, business activity has dropped off and sales tax revenues are down 3.2%. Ramsey's Theorem seems to be operating in reverse, but you can count on him trotting out the same old false claims again.

Big Industries Demand More Corporate Welfare

You should have been at the Fayetteville Water and Sewer Committee last night to watch the corporate whinefest. It was pathetic to see grown men plead for greater corporate profits based on subsidies from local residents. They said it is necessary for local residents to pay above cost for water and sewer service so they can pay less for a glass of water or to flush of their toilet.

Darrell Froud, operations manager at the Tyson Mexican Original plant, threatened that having to pay actual cost-of-service rates would remove any competitive reason for a corporation that made $111 million in the last quarter to stay in Fayetteville. Nick Coburn, manager of Pinnacle Foods, Fayetteville's largest water user, said an increase in the corporation's water bill could lead to moving its business outside Fayetteville. Butch Scruggs, plant manager for Superior Industries, talked about costs related to operating in a global market. There was no need to remind officials that some Arkansas manufacturing companies are moving out of the country to hire cheap labor and comply with fewer environmental regulations.

Mayor Dan Coody supports maintaining and even increasing the multi-million dollar burden on residents to subsidize the corporations that use even more cheap resources. Nationally, only 25% of water utilities follow that Old South corporate welfare scheme, while 75% of cities have a fair flat rate or a progressive rate that encourages conservation and sustainability.

Here's how they run the scam.
Bill Ramsey, paid gun from the Chamber, tried to impress the committee by quoting outdated information that was five years old instead of current data. Then the mayor's paid consultant told the committee that they should ask questions like "What level of subsidy is appropriate?" That's easy, none. Why shouldn't the question be how much should residents be subsidized? Then he suggests asking "What is more important to residential customers — slightly lower water bills or jobs within the community?" Why not ask college students which is more important slightly lower water bills or free beer? There is just as much connection between the two.

In July, the state cut the beer tax from 3% to 1%. Did that result in new jobs or lower prices for beer, or did it all go into the owners' pockets? The state also cut the sales tax on electricity for Tysons, PInnacle, and Superior in July. Has that resulted in more new jobs or lower prices, or just more money for the greedy who demand corporate welfare or threaten to leave? You boys need to get some new arguments to justify your subsidies from the people.

Springdale's Budget Woes Made Worse

The City of Springdale spends taxpayers' money in strange ways, and the government has shown itself to be even more of an irresponsible spendthrift than liberal Fayetteville. Last night's City Council meeting will illustrate the point.

For June, Springdale's sales tax collections were down $125,571 from June of 2006. That's a plunge of 11.2%, yet this appears no cause for alarm or even a reconsideration of how the city spends tax dollars or what they actually get for their bucks.

Springdale has a small "hospitality" tax to fund its Advertising and Promotion Commission, but the Mayor and Council don't have much faith that it is doing its job to advertise the city and the private businesses there. After getting citizens to pass a $50 million sales tax to build a baseball stadium, even the usually rational Alderman Kathy Jaycox says the A&P Commission has no plan and now wants to hire a private marketing firm to promote the private business operating in that public facility.

The real kicker is that the City transfers public tax dollars to run the private Chamber of Commerce. The city pays the Chamber of Commerce $100,000 annually from its general fund to promote economic development, $60,000 from the advertising and promotion tax, and $17,000 from the Public Facilities Board. What are the hourly-wage working families in Springdale getting from the Chamber for their taxes? A $125,000 monthly deficit and a chance to hire a private marketing firm to do what they already pay the Chamber to do.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fayetteville's Million Dollar Misunderstanding

Sales tax collections in Fayetteville are down again, for the sixth consecutive month, putting the city $1.1 million below the projections of Paul Becker, Mayor Coody's trusted finance director. Based on the assumptions provided by the administration, the City Council took their word and approved a budget that has now gone seriously into the red.

Mayor Coody told the City Council this evening, "I think this is just a dip." Yes, Dan, people might say the same thing about a mayor who so significantly misjudged the revenues and ran up a record deficit.

Coody and Becker said the city will not reduce its deficit spending this year to adjust to the diminished revenues. Like someone in denial about their gambling addiction, Coody said with a straight face, "September is going to be a big month for us." Roll the dice, Dan, baby needs a new pair of shoes. And Fayetteville needs someone who will make hard decisions and govern responsibly.

Jesse Core Continues the Fight

Springdale Alderman Jesse Core led the fight for a comprehensive sign ordinance to battle the clutter, but he met resistance from business interests and their hirelings on the City Council. Undaunted, he is now taking on the appearance of businesses along the city's uncontrolled commercial corridors.

Even Chamber apologist Richard Massey admits that Thompson and Sunset "embody Springdale’s image as the most unpolished of the four major cities in Northwest Arkansas." Core, a first-term alderman with good ideas and fire in the belly, wants an ordinance that would force startup businesses in existing buildings to improve their exteriors and parking lots before they open. The business interests are already lining up against him, with Alderman Bobby Stout fronting for the Chamber and labeling the measure "controversial."

In Springdale, any sensible public policy that hampers making quick money is "controversial." Good luck, Alderman Core. You will be a prophet without honor in your hometown Chamber, but your wisdom will be recognized by the people. Josh Jenkins has your back, and there are others with you on this.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Quote of the Day

"More to the point, a full-time legislature could be more trouble than it’s really worth. Sure, legislators might debate their way out of some problems — but all that time extra time spent in the company of lobbyists could, among other things, leave Arkansas stuck with a mess of bad legislation. Besides, are residents desperate to create people who make laws as a full-time job? We hope not.

"We indeed sympathize with the low compensation for lawmakers, but it’s not entirely attractive to propose pay scales that provide full compensation. One of the strengths of our state Legislature has been that the people serving have other full-time jobs back in their home communities, ones that help keep them based in the same reality their constituents live every day. Go with high pay and full-time status and you get Congress. Anyone care for how those folks are doing their jobs?"

--Editorial, "Our System Works: Full-time Legislature Unnecessary," Northwest Arkansas Times

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Greg, the Real Problem Is Illegal Employers

Greg Harton, the Executive Editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times, has a column today complaining that we are training local law enforcement officers to find and arrest illegal immigrants, because the federal government isn't doing its job, and now Washington County voters will be asked to increase the sales tax to expand the jail to hold all these immigrants until the feds get around to giving them a ride home. His main argument, it seems, is only about who should pay the bill, not what should be done about the problem. "Don’t get me wrong," he says as if there were any need to do that, "The illegal immigrants should be caught and should be deported."

It is simple, easy, popular, and wrong for newspaper editors like Greg Harton, politicians like Rogers Mayor Steve Womack, or Springdale legislators like Jim Holt and Jon Woods to bemoan the problems and blame them on immigrants. They never mention that we wouldn't have many illegal immigrants if we didn't have illegal employers, because to point it out could reduce the profits of some local construction contractors as well as several of Arkansas' largest multi-state and multinational corporations -- and their friends who own the media, buy newspaper advertising, and contribute heavily to business-friendly politicians. They prefer that the "criminals" covered in the press are working people and that corporate and CEO criminals who hire them not get named or discussed.

The hiring crimes of Illegal Employers are being ignored by the media and the government and are being rewarded by the economic system. As David Ricardo pointed out in his 1814 treatise, it is the "Iron Law of Labor" that when labor markets are tight, wages go up. When labor markets are awash in immigrant workers willing to work at the bottom of the pay scale, unskilled and semi-skilled wages overall will decrease to what Ricardo referred to as "subsistence" levels. That's why the Chamber of Commerce fights against any real immigration enforcement or reform.

Jeff Burch, a Springdale drywall finisher, gets it. In a letter to the editor of The Morning News this week, he said, "There's no problem with a man trying to provide for his family. I'll be the first to say, there's nothing wrong with a man who is willing to do a good day's work for a decent wage. As a tradesman, I am proud of my trade.

"Over the past few years, I've found that I can't put the best product because of competitive bidding by some contractors who are employing illegal aliens, just to pad their pockets. This is unfair to those of us who are playing by the rules and have worked years (27) to perfect and learn their trade the proper way. We tradesmen are watching our trades, not being shipped out of our country, as our brothers and sisters in manufacturing, but right here within our borders by illegal aliens, who are being used as nothing more than slaves of the 21st century by greedy businesses and do-nothing politicians unwilling to stick up for us.

"We Americans are the most productive workers on the planet, bar none. We are tradesmen who built your business buildings, houses, schools and colleges whose only desire it is to put out the best product not only in America, but the world. I say it's time for contractors, small and large all over the United States of America, to come together as one, before big business and corrupt, ineffective politicians who continue to treat us as nothing more than a silent voice, whose afraid to step up to the plate. I believe it is time we say we are the back bones of this country and our voice counts. No longer will we allow you to speak out of both sides of your mouth on illegal immigration issues. Our legal families are hurting because of this. Do you care?"

Politically, it's not a civil rights issue, it's a jobs issue. "Mass deportations" and "Fences" are hysterics and false choices offered by the politicians and repeated by the media. If we start arresting, convicting, and penalizing "Illegal Employers," non-citizens without a valid Social Security number will leave the country on their own and legal workers would be paid fair wages.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Eminent Theologian Rejects Consubstantiation

One of the joys of the Northwest Arkansas Times giving its Letters to the Editor section over to enthusiastic men of the cloth is the Bible lessons they share by quoting Scripture with no further obligation to back their claims with empirical evidence. I know that many readers are partial to the teachings of Jay Cole, Junior, but he is not alone.

Rev. Bill Boatright, the learned textual scholar and prolific writer from Huntsville, in today's sermon declared, "I’ve never seen any good come from alcohol — period!"

Rev. Boatright also issued a warning to his reading flock against allowing "
alcohol turn you into a fool." Assuming that Preacher Boatright has taken the bone dry pledge, I'd say that other things must have that same effect.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Aspen Swamp Another Developers Disaster

There’s a big gap between image and reality, between developers’ hype and what your lying eyes see when you visit the “luxury townhomes” in Aspen Ridge, “a new community located at the corner of 6th St. & Hill Ave. on approximately 28 acres.”

Earlier today, citizens from the Town Branch Neighborhood Association met with City Engineer Ron Petrie, developer Hank Broyles, and Ward One Aldermen Adella Gray and Brenda Thiel. They got an eye full and an ear full about the failed project. They looked in vain for the advertised “bike and walking trails” and the “nature preserve with beautiful lakes.”

Aubrey Shepherd
documented this morning's meeting for the city officials. If they approve an extension of time for this failed project without addressing the serious environmental damage done by the developers of the practically abandoned wasteland, then they’ll approve anything, and you’ll likely end up paying for their foolishness.

But maybe not. The residents south of 6th Street don't have the same political clout or get the same attention as those who live on Boardwalk Lake. They've been ignored for years. One difference this time is that video exists of Mayor Coody giving a speech telling everyone what a wonderful project the developers had wrought. If the city approves extension of the project without major repairs and holding the developers to account, clips of this speech and scenes of the ecological devastation would make an excellent political commercial.

Learn Why You Should Subsidize Corporations

The Fayetteville City Council's Water and Sewer Committee will be meeting next Tuesday, August 28th, to hear the demands from Industrial users that they continue to be subsidized by residential customers. Don't count on them saying that they are such poor managers that they can't make a profit if they have to pay market rates for water and sewer. Don't count on them admitting that you are ultimately subsidizing the price of their products sold to customers nationwide. Expect them to say you should do more for big industry, or they'll leave and take their jobs elsewhere. Some would call it corporate blackmail.

Mayor Dan Coody and his staff support continuing this Reverse Robin Hood rate structure
that has local homeowners and renters paying higher water and sewer rates to provide corporate welfare to large corporate industrial users such as Pinnacle Foods and their out-of-state stockholders. Their profits are more important to this administration than charging fair rates for residents.

Alderman Kyle Cook has been advocating a cost-of-service rate structure that would reduce the subsidies. Alderman Lioneld Jordan has been advocating a flat rate with everyone paying the same, which would actually reduce residential rates by ending the industrial subsidies. Either would be better than the present inequities and far better than Mayor Coody's plan to make it even worse.

I'd like to see the Mayor and Council adopt a progressive rate structure that provided a lifeline rate for low income and elderly residential customers and an incentive to conserve water by rewarding lower usage instead of giving big breaks to those who use more and put the greatest demand on our system. I realize that all this talk of sustainability is mostly just talk, but here's a chance to put it into practice and do the right thing by providing fair rates. I don't expect them to even consider it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Road Impact Fees Back on the Table

Fayetteville Ward Four Alderman Lioneld Jordan promised he would revisit the road impact fee issue after an April election ended in a tie vote. Tonight he began that process by successfully sponsoring a Resolution putting the City Council on record behind that effort to require developers to pay their fair share of the costs of handling the transportation problems they are creating.

The Resolution passed the Council on a 6-1 vote. Ward Three Alderman Bobby Ferrell voted against it, and Ward Four Alderman Shirley Lucas was absent. During the next few weeks, the Aldermen and city staff will solicit and consider public comment on such issues as a progressive fee structure based on the size of the structure, possible incentive discounts for LEED Certified buildings, consideration of variation by zones, etc., then a draft ordinance will come back to the Council.

Alderman Jordan argued that the Council was elected to make decisions and eventually should act on the ordinance, voting it up or down. Mayor Dan Coody expressed his position that there should be another expensive special election and an opportunity for the Free Lunch Club opposed to impact fees to run another expensive media advertising campaign again outspending by 50-1 the citizens supporting the fees. That issue will be resolved later, after a majority of the Council agrees on a new ordinance.

The Economic Development Charade

Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer, and more than 1,300 vendors and suppliers have opened offices in Northwest Arkansas to better do commerce with the giant. Tomorrow, yet another company will announce that it wants a local presence and a seat at the table. It makes good business sense, and that's why they're coming.

CaseStack, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, plans to open an office in Fayetteville sometime in the future. The company
provides logistics outsourcing services to mid-sized companies that sell products to retailers, distributors and other manufacturers. CaseStack has been a good corporate citizen within the supply chain management industry, but its local economic impact will not be like landing a major high wage manufacturing employer. There is no word yet how many new jobs will be created or how many local residents might be hired for those jobs. Neither has there been any mention of any expected capital investment that would add to the local tax base.

This uncertainty will not restrain the local boosterism brigade from claiming that this is a major economic development event nor prevent them from claiming credit for making it happen. We should welcome CEO Dan Sanker and CaseStack to Fayetteville. We should also be somewhat embarrassed when Steve Rust or Jeff Koenig of the FEDC and Bill Ramsey of the Chamber of Commerce strut and boast as if they have done an outstanding job of recruiting new industry, creating high wage jobs, doing something to increase the property tax base that supports our schools and city services, or anything except hype and publicity. It's only entertainment and self-promotion, but they're very good at that.

What a Hoot

Want to see your tax dollars at work for promoting our area and promising something exciting? The Bentonville Advertising and Promotion Commission is meeting at 4:00 today at the Comfort Suites (2011 S. E. Walton Blvd.) to hear a presentation and consider funding for the 2008 NGA Hooters professional golf tour. Seating will be first come, first served. No one under 18 will be admitted.

Local Officials Stand Up to the Feds

There are heroes among us. It should not go unappreciated that Ben Lipscomb, Rogers city attorney; Jeff Harper, Springdale city attorney; George Butler, Washington County attorney; and Robin Green, Benton County attorney, displayed an unusual commitment to upholding the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and a modicum of courage in telling the federal government where the sun does shine in Arkansas.

There are serious questions about the priority and wisdom of spending local tax dollars and diverting law enforcement resources to participate in the federal 287(g) program because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has failed to do the job we pay them to do and protect our borders. That is why the Arkansas ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request to examine the documents and decisions that got our local governments into this mess, something the local newspapers should have done if they were serious journalists instead of docile stenographers.

The feds told our local governments to ignore state law and refuse to disclose information to the public, claiming that the routine documents belonged to immigration enforcement or contained information that would not be released under the federal Freedom of information Act. They also said public disclosure of what they did and any public challenges to the memorandum approval process would be better if the challenge was after the fact when it was too late to do anything about it. "Just to be clear," one of the feds said, "we do not agree with your decision to release the ICE records and information, nor are we authorizing any such release."

Washington County Attorney George Butler told the feds that immigration enforcement's "obsession with secrecy over matters that are mostly boiler plate and mundane is a bit hard to swallow. Your attitude, heavy-handedness and unwillingness to bear any of the brunt of this 'directive' leads me to believe that this is not a good relationship for (Washington) County to enter into. You say that if we release it, then it may impair future information you divulge to us -- well, that works both ways."

Rogers City Attorney Ben Lipscomb asked, "What in the hell are they trying to hide, George?" When considering the implicit threat from the feds, Lipscomb said, "If obeying the law jeopardizes our participation in this program, then something is wrong."

Indeed, that might be said about many federal policies concerning the Department of Homeland Security and affecting our homeland these days.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Where's Waldo?

Can you remember back on June 7th when the City Council had an all-day planning session at Drake Field? The Aldermen decided that affordable housing was the Number One priority for Fayetteville City government, and they set a December 1st deadline for addressing the problem. Gary Dumas, director of operations, told them that City staff would be making a policy recommendation in three weeks for providing housing options for people who make 60-80% of the median income. Three weeks has stretched out now to 11 weeks. Where's Waldo?

Can you remember back in April 2006 when Mayor Coody vetoed key portions of
Ordinance No. 4855, the Hillside/Hilltop Ordinance to extended tree preservation and protection during construction to hillsides and hilltops. Mayor Coody said he had a better plan. Finally, almost a year later on March 8, 2007, Mayor Coody issued a press release saying he was calling for a Tree Preservation and Protection Ordinance. That was five and a half months ago (168 days). Where's Waldo?

Where's Waldo Dumas? Where's Waldo Coody? Probably hanging out somewhere with Godot.

The Fast Buck Stops Here

After approving yet another $75,000 consulting contract without discussion or thought on Thursday, the Fayetteville City Council will spend most of the evening dealing with the results of developers who cut corners and took big profits, leaving the property owners or taxpayers with the bill for damages.

First up is the unfinished business of a request for a $69, 674 no-bid contract to dredge a private lake owned by the Boardwalk POA. Estimates are that 400 dump truck loads of soil carried by storm water runoff from the Summersby development has filled the lake. The developer and home builders did no more than required and generally ignored the problems with runoff and erosion resulting from their attitudes and construction practices. Unchecked and irresponsible practices to maximize immediate profits by developers yet again have created a problem, and someone else is left to pay the price. The Council will decide whether to spend our tax dollars to improve their private lake or let the private property owners take care of their own property.

Under new business, the Council will be looking at approving a design to save Red Oak Park from the massive erosion caused by storm water runoff from three subdivisions out west off Wedington Road. Once again, this problem was created by developers who were much more interested in quick profits instead of taking responsible measures to reduce runoff. This one will eventually cost taxpayers about $70,000 to save the public park.

These experiences with the environmental and financial consequences of “developers” who take the money and run, should be obvious to the City Council when it considers supporting road impact fees for developers and a request to give a special time extension for the debacle called Aspin Ridge. It might also be worth considering storm water runoff fees for developers who are adding all of the impervious surfaces and profiting from risky hillside construction. We all live downstream.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Early Release for Trooper Norman

Former Arkansas State Police Trooper Larry Norman was released Monday from the Benton County Jail after serving only 54 days of the 90-day sentence given on June 28th. Norman pleaded guilty after being charged with negligent homicide for having ignored his assigned traffic control duties to shoot and kill Erin Hamley, an innocent unarmed young man with mental disability.

Norman was released early because he washed cars and mowed grass at the jail.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Pie in the Hole

I mentioned last week the lack of any realistic date for completion of the Renaissance Tower, the City's responsibility to pay off the TIF bonds that provided corporate welfare to the developers, and the upcoming September 1 deadline that triggers a contract provision for liquidated damages of $25,042 a month to pay off those $3.7 million in bonds.

Local blogger Richard Drake's Street Jazz today joins the fray. He notes both Developer Nock's implicit pitch for the city to ignore the financial penalties for his breach of contract and the cozy relationship between the developers and Mayor Coody. Lots of slippery language and ifs involved. Drake says stop the games and start writing the check for damages.

The business booster Northwest Arkansas Times had an editorial yesterday that took a different position, one much more consistent with its membership in the Chamber of Commerce and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council than as an independent watchdog of government. The editorial writer suggests that the City should temporarily pretend to collect the money owed by the developers, but really let them off the hook. The Times position is that since the developers breached the original contract, they should get a Mulligan and a new contract with yet another completion date sometime in the future. When the hotel is finished, the editor says the City should then refund all the money collected as damages to the developers, meaning that the taxpayers would be responsible for all the bond payments of principal and interest since the bonds were originally issued. In other words, more corporate welfare to reward the developers. At least the Times takes a consistent position to support business interests over the public interest.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Tale of Two City Budgets

To know the real priorities of any organization -- from a small family to a national government -- you need to take a look at how it spends its money. When tax revenues are down, it is an especially good time to see whether public officials will act responsibly to control spending and where they will cut funding.

Springdale is preparing its 2008 city budget and facing the realities of reduced sales tax revenues. This year, Springdale had a
$28.2 million general fund, and city departments have been told to hold the line. City officials have decided that they will have plenty of money for a new baseball stadium and can easily afford funding three police officers to work full time on immigration enforcement for the federal government. As expected, they say that savings can be made by giving smaller employee raises. Unexpected, however, is that they might cut back on the fat no-bid contracts giving tax dollars to the Chamber of Commerce to promote business development and economic growth and actually expect the Industrial Commission and the Advertising and Promotion Commission to do their job.

In Fayetteville, the 2008 budget process will soon be gearing up, but we have no idea how Mayor Coody and his executive staff will prepare for reduced revenues. Looking at this year's experience, it's been like watching a drunk on a bender. They started off with a projected budget deficit for the airport to serve residents and corporations with private airplanes. They also budgeted $34,000 for the Lights of the Ozarks spectacle, but it is unclear if that includes buying new lights to replace the new colored lights they bought last year; it does not cover the time of city employees to install and take down the lights nor the huge electric bill. Even with sales tax collections already below projections this year, the Advertising and Promotion Commission has been buying real estate instead of advertising and promoting. That should give you some idea of Fayetteville's priorities. If they decide next week to spend city storm water funds to dredge a private lake for private property owners in an upscale subdivision, then you'll know for sure.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Highfill "Commissioner" Larry Barnes Resigns

Benton County Prosecutor Van Stone has decided that no criminal charges will be filed against former Highfill Town Council member Larry Barnes for actions related to city purchases that he initiated and voted upon at a Council meeting on February 15th. “ We are satisfied that the council member in question has resigned from the council.”

Allegations investigated were that Barnes, with the knowledge of Mayor Chris Holland, arranged for and voted on the town’s purchase of a bulldozer and trailer while also receiving a $1,500 "commission" from the seller. Also, there were questions about Barnes’ role in the town's purchase of property from an estate and whether he would get a "commission" from the seller for negotiating the sale to the town, recommending the purchase, and voting in favor of it.

It seems that Justice is not only blind but also quite lenient for public officials and law enforcement officers in Benton County.

Quote of the Day

“The rest of the industrialized world is moving toward a bright transportation future while America remains chained to the automobile. It’s clear that Fayetteville should be moving in the direction of regional rail, a dense system of regional buses, green highway medians, narrow city streets, bicycle and walking trails, dedicated bicycle lanes, sidewalks on both sides of every street, and traffic calming. I’m happy to note that Mayor Coody and most of our City Council support such good moves. Wrong directions include street widening, five-lane highways, three-lane highways, flat parking lots, excessive curb cuts, and the further facilitation of car-oriented shopping at malls and big-box stores.”

--Art Hobson, "Northern Europe: A Traveler's Delight," Northwest Arkansas Times

Friday, August 17, 2007

Legislators Not Fooled by Local Developers

Local developers tried to run a clever scam yesterday, but a state legislative committee saw through their efforts to dump their costs on local citizens. Developer Charlie Sloan, business consultant Stephen Davis, lobbyist Jeremy Hutchinson, and Republican State Rep. Jon Woods of Springdale got the spanking they deserved when they advocated a real estate transfer tax on all homeowners to pay for the new infrastructure costs created by their real estate developments.

Rep. Ray Kidd (D-Jonesboro) said the scheme by developers to get city residents to pick up their cost and increase their profits was brazenly "putting it on the poor folks." Rep. Lamont Cornwell (D-Benton)
said the developers’ proposal would defeat the purpose of impact fees, because impact fees are for the burden of the infrastructure created by new development, and people in the existing community are already paying their fair share. Cornwell also questioned putting impact fees to a public vote where developers could spend thousands of dollars on an advertising campaign. “That’s why we elect city councils,” he said, to do their job and make decisions about public policy.

Rep. Woods, a banker, said he was asked to
sponsor the interim study by Sloan's hired lobbyist Jeremy Hutchinson, who apparently couldn't get his mother, Rep. Donna Hutchinson (R-Bella Vista) to do it for him. Woods said some developers in Fayetteville wanted it, and he had heard from some friends in the real estate business who oppose impact fees. He admitted that he didn't know whether abolishing impact fees would increase the availability of more modestly-priced homes, and he thought some developers were “looking for ways to make money” because homes aren’t selling as quickly as they would like.

Stephen Davis, who used to work for Mayor Coody,
said that people in existing homes haven’t necessarily already paid their fair share and should pay more. Only two weeks ago, however, he told the Elkins City Council that existing residents shouldn't have to pay for expansion of their infrastructure, because "you want future people to pay for their share." His advice seems to change depending on who is paying his fat consulting fees.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ice Cream Social at the Tebbetts Home

Everyone is invited to the Washington County Historical Society's 38th annual Ice Cream Social this Saturday, August 18th, at Headquarters House, 118 East Dickson in Fayetteville. It runs from 4:30 until 7:30, and you can enjoy house tours, barbershop quartets, antique cars, an Attic Treasures Sale, a Silent Auction, Heritage School performers in period costumes, homemade cake, and ice cream. How cool is that! Cost is only $5 for adults and $2.50 for kids.

Headquaters House was built by my cousin, Judge Jonas March Tebbetts and his wife Matilda, in 1853, and it played an important role in Battle of Fayetteville on April 18, 1863, during the War of the Rebellion.
Jonas was on the winning team in that war.

Also on the grounds, you can see the Archibald Yell Law Office, built around 1835, moved to the Headquarters House grounds in 1992, and restored with the support of the Washington County Bar Association. Yell was a Territorial Superior Court Judge, U.S. Congressman, Governor of Arkansas, and a soldier in the wars to snatch real estate from the Creek Indians and the Mexicans. You also could have seen Judge Yell’s beautiful home, Waxhaws, on South College Avenue, but it was torn down in the 1960s by Bryan Walker to make way for his very unimpressive brick ranch-style house.

A Tragic Loss for Our Community

Words have failed me since I learned yesterday about the automobile accident that claimed the lives of four wonderful friends. Steve Hoover, 62; his wife, Sharon Hoover, 51; Paul Hoover, 34; and his wife, Maureen Hoover, 34, all of Fayetteville, were good folks and outstanding citizens. Our community is richer for their service and contributions, and we will miss their wit and wisdom.

Bamboozled in Benton County

Follow the money. That's a good practice, but it is an even better policy and practice to keep a close eye on the money before it's gone. Events this week in Benton County make that point abundantly clear.

The Bentonville Police Department is investigating the apparent theft of as much as $30,000 from the Sugar Creek Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization by one of its board members. The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has documented “unsafe and unsound banking practices” relating to the commercial real estate loan portfolio of ANB Financial, a bank that now has one of the largest ratio of past-due loans in Arkansas. ANB had almost $40 million in past due loans, an amount equal to more than one-fourth of the bank’s total capital.

Now come the Arkansas Division of Legislative Audit with a preliminary report uncovering four instances of formal indebtedness and unauthorized contracts exceeding $20,000 each between the City of Lowell and several companies doing business with the city -- Xerox, Benham Cos., CEI Engineering, and Ames Construction. Mayor Perry Long, as usual, blamed everything on former Mayor Phil Biggers and said it was hard to believe projects with such high-dollar amounts would be signed without approval by the city's governing body. Believe it, Perry. And get ready for the next audit that will cover the high-dollar no-bid stagecoach deal with Ray Dotson and all that expensive rented construction equipment that sat idle for weeks on your watch.

I'll be glad when the
Division of Legislative Audit gets around to examining the books in Fayetteville and finally gives the citizens a straight answer about who was responsible for the cost over run and the three year delay on the new sewer plant -- and exactly what happened to that $63 million in squandered taxpayers' money.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Continuing Need for Transportation Impact Fees

Thanks to the leadership of Ward Four Alderman Lioneld Jordan, there is some hope that Fayetteville's transportation system might be able to keep up with the growth and development at the city's outer edges. After a tie vote in the April plebiscite, several new subdivisions and large scale developments have been approved in his ward, but there is no new funding available to improve or expand the transportation infrastructure to handle the anticipated traffic count.

It is good to see a public official prepared to address the problem instead of sticking his head in the sand like some others in city government.
Jordan plans to present a resolution for consideration by the City Council to determine whether five members still acknowledge that impact fees are needed, and he has indicated that he is willing to work with opponents to develop an adequate graduated fee structure. Ward Three Alderman Bobby Ferrell says he's still against impact fees on developers, but Mayor Dan Coody has offered timid support for the idea that he opposed earlier in the year. Ward One Alderman Adella Gray said during her campaign that she supported impact fees, but she voted against them at the first opportunity. Who knows what she will do this time.

Given the huge cost of building new roads and upgrading existing roads to handle growth, transportation impact fees for streets, roads, bike lanes, trails, and mass transit are probably the most commonly imposed of all types of impact fees. They are direct charges assessed by local governments against new development projects that attempt to recover some of the cost incurred by government in providing the public facilities required to serve that new development. Supporters argue that it is appropriate to require developers to pay their fair share for the traffic problems their projects create, but the developers seem to want a free ride.

Earlier this year, Aldermen Jordan, Lucas, Cook, Allen, and Thiel supported road impact fees. Aldermen Ferrell, Rhoades, and Gray opposed them, as did the Chamber of Commerce, the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, and the Free Lunch Club of local realtors, home builders, and developers. Mayor Coody provided no leadership on the issue. The City Council will consider the initial Resolution on Tuesday, August 21st. The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce Construction and Developers Committee will meet at noon on Monday, August 20th.

Contact your Aldermen before Tuesday to let them know whether you support impact fees for developers to pay their fair share or whether you support increasing your sales or property taxes to pay for the additional transportation costs resulting from new developments.

The Communist Party in Benton County

Who would have thunk it? It's not just creeping socialism anymore. The 100% Republican Quorum Court of our state's most Republican county has been infiltrated, duped, or captured by the Communist Party. Thanks to a Red Alert issued by Penne S. Ramsey of Garfield, we will not be taken by surprise like we were in the 1950s.

"The Benton County Quorum Court has now, in my opinion, stepped into a mess with its absolute stupidity," Ramsey declared in the Jeremiad issued yesterday. "I just wonder who the communist is who wants to tell me just how to use my property and how clean I am to keep it." The early warning sign appears to have been the proposed nuisance-abatement ordinance that would address junk cars, unmowed grass, or piled-up debris on sacred private property.

Ramsey raises the hue and cry for all private property rights worshipers to "go to the Quorum Court meeting and protest" and personally pledges, "I will protest until the end." As in, they can take the old refrigerator from my front yard when they pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Outside agitators are upon the land, Ramsey discerns. "Maybe the justices should start listening to the hometown people who live here and who have always lived here. The people who have moved in on top of us and who have built hundred-thousand-dollar houses aren’t the ones to be protected."

I was ready to arm myself and build a bunker until that part about someone building a $100,000 house in Benton County. You'd be more likely to find a Communist than affordable housing up there.

Greenland Gets a Grip

Visions of Greenland Past included a huge automobile junk yard and a notorious speed trap that funded city government, but there's a new mayor in town and a new approach to sensible development. The Greenland City Council on Monday enacted an ordinance that halts all commercial development in the city and allows officials some time to better organize its planning process.

Greenland Mayor John Gray said the new commercial moratorium and the residential moratorium passed in April offer the community a respite from unregulated development and provide time to set up a master land-use plan, a master street plan, and a comprehensive planning process. “We need to define a concept of what we want our town to look like,” he said.

That's quite different from the approach taken by
Developer Dan and Alderman Robert Rhoades to undermine the planning process. When the Fayetteville Planning Commission tried to follow the City Plan 2025, the developers demanded to have it their own way. Conscientious commissioners were purged and replaced with new members more attuned to the Chamber's pro-growth rodeo. The results were evident Monday night -- the same night Greenland took bold action--when the replacement players Porter Winston and Matthew Cabe were part of a 4-3 majority that ignored traffic safety concerns and approved a large-scale development for yet another Walgreen's store on beautiful Sixth Street.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

School Daze

Our local public schools will soon be filled with the flower of our youth and with some very dedicated teachers who have the hardest jobs in the world. Some schools will be better than others, even with all the educational reforms and increased state funding required by the Arkansas Supreme Court and enacted by the Arkansas Legislature since 2003.

West Fork High School is facing sanctions by the Arkansas Department of Education later this year because of its past probationary status and failing to comply with all accreditation standards in consecutive years. Yesterday Decatur High School, Gravette High School, Prairie Grove High School, and West Fork High School unsuccessfully appealed the probationary classification assigned to their schools. The schools placed on probation employed several noncertified teachers or did not offer their students the 38 minimum required courses that every high school must teach to be accredited.

“For a school district, what goes in the newspapers, our community looks at that,” Gravette Superintendent Curtis Spann told the state Education Board when asking that his school not be placed on probation. “When you put us on probation, you are telling our community that we aren’t quite good enough. Obviously we made a mistake, but we are trying hard up there to do it right.”

Communities should look at that and should not be pleased that these schools short-changed their students by offering a substandard education. Superintendents of small school districts have fought hard against the improved education standards for the 21st century. Voters and taxpayers need to remind their local school boards that a student's adequate education is more important than a superintendent's big salary, costly athletic programs, and hiring relatives without appropriate qualifications.

Quote of the Day

"There’s no arguing with Springdale’s success in attracting business. The city was a magnet for industry long before the economic boom kicked off in the rest of Northwest Arkansas . . . . Who’s gonna argue with the great god, Success? These days, Springdale’s paying for its wide-open approach to growth. A drive along any of the main drags shows the high price Springdale has paid for all that economic activity. The billboards, the signs, the utility lines.... They all combine to make Springdale look less than kempt. Other towns in Northwest Arkansas have their stretches of ugly, too. But Springdale’s busiest streets have become notorious for their blight."

--Editorial, "A New Look," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Monday, August 13, 2007

Eroding Streams and Confidence in Developers

Erosion and incision due to unchecked storm water runoff has scoured parts of an ephemeral stream that runs through Red Oak Park in west Fayetteville and feeds Hamestring Creek. The usually dry stream bed has eroded six feet deep to bedrock, and several trees are hanging on the edge of the banks with roots exposed. Downstream, the creek is being filled with silt and debris, making any storm water filtration or drainage difficult at best.

The problem is that the City has generally ignored storm water management. Consequently, unrestrained developers built Bridgeport, Fieldstone and Willow Springs subdivisions with no intention to spend an extra nickel nor any plan to control the runoff resulting from rooftops, driveways, and streets where natural vegetation and filtration systems had been before. We’re talking bottom line, not public trust.

On August 21, the City Council will consider approval of a $10,000 grant from the Arkansas Forestry Commission and a project design proposal submitted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Region 1 Stream Team. It would plant additional vegetation, stabilize the stream bank, and create a floodplain to slow the rapid runoff to address the problems affecting the stream and the surrounding city park.

The Council will be looking at spending about $78,000 to correct the problems created and left by developers that are ruining the nine-acre public city park. We all know what to expect from the Ward One and Ward Three aldermen when west Fayetteville competes for scarce resources with their wealthier neighbors on the eastern side of town. At the same meeting, the Council will be considering spending about $70,000 on a no-bid contract to dredge a private lake for private property owners in the upscale Boardwalk subdivision on Crossover Road.

Mayor Coody is known to support using public taxpayer funds to make the private lake nicer for the benefit of the private landowners. The little public Red Oak Park will likely get what’s left. If they ignore the ongoing erosion there much longer, it would be appropriate to rename it Gully Park.

Their Word vs. Our Bonds

You'll remember that back in March 2005, the City of Fayetteville got into the risky Tax Increment Financing business. That's where we take property taxes away from the public schools, buy millions of dollars worth of bonds, and give it to help private business make more money. We were told--and apparently the Mayor and Council actually believed-- that it is supposed to generate even more tax dollars to pay off the bonds. Uh, right.

The Renaissance Tower Marriott was supposed to be open for football season last year. Then it was supposed to be open for football season this year. Well, two and half years later, the taxpayers are out $3.7 million, and all we've got to show for it is a big ugly hole in the ground. That, and some vacant buildings where the Hoffbrau and some other businesses were forced to close.

The small ray of good news in all of this is that the City had a contract with the developers. If the hotel is not open for business by September 1 (less than three weeks from now), the developers are obligated to pay back liquidated damages of $835 a day for their breach of the contract. That comes to $25,042 per month that can be applied to paying off those $3.7 million in bonds the City rushed out to buy to help the developers.

A contract is a contract, and we expect our elected officials to protect our interests and our tax dollars. I also expect the developers to try to weasel out of their obligation, and I expect the Chamber to be on their side. I will not be surprised if Developer Dan and his compliant vassals on the City Council try to tell us that we should let it slide and continue the free ride for developers. I am surprised that only Bobby Ferrell has expressed any concern about the sanctity of one's word and the meaning of a contract as an obligation to be met.

Let's keep a close eye on this one. It will be on the City Council agenda next month.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Harton’s Career Advice to Fast Food Employees

I look forward to career advice and general wisdom about the world of work from newspaper editors who are always so concerned about economic development and subsidizing businesses that “provide jobs.” Greg Harton, Executive Editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times, used his column today to lecture fast food workers for not being more respectful and attentive to his needs while performing their low-wage dead-end jobs.

During a noon lunch hour excursion away from his busy air-conditioned editor’s office, Harton was offended by seeing a fast food employee on break having a smoke and chatting with a friend. To compound matters, he thought the employee who took his hamburger order should have said, “Thank you, sir.” He explained that privileged “customers want places where they do business to make them feel good, to make them feel respected.”

Harton made excuses for the business owner by suggesting, “It’s a tough order in a region with a historically low unemployment rate, meaning those in service industries have a difficult time hiring people who will stick around very long or who will give 110 percent to their jobs.” Those ungrateful minimum wage workers just don’t seem to have any loyalty to their employers anymore.

Then Editor Harton waxes existential, saying, “we shouldn’t allow the job to become just about getting paid. As much time as we spend on the job in our lives, it makes sense to embrace doing a job well, so that it at least provides some self-satisfaction. Why waste time at a job one hates, no matter how nice that paycheck is? Money is no substitute for a life that satisfies and, dare I say, brings happiness.” That is, it should be deeply satisfying for a worker to take Harton’s hamburger order and massage his ego. “Even if a job is just a means to an end, I’m reminded of those pearls of wisdom about how life is really the journey, not the destination. Finding value and significance in the moment is important. If we compromise our lives by even temporarily giving up joy and relationships and embracing the value of what we’re doing at each moment, it’s far to easy to let life slip away.”

Some might think it mundane to serve professionals ordering a hamburger, but Harton reveals that it can be the key to the meaning of life. “The trick is to seek contentment in what’s happening right now, even as one pursues bigger dreams. That’s not always easy, but to do otherwise is to embrace a life in which . . . everyday living becomes drudgery.” Then he closes his homily by asking, “Who wants a life like that?”


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Teaching Arkansas History in Fayetteville

Whether or not you have chosen sides in the current debate about the state education standards on teaching Arkansas history, don't miss Doug Thompson's column about his daughter's experience in a required Arkansas History course taught by a local coach in our public schools.

Coaches often are paid more than certified history teachers with a degree in the subject, but that doesn't necessarily make them better teachers. Some are sorry classroom teachers, and the courses they are assigned often reflects the priority that school administrators give to certain subjects. Thompson relates the Arkansas history homework that was assigned to make his point. To find a local historic site, his daughter was asked to find the location of Big Daddy's Sports Bar. To understand the contributions of a famous Arkansas person, his daughter was asked to write a biography of basketball star Corliss Williamson aka "Big Nasty."

That's not right. We need to teach the real history of our community and our state, not some coach's limited view of current events. Students should be able to locate the site of the former Vic-Mon and the Brass Monkey. They should know the dates when Ike and Tina Turner played at Gaebale and The Rink, and who played drums for Ronnie Hawkins at the Rockwood. They should be able to identify the famous mural that graced the front of the Swinging Door. The should be familiar with the theology and sacraments of Our Church. They should be required to write biographical sketches of Marjorie Maxine Miller and Stevie Deffenbaugh. Our students need real history that let's us know who we are and from where we came.

KUAF Is Moving to Downtown Fayetteville

KUAF, our local National Public radio affiliate at 91.3 fm, will soon be moving to a new home on the northwest corner of South School and Mountain Street, across from the Fayetteville Public Library’s main entrance. This is another positive development for Downtown Fayetteville.

The move is also a good one for the station, which will be almost twice the size and have decent parking for employees, volunteers, and guests. The purchase of the vacant building at 9 South School for $495,000 is on the agenda for the UA Board of Trustees next month, and that group of wealthy Razorback athletic supporters rubber stamps whatever academic or administrative matter is put before it (unless it happens to affect eligibility of athletes or text messages of coaches). Of course, the UA Administration won't provide any funds from that billion dollars they are sitting on. KUAF will be expected to raise $1.5 million for purchase and renovation of its new studio, so get ready to dig deep and cough up donations to make this a reality.

I love me some KUAF. Ozarks at Large is the best thing going for inquiring minds, even better than the NPR news and commentary. Best music, too, including The Pickin' Post with Mike Shirkey, The Folk Sampler with Mike Flynn, Shades of Jazz with Robert Ginsburg, and
Classical Music with PJ Robowski. Thanks to Rick Stockdell, Kyle Kellams, Jacqueline Froelich, and everyone who makes this happen for our community!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Let's Play Find the Speed Trap

Most of us try to drive safely and obey the traffic laws, but there are sometimes unplesant surprises planned for the unwary. Thanks to a national website called Speed Trap Exchange, local motorists can now be more aware of the speed traps in Cave Springs, Farmington, Fayetteville, Gentry, Lincoln, and Prairie Grove. It is a start, but I'm sure you can help identify a few more in Northwest Arkansas.

Speed traps are often used by municipalities as one method of generating revenue to run the government. "Safety" is given as the excuse for running a speed trap, but the real reason boils down to money, says the National Motorists Association. “The worst kind of speed trap is the one that is set up to deliberately entrap motorists and extort money for the benefit of police agencies or local governments. These speed traps employ absurdly low speed limits, intense enforcement, deliberately confusing signage (or no signage), and dishonest and or abusive local courts. Non-residents of the community are singled out for tickets to avoid invoking the wrath of local voters and influential citizens who might demand an end to such an unethical system of law enforcement.”

Our elected officials give lip service to the proposition that underhanded and exploitative speed enforcement should not be used as a means to extort money from honest responsible citizens. It’s fair game to ask them to walk the walk. Demand that city and county governments require that any posted speed limit that differs from the standard speed limit for a given type of road or highway be supported by a legitimate traffic engineering study that determines the 85th percentile speed of free flowing unimpeded traffic. The posted speed limit should not be adjusted downward more than five miles per hour below the 85th percentile speed, as determined by the traffic engineering study.

Feel free to use the comments section here to identify your favorite speed trap in Northwest Arkansas.

Happy News from the Corporate Media

There was some good news today. Northwest Arkansas was named by Sperling’s Best Places as the top affordable place to live and work in the United States, edging out such highly desirable places to live as Idaho Falls, Idaho, Logan, Utah, and Fargo, North Dakota. NWA got points because the median home price is $212,300, and the cost of living is 93% of the U. S. average.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Richard Massey made sure that the local reaction was fair and balanced, as they say. He got happy quotes from Perry Webb, executive director of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, and Raymond Burns, president of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. "Large employers like Tyson Foods Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc." were also noted by Massey for their contributions to the local economy.

No local hourly employees or social service agencies were interviewed for their reaction to the good news. There was no mention of the shortage of affordable housing for hourly wage workers; no acknowledgment that Arkansas median household income is about 80% of the national average. Those are important voices and a couple of essential things that could have been included in a journalistic celebration of the area as an affordable place to live and work. Pretending that they don't matter or exist is another option.

To Hell with Fire and Building Codes!

After 10 months of study and discussion, the Washington County Quorum Court defeated an ordinance that would have required non-agricultural structures to meet the basic state fire and building codes. Fire and building safety codes save lives, but other political considerations were deemed more important by a majority of our esteemed JPs. The vote was 5-8.

Republican JP Butch Pond of Round Mountain led the opposition, claiming that it was just too expensive to build to code and have it inspected. Sharon Beasely also spoke against the ordinance and said the government should stay out of people's business and allow them to live in a death trap if they wished. "I have a right to build my own tin shack," she said. "Abraham Lincoln lived in a log cabin and that's good enough for me."

JP Steve Zega said the ordinance would ensure that the shelter meets the basic standards and protect the shelter that people buy and invest in. “The purpose of code enforcement is to ensure that the house you buy doesn’t kill you. This is a need, a need that has increased exactly proportionately with the growth of this county,” he said. County resident Sharon Green spoke in favor of the ordinance because it would protect home buyers from shady developers who are cutting costs that no one will notice until it’s too late.

Quorum Court members supporting the safety codes were Steve Zega, D-Fayetteville; Ken Kieklak, D-Fayetteville; Bonnie Swayze, D-Fayetteville; H.L. Goodwin, R-Springdale, Micah Neal, R-Springdale.

The yahoos voting to kill it and encourage the proliferation of substandard homes were Joe Patterson, R-Springdale; Ann Harbison, D-West Fork; Mary Ann Spears, R-Farmington; Jack Norton, D-Morrow; Butch Pond, R-Round Mountain; Jessie Bryant, D-Fayetteville; David Daniel, R-Springdale; Tom Lundstrum Sr., R-Springdale.