Sunday, September 30, 2007
To make up the projected deficit, Mayor Coody is asking the city council to approve an increase in property taxes and shifting 10% of the city sales tax revenue from capital projects to general operations. That would cover the bottom line, but it will have consequences that need to be explained and justified. The mayor should be very specific about what he would fund and which capital projects he plans to cut if the funds are shifted. Only then can residents decide whether that is a wise policy. One thing we know is that the administration has already recommended cutting out any cost of living salary adjustment for city employees; that is the first indication of what their priorities are not.
The options for cost savings are limited, because 60% of the city budget goes for fire and police protection. Mayor Coody and the City Council need to look closely at every expenditure and decide what can be eliminated when the fat is trimmed. Perhaps they could do without a few of those enormous consulting contracts awarded to out-of-state corporations? Perhaps they could put the airport on a cash basis or lease it to a private concern? Perhaps they could take bids on the ambulance service instead of buying a pig in an intergovernmental no-bid poke? Perhaps they could stop spending money to improve private lakes used exclusively by members of the property owners association? Perhaps they could explain why they sink so much of our tax money into the Chamber's energy hog that is called Lights of the Ozarks? Is that really an essential city responsibility worth a tax increase?
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Art Hobson’s column today is spot on as he considers our transportation system and sighs, “In Northwest
The Northwest Arkansas Council aka Good Suit Club wants the quorum courts of Benton and Washington counties to approve a Regional Mobility Authority (or as the Morning News honestly called it a regional “highway” authority), with the power to propose sales taxes, toll roads, and other financing methods for roads, over and above the current state and federal gas taxes. The authorizing legislation was sold as a mobility authority that might fund a regional light rail system or other means besides just more roadwork, but that was never what the regional business interests had in mind. This is the same group that previously persuaded Fayetteville and Washington County to go along with funding the Regional Airport in Benton County. Now they want our money to pay for multi-lane bypasses around Bella Vista and
There are several pieces already in place to support this new vision for economic vitality in historic downtown Rogers. The Main Street Project and the Rogers Historical Museum are partner institutions that are lacking in places like Fayetteville. Fayetteville Downtown Partners recently let the staff go, and Rogers is considering building a Children's Museum, whereas the University of Arkansas abruptly closed the museum on its campus that was a highlight for many Northwest Arkansas school children.
It is good to see the Rogers Chamber dedicated to developing their Vision 2025 Plan for the historic downtown district instead of relying solely on the booming Pinnacle and I-540 developments that produce revenues but look like Plano. That should put them at a significant advantage over the counter-productive Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds, where President Bill Ramsey says the Downtown-Dickson area gets too much attention. His vision for Fayetteville is to beg for more Cracker Barrel signs on I-540, more Fuddrucker's in the landlocked mallville, moving the high school somewhere on the outskirts of town, and giving developers a free lunch when they create sprawl that destroys our infrastructure.
There is a certain whimsical irony in the yin and yang of all of this. Bill Ramsey makes Mayor Coody look like a visionary at times. Not even the progressive plans of the Rogers Chamber can do that for Mayor Womack.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Has anyone heard if the developers have delivered the $25,042 September payment for liquidated damages for failing to meet the terms of the contract? They told City Attorney Kit Williams that they would send the check at the end of the month, and that would be right about now. Think it's in the mail?
UPDATE: I understand that the check was "hand delivered" and that the developers denied rumors that the project was having financial difficulties. The new completion date is now projected for the 2009 football season. We hope so. We also hope we have a new coach by then.
The best-selling Harry Potter series ranks as the number one most challenged book series of the 21st Century. Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s award-winning And Tango Makes Three, about two male penguins parenting an egg from a mixed-sex penguin couple, tops the list of most challenged books last year, declared dangerous by groups like the homophobic Arkansas Family Council that fears such penguin adoptions.
You won't be able to read And Tango Makes Three at the Fayetteville Public Library during Banned Books Week this year. They have only one copy, and it is checked out until October 10th. The book banners might be feeling smug about that. But, unless you want to watch them twitch and froth and howl at the moon, don't let them know that four copies are available in our elementary school libraries.
The know-nothings also would like to ban Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America's First Legal Same-Sex Marriages, a book that describes the efforts of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender activists to secure family and parenting rights and illustrates the happiness of some of the families who have benefited from achieving equality. Patricia Gozemba and Karen Kahn will be at the University of Arkansas during Banned Books Week to present a lecture titled "Marriage Equality: A 21st Century Civil Rights Struggle" and to discuss their new book that chronicles this latest civil rights battle. The lecture, part of the Hartman Hotz Lectures in Law and Liberal Arts, will be held at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 3, in Giffels Auditorium in Old Main. Even though it is free and open to the public, a good protest demonstration might help fill the auditorium.
Thumbs up for the residents of the Walker Park neighborhood and the city's planning staff. The process of enabling citizens to define the future of our community has worked well this week, as neighbors talked and the city listened.
Not surprisingly, people said they wanted to encourage a balance of uses and houses, to improve connectivity and walkability, to keep the former Jefferson school as a center for civic activities, and to create accessible greenspace. Planner Karen Minkel agreed and called the process "the beginning stages of a fantastic plan."
It is a good start, and everyone involved should be pleased with their efforts. Making the plan a reality will require both government support and private action. It will require resolve to complete the plan and to enforce its vision in the face of future developers with different notions.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Alderman Bobby Ferrell is the council member who supports this scheme, because he says those industries provide jobs in the community. The Fayetteville Economic Development Council and Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds paid Kathy Deck, director for the UA Center for Business and Economic Research, to do a study then get up and tell the water and sewer committee that industries have a big economic impact. No one really doubts that; the question is whether citizens have a desire or obligation to provide corporate welfare. No one thinks that voters would approve an ordinance to directly give these corporations a big wad of tax money, but maybe they won’t be aware if this subsidy is hidden in their water rates.
Pinnacle Foods, the city’s largest water and sewer user, provides a good example. Pinnacle currently pays a subsidized rate of $112, 214 a month. If they paid the same flat rate as everyone else under the proposed increase, their bill would be $162,695. Under the subsidy plan backed by the bureaucrats and the business interests, Pinnacle would pay only $133,506. That would be a monthly corporate subsidy of over $29,000 a month from residential customers.
The local plant is owned by Pinnacle Foods Finance LLC,
The question is whether residential customers, including our elderly citizens, should continue subsidizing the profits of the large industrial users. "And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites. Verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury, for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
How about lifeline rates? How about a fair flat rate where everyone pays the same? How about increasing block rates that encourage conservation and sustainability? Worth some consideration, I would think.
"Peter had strong opinions about many topics of which he often wrote in newspaper columns and letters to the editor. Whether one agreed with him or not, he made people think. Any opinion he possessed was intelligently formed and it addressed the inequalities he clearly saw that affected us all. I met him over 30 years ago and he always amazed me with his limitless knowledge. … Although many days have gone by since Peter’s passing, time has tempered my sadness to the realization that it was a joy to have known him. For that I am fortunate in that his friendship blessed my life through his insight, intelligence and “hipness.” Peter Harkins was many things to many people, but he was best known for making friends. Regardless of one’s station in life, Pete made all he met feel as if he was their best friend. One thing I know for sure, I think of him every day because he was truly my best friend."
--Willard L. Bratton Jr., “Remembering Peter Harkins,"
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
You probably thought that the Rogers Police Department was too busy being trained in ICE racial profiling techniques or conducting warrentless searches to take on additional duties to anticipate and fight serious crime. Not so, says Sargent Kelley Cradduck. Just like the unit in the aptly named Minority Report, they want to make arrests even before anyone even thinks about breaking the law.
Rogers police officers spotted and questioned a Hispanic teenager at a football game at Gates Stadium last month and demanded that he remove his sunglasses because they featured a symbol originally associated with theater -- the faces of comedy and tragedy – which could also be used to describe the police action in that instance. What was the crime? Cradduck said those faces indicate a threat that symbolizes gang culture in general. So? I see old white Shriners riding tricycles and wearing fezzes, which might indicate a threat of a gang of terrorists from Morocco. I bet they don't get arrested in Rogers.
This is serious business, so don't laugh. Cradduck says he spends considerable time on duty surfing profiles and pages at MySpace.com, a site frequented by officers and detectives from law-enforcement departments always vigilant for suspicious gang symbols. "You can learn a lot just from browsing for an hour or so." Cradduck said he and other officers often tell people at school-related functions to remove a bandana, a piece of clothing with a potentially gang-related symbol or other indicators. "We’re going to act on it because we’re responsible for their safety and for the people around them." Like someone has ever been injured by sunglasses with miniature masks of comedy and tragedy? Oh, my, I feel safer now.
Those speaking up for fiscal responsibility during the agenda session yesterday included Ward Two Aldermen Nancy Allen and Kyle Cook, Ward Three Alderman Bobby Ferrell, and Ward Four Alderman Lioneld Jordan. “Obviously, we have to look at the city first and see ways to tighten our own budget,” said Alderman Allen. Alderman Cook agreed, “To blatantly go willy-nilly after more millage without being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money and going through and taking a hard look at everything out there, then we’re not doing our jobs.” Alderman Ferrell remarked, “I don’t have a lot to say about it except we need to cut more costs than ribbons.”
The Council is to be commended for their commitment to examine current expenditures and perhaps avoid having to raise taxes to cover cost overruns or inefficient programs. They’ll be meeting with Mayor Coody and finally get to see his proposed budget during a Saturday morning session at the Fayetteville Municipal Airport – and the airport budget would be a good place to start looking for savings, since it is always losing money, serving very few residents, and requiring taxpayers to make up the difference for its continuing budget deficits.
"Fayetteville has invited 200,000 bikers to town, but will issue tickets to those who are loud. The Quiet Police will be patrolling the vast horde of Hell’s Angels, issuing no-no’s to bikers they deem too loud. Any engines that are revved up or backfire will be jailed.
"In the spirit of quietness, ZZ Top will not be allowed to use electric guitars. They will sing acapella in barbershop quartet style. The Quiet Police will issue warnings to those who laugh too loudly or guffaw in public. Loud laughter or guffawing will be restricted to the Randal Tyson Indoor Track area. On Dickson Street, between Collier Drug and Underwood’s, people will be required to tip-toe and whisper. Shhhhh."
--Grady Jim Robinson, "I Admit It," Northwest Arkansas Times
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
College Avenue was once one of the most beautiful streets in
Six decades of commercial degradation of College Avenue is enough, agreed almost 50 of us during a public meeting at Jefferson School last night, and there will be another public meeting next Monday if you missed that one.
"This stretch of
The current proposal is to construct three medians on
Construction is set to begin in 2008 and be completed in 2009. Chris Brown, Engineering Design Manager, reportedly hopes that residents don't take issue with the current plan designs, but don’t let that stop you if you have suggestions to the Street Committee for making it better. Although they'll show up for the ribbon-cutting, you know the Chamber of Cowbirds will be fighting anything that inhibits vehicular commerce in the name of pedestrian safety and mere aesthetics, so citizens need to speak up for human scale and a more livable community.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Now residents are complaining that raw sewage collects in puddles in their yard or backs up into their homes. The odor is nauseating. There’s enough organic material there for viruses to survive, and residents worry about bacterial infections carried by the hordes of flies and mosquitoes. They want the City of
The City of
Mayor Long says the city will spend its money on “economic development” and run lines somewhere else and hope to get some money in return. More development on I-540; that’s the ticket. Lowell officials must think that companies will surely rush to build in a "business friendly" community that ignores raw sewage and encourages growth, especially if it can make residents pay higher rates to subsidize the cost of water and sewer for industrial customers like Fayetteville does.
Apparently no one has considered requiring the developer to fix the problems, and Richard Massey’s article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette doesn’t even mention the name of the developer who built the homes on a field of clay or those who approved the project. It is politically unwise to question unbridled growth or to ask developers to pay for the costs of sprawl.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Nobody owns up to responsibility for the destruction of a community and an ecosystem. Lewis May says that his company did everything just right, but Forsythe didn't know what he was doing and could never make a decision. Forsythe blames the disaster on the “endless delays and poor workmanship and just bungling mismanagement” of May Construction. Two big corporations involved, and neither one of them big enough to take responsibility for leaving the earth scared and the Audubon promises broken.
Forsythe says, "I believe that being honest in the things you do is what counts in the end." So do we, Hal. Then he says, "I just hope that everybody understands that we did do a lot to that area." You can be sure about that, Hal.
“I do take it personally when you invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of your own money, four-plus years of your life working 12-15 hours a day on your project and you have people come and, you know, can’t see what you’ve done for the area,” Forsythe said expressing his disdain about mere citizens “stirring things up” about his wonderful gift to the neighborhood and expecting him to deliver what he and Hank Broyles promised two years ago.
Got that, Aubrey? Hal blames you for exposing the disaster and wants you to STFU. We say keep up the good work. Citizen bloggers speaking truth to power are too rare and much needed these days.
“I’m done with Rogers. We’re not building jack-squat in Rogers,” said Chris Talley of Arkansas Sports and Entertainment Partners LLC, the outfit that had announced plans to build a 7,500-seat arena for franchises with the East Coast Hockey League, the NBA Development League, and the Women’s National Basketball Association.
Mr. Talley and Rogers Mayor Steve Womack have had some unkind things to say about each other and different views on what the problem is, and they are probably both right. The rift goes back more than a decade; according to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Talley "also didn’t like the resurfacing of an incident from his past. In 1994, Talley was accused of robbing the E-Z Mart at the corner of 13 th and Olive streets in Rogers at gunpoint. He was charged with aggravated robbery, theft of property, aggravated assault and battery in the third degree in Benton County. After spending more than 200 days in the Benton County jail, the charges were dismissed and Talley went free."
Talley said Arkansas Sports and Entertainment Partners LLC is interested in negotiating for a different site in Northwest Arkansas to build the arena. He should talk with the Fayetteville Economic Development Council and the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds about building the $40 million arena on that 100-acre site owned by the Fayetteville School District out west of I-540. It would be better than a Cracker Barrel, and it should not matter that one of Talley's companies, CJC Development, has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Memphis. He sounds like a prime candidate for membership in the developers' Free Lunch Club.
We are grateful for the editorial in today's Northwest Arkansas Times at long last explaining what the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds actually does. In pronouncing good riddance upon the staff of Fayetteville Downtown Partners, the editor says, "From our perspective, Fayetteville Downtown Partners did little more than play up everything that makes Fayetteville great. Sorry, but we’ve already got a Chamber of Commerce. Does the city need another?"
So there you have it. The Chamber's raison d'etre is to "play up everything that makes Fayetteville great." Not to bitch about the sign ordinance, not to front for developers trying to kill impact fees, not to try to move the high school to the boonies, not to demand that residents subsidize water and sewer rates for big corporations and their out-of-state stockholders, but to play up everything that makes Fayetteville great. So, what about the boosterism brigade at the Advertising and Promotion Commission, the Convention & Visitors' Bureau, and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council? We've already got a Chamber of Cowbirds. Does the city need these?
We do agree with the editorial that "What Fayetteville needs these days is less talk, more results — specifically, businesses that don’t go belly up with the rapidity of a domino effect." For example, instead of lamenting the plight of shady or bankrupt developers, the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce held a Small Business Conference this weekend that focused on providing 275 local small-businesses the resources and relationships they need to be successful in the Northwest Arkansas economy. One half of the nation’s gross domestic product and three quarters of new jobs come from small businesses, so they formed an advisory group of small-business owners, which make up about 70% of the chamber’s membership.
If the Fayetteville Chamber mooched into fewer city photo ops and the FEDC spent less time secretly trying to seduce phantom smokestacks, maybe they could pay some attention to the small businesses who actually create jobs in our community.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
Moulitsas' brash, probing and accessible writing takes us behind the scenes of the modern political machine in a way few others have attempted. Tackling vital political topics by tracking key races, exposing corruption, and holding politicians accountable, he brings an unprecedented level of political awareness to the general public. And politicians are also listening: the site is regularly visited by congressmen, senators, governors, and other political luminaries.
With a renewed sense of purpose, and using the latest technologies, a new generation of activists has emerged. They are revitalizing the democratic process and re-engaging in political advocacy. Markos Moulitsas's live presentations are infused with the kinetic energy and political acumen of this movement, drawing listeners into a conversation about what democracy is, and how they can be a part of it.
Even if you disagree with his political stance or think his opinions are "packed with pathological cynicism," listeners will still emerge with a greater understanding of the current state of American political life and where it is going. With an unmatched passion, he talks about holding party and government officials to account and how to get out the vote. In person, you will see what makes Daily Kos the highest-trafficked blog in the world, and one of the finest examples, in our information age, of bringing the voice of the people to those in power.
Faced with a continuing budget deficit, Coody and Co. will recommend an increase in property taxes, predicting an additional $2.4 million in revenue by raising the property tax rate by 70% from 1.3 to 2.2 mills. While this is better than another sales tax increase, the City should also look at trimming the fat from the budget, and we’ll have some suggestions for that whenever the Mayor finally allows the public to peek at his proposed city budget for 2008.
Mayor Coody also knows that he’d have a tough time convincing voters to increase the sales tax for general operations, but the city can levy up to 5 mills of property tax for its general fund by ordinance without an election, just as they can adopt impact fees by ordinance without an election. While the Mayor opposes adopting road impact fees by ordinance (as the Rogers City Council unanimously adopted water and sewer impact fees by ordinance in June), he will likely try to get the Council to raise property taxes without referring it for a public vote of the people. If he’s being honest, he should trust the City Council to adopt impact fees by ordinance just as he will ask them to raise property taxes by ordinance.
This exercise in reevaluating the source of city revenues could also be an opportunity to make local tax policy more fair. Our city leaders should consider exempting basic groceries from the city sales tax and replacing the revenue from increased property taxes. Of course, they won't do that.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
My generous mood was quickly doused when I read Mayor Coody's blog about the ribbon cutting ceremony that was held yesterday. He gave pride of place, both in the photo and in the caption, not to the department heads or the workers who were responsible for the project or to the taxpayers who provided the funding. Oh, nooo. Pictured right behind the Mayor were two representatives from the Chamber of Commerce. Excuse me, but how many feet of sidewalk did Bootsie Ackerman finish and how many yards of asphalt did Virgil Neuroth lay? They are nice people, no doubt, but why does the Chamber always try to hog all the credit for other people's work funded by taxpayers? And why do our public officials let them get away with it while ignoring those whose rough hands and strong backs actually did the work and the citizens who paid the bills?
From now on, I'm calling this bunch the Chamber of Cowbirds. As the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology explains, "Cowbirds are brood parasites, that is, they have completely abandoned the tasks of building nests, incubating eggs, and caring for hatchlings. Instead, each female deposits as many as 40 eggs per year in nests that belong to other bird species. The female cowbird finds these nests by crashing noisily through shrubbery with flapping wings to flush out potential victims. She typically chooses a nest with eggs smaller than her own and lays a single egg quickly at dawn once the host has also started laying eggs. Unlike the parasitic European cuckoos, Brown-headed Cowbirds do not evict their nest-mates, although the female may remove and sometimes eat eggs from the host nest. Instead, cowbird nestlings typically out-compete their smaller nest mates." That's what they do.
--Neal Little, Letter to the Editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
In 2004, Greg Boettcher,
In 2005, Northwest Arkansas Times employees visited Romine’s property and found a pool of raw sewage collecting in her back yard, a few feet downhill from where three sewer lines converge. The sewage apparently oozes over a retaining wall and collects in her carport before it flows down her driveway into the street. "Swarms of gnats above the puddle give the air a gray tint and the back yard has a scent similar to the Paul R. Noland Wastewater Treatment Plant." David Jurgens, water and wastewater maintenance superintendent at the time, said the city is not responsible for the problem, because it "is not and has never been a city-owned line.”
City Attorney Kit Williams is adamant that the sewer snafu is on private property, that the city is not responsible for sewer problems on private property, and that such problems are the responsibility of the private landowner to correct at their own expense. Fourth Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn last week said there are enough facts in dispute over the raw sewage dumped on Romine’s property to continue litigating whether David Jurgens acted with conscious indifference. The City is still fighting that and will appeal, delaying a final resolution even longer.
Jenney Romine is single parent on a fixed income living in an 80-year old home in Ward Two, wondering how a blind person with breast cancer can afford to fight City Hall. Too bad she isn't a member of the prestigious Boardwalk Property Owners Association in Ward One, where some city officials are saying it is the City's responsibility to award a $70,000 no-bid contract with taxpayer money to dredge silt from the residents' recreational lake on private property.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Last week, we called out Tracy Hoskins for trying to run a Tax Increment Finance scam on the City of Johnson's taxpayer trough to get corporate subsides for a big development he want to build on Joyce Boulevard. It is so blatantly outrageous that even the developer-enabling Northwest Arkansas Times balked at the scheme in today's editorial.
"In this case, one can sum it up clearly: A developer wants a tax handout to pay for a huge chunk of a development he should be doing on his own, but more public 'investment' means more private profitability for the project," said the editorial. "We remember the days when developers either had the financial backing to get a project done or they didn’t, and if they didn’t, they simply didn’t expect a government handout for things developers should be responsible for. Ah, the good ol’ days."
That is pretty much right on the money.
Springdale taxpayers are being asked to believe that their entire City Council was clueless about the city's advertised bids and signed contracts for street construction that they approved. They now express amazement that just last week they approved a $4.7 million bid by Sweetser Construction to pave Wagon Wheel Road with concrete, when it could have been done with asphalt for $1 million less.
“None of us knew that this was going to be constructed with concrete,” said Alderman Mike Overton, and Alderman Bobby Stout harped in, "I think we've been taken." No joke. They blamed Van Lee, the Construction Dynamics Group engineer who oversees the 2003 Springdale bond program, for not telling them what was in the bid or the contract they approved.
Van Lee told them what everyone else already knows. The road is being constructed with concrete to accommodate the trucking industry, and the taxpayers are graciously providing the subsidies. It is only $1 million on this project. Just think how much the truckers and the Northwest Arkansas Council want us to pay for concrete highway construction in expanding I-540 for business interests -- and how little interest they have in light rail and mass transit for the average citizen.
The school repeatedly shortchanged teachers and their retirement pension fund for several years. The Arkansas Department of Education says the school owes a combined $46,420.91 it withheld from employees’ paychecks but never sent to the retirement fund and delinquent employer contributions that it never made to the fund. The debt claims first prize for the largest an
Haas Hall must pay an additional $3,300 in late fees for the missed monthly payments, but no criminal charges have been filed because the director "likely didn’t understand his school’s legal obligations to the retirement system." Right, they deducted money from employees' salaries for retirement, and then had no idea what to do with it?
When the school did make payments, school officials inaccurately reported their payroll and miscalculated how much was owed to the retirement system. One employee was overcharged $1,800 in deductions in a single year, while other employees were undercharged and now cannot access their retirement funds until they pay additional money.
The Arkansas Board of Education, which has authority to revoke the school's charter, has requested that the Division of Legislative Audit examine Haas Hall's books more thoroughly for recent activity and report back by December. This is one that the corporate media will not be able to blame on what the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette delights in calling "union bosses."
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Bioterrorism is an important issue among Republican women in Benton County, and they want to know more about the basics and how to protect themselves, so the Benton County Republican Women will listen to a doctor talk about bioterrorism at their meeting today. They will be pleased to learn that there are currently no specific OSHA workplace standards or directives for bioterrorism under the Bush Administration.
The meeting is at 11: 30 a. m. today at the Whole Hog Cafe, 1400 S. E. Walton Blvd. in Bentonville behind Krispy Kreme. They might want to consider having a physician talk about cardiovascular disease and morbid obesity at their next meeting.
The most important school board election in Northwest Arkansas is the Fayetteville Zone 4 election. Only 84 voters participated in the early voting process, so turnout today will be crucial. There are also contests in Gentry, Lincoln, and Elkins, and millage increases on the ballot in Gentry and Pea Ridge
The Northwest Arkansas Times, house organ for the Chamber of Commerce and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, is pushing Mary Lynn Mantooth, who seems ready to abandon Fayetteville High School and ignore the benefits to students of proximity to the University of Arkansas, the Walton Arts Center, and the Fayetteville Public Library. That makes the Chamber crowd happy, because new construction on the outskirts of town will be a boon to developers turning farmland into subdivisions and the taxpayers will be footing the bill for infrastructure. That's why it is not surprising that the developers' candidate has hired a Republican political consultant and reported raising $2,251 as of last week -- almost three times the amount of contributions to Becky Purcell, who favors a central location for the high school and reported raising only $814.
The location of the future high school is an important issue, but it is not the only issue. Becky Purcell, who holds a masters degree in education, is an engaging woman who seeks facts and opinions and gives them thoughtful consideration. If you watched any of the "debates" on the government and educational cable channels, you saw the difference between an open mind and a practiced response. Becky Purcell has shown a commitment to the intellectual freedom and diversity of ideas that is at the core of critical thinking and an excellent education for our children. That approach has provided a richness of experience and produced an outstanding record of educational achievement for our students. Her opponent is backed by the same crowd that would have purged books from the library and ignored the professional judgment of trained librarians.
The polls are open at
Monday, September 17, 2007
The contract provides that Littler Mendelson outside attorneys Eva Madison, former assistant general counsel for employment litigation at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and opponent of public bike lanes near Candlewood Estates, will be paid $215 an hour, and Scott Summers, a former Associate General Counsel in Employment Practices and Employment Litigation and Director of Labor Relations for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc, will be paid $250 an hour for advice. That is impressive. It is also more than most city employees make.
Alderman Robert Rhoades formerly worked as legal counsel for Wal-Mart, so he can attest to their expertise. So can Pam Huber, who was making $13 per hour until she permanently injured her hand and arm and requested a transfer to a vacant, equivalent position under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They fought it all the way to the 8th Circuit and said giving her a janitor's job at another location and at less than half her former wage was all they would do. Ask Phillip Wilson who had religious objections to working on Sundays and lost an EEOC claim fordiscriminatory employment practices because of his religious beliefs and in retaliation for his complaints.Or ask Michelle Richardson who was fired for missing two and a half days of work due to "bad cramping, increased clotting, and a heavy blood flow during her period." She provided a written medical excuse and later had to have a hysterectomy but was denied Family Medical Leave Act unpaid leave. Or Paula Stuhan who lost an age and sex discrimination claim for non-promotion.
Eva Madison and Scott Summers are quite experienced and very good at making sure employees don't get a few dollars in benefits, so their big fees could be worth it to the city. The City Council should at least discuss it and explain why they think this contract with such an experienced big law firm is necessary.
Only the conflicted editorial staff at the Northwest Arkansas Times still take them seriously. Even the local mutation of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today has finally called bullshit on their Cracker Barrel wolf cry and their vision for Fayetteville's future. It recaps the ancient angst driving the clueless Chamber crowd, saying, "For years, Springdale has claimed bragging rights because it snared a Cracker Barrel after Fayetteville gave the restaurant trouble over the size of its sign. Springdale took Cracker Barrel in—sign and all. Not only did Springdale get the tax revenue from the restaurant, the city also got to giggle over how it had one-upped its rival to the south."
The Democrat-Gazette editorial then points out what everyone else already knows, "Springdale’s having an identity crisis. The city built its business identity with a wide-open attitude. Cracker Barrel’s got a great big sign? No problem. Come on down. Springdale’s hands-off approach has brought in a lot of business over the years. But it’s also resulted in the clutter that’s so much a part of the city’s image. The billboards, the signs on store fronts, the makeovers of former stores into used car lots, the reappearance of one-time gas stations as restaurants.... It’s all there for folks in Springdale to cringe at every day."
Last week, Bill Ramsey was still whining about the Fayetteville sign ordinance. He and Rust need to accept the fact that Fayetteville residents do not share the goals of the Chamber and the FEDC to make our city look like Springdale, but that would take a little common sense. It would also take a little imagination to encourage sustainable economic development that did not demand a free lunch on infrastructure and did not destroy the qualities that make Fayetteville unique.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The gated compound at Pinnacle was the first such enclave of elitist exclusivity, a subdivision with a fence around it and guards to keep the common people from trampling on the private golf course or trying to get a martini at their swank private country club. Rogers residents might think they're special because they also have Shadow Valley, Saddlebrook and Creekside, but Springdale also has the Churchill gated community that demonstrates its officials clearly have a case of Pinnacle envy and want to share in the anti-democratic vista of the rich and famous in Benton County.
Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin, elected last fall, seems to be leading an effort to repeal the city's 2005 ordinance that prohibits gated subdivisions. He has directed the Bentonville Planning Commission to review the language for a potential ordinance establishing regulations for developing gated communities and abolishing the leveling influence of current design standards that allow undesirables to walk near the domain of the better class of citizens.
Funky Fayetteville has not yet succumbed to the temptation to abandon residential equality and embrace these architectural icons of feudalism. Developers will probably try to continue packing the Planning Commission and change that to accommodate the desires of the financially fortunate to build social fortresses. Fayetteville Economic Development Council Chief Prevaricator Steve Rust will say the city is trying to kill jobs, stop growth, or be just plain unfriendly to business by resisting the desires of the wealthy to hide behind their walls and protect themselves from some imagined class-borne social or economic disease. Chamber CEO Bill Ramsey will once again tell us that business executives will leave and move to Springdale's unregulated wonderland to be closer to Cracker Barrel.
Let us resist that bidness blather and remember the words and wisdom of Walt Whitman, who wrote, "As the greatest lessons of Nature through the universe are perhaps the lessons of variety and freedom, the same present the greatest lessons also in New World politics and progress."
Saturday, September 15, 2007
The Northwest Arkansas Times as expected endorsed Purcell's opponent, Mary Lynn Mantooth, who supports the Fayetteville Economic Development Council's position to build a new high school as an adjunct to the developers' efforts west of I-540. The newspaper has a serious conflict of interest as an active member of the FEDC and can hardly be seen as a credible objective source of information. CEO Steve Rust gives them special insider members' information for scoops on the Council's press releases in exchange for their paying FEDC membership dues and printing his "strategic deceptions" as fact.
Even so, the Times editor admitted, "Purcell is an exceedingly nice and intelligent person who brings many qualities to the table, not the least of which is her strong desire and apparent capabilities in the area of fostering healthy discussion. The core of her campaign, she says, is a desire to figure out how
Letters to the Editor from citizens overwhelmingly endorse Becky Purcell and make that same point. "Fair-minded and articulate, Becky would truly welcome community involvement in school district decision-making and school board discussions," wrote Christine Sheppard. "Becky Purcell has demonstrated that she is willing to take the time to sit down and talk with citizens about their concerns. When a group of parents, teachers and university faculty contacted both candidates to ask for an hour of their time, Mantooth said she would be too busy with her campaign for the foreseeable future, while Purcell offered to meet with us the next week," said Justin Minkel. "The debates between Purcell and Mantooth made it clear that Purcell has a deep understanding of the immediate and long-term implications of the decisions facing the school board." Her having a master's degree in education, we would expect no less.
Those are all important reasons for supporting Becky Purcell in next Tuesday's election. For us here at the Iconoclast, our endorsement of Becky Purcell is also based on her courage to stand up for intellectual freedom. When Laurie Taylor, Jim Holt, and the Arkansas Family Council wanted to ban scores of books from the high school library, Becky Purcell spoke up two years ago during that battle for education and the freedom to read. That does it for us.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I should not have been surprised to read that Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Ramsey is still trying to peddle the city's sign ordinance as the bane of business. I doubt that he's embarrassed himself or is capable of doing so, but I imagine that his board must be somewhat uneasy with his tiring string of nonsense and untruths.
It's Cracker Barrel all over again, and we are like the characters trapped in time in the movie Groundhog Day having to listen to Bill Ramsey play Ned Reyerson. Fuddruckers, one of the numerous chain restaurants that made the choice to open in north mallville, is closing up shop. The owner said it was because Steele Crossing and the surrounding area have been overbuilt with restaurants. Not willing to take the owner's word for it, Bill Ramsey replayed his constant complaint, saying it was all the fault of the Fayetteville sign ordinance that makes the city "unfriendly" to business. Oh, and he added, because taxpayers haven't yet built new easy access roads to subsidize the businesses that chose to build in those inaccessible sprawlville locations.
I haven't been following this controversy as closely as I should, but today's newspapers have considerable coverage of the Fayetteville Ambulance Committee meeting yesterday. Some people are upset that the aldermen are not enthusiastic about entrusting ambulance service in the city to some "interlocal" authority under a no-bid exclusive contract.
The group seeking a new arrangement includes John Gibson, who coincidentally serves as chairman of the Central Emergency Medical Services board, and wants CEMS to get an exclusive no-bid contract. Fayetteville aldermen seem to be balking at giving authority for setting rates and terms of service to the "interlocal" board being pushed by the county, and they suggest talking bids instead of the no-bid monopoly deal Gibson wants.
Gibson says Fayetteville wants something that doesn't cost them any money, but Fayetteville currently pays $4 per capita to Central EMS for ambulance service in the city. He also says he wouldn't want to trust his health to someone who got a low-bid contract (even if it were CEMS) but thinks he would be comfortable being carted to the hospital by the ambulance service he controls if it got an exclusive no-bid contract.
I am having trouble sorting this out from newspaper accounts, because Gibson's arguments don't seem to make much sense for anyone except the organization that he chairs. In such situations, I believe it was Cicero who always asked, "Who benefits?"
“I think they’re going to pay,” said Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams, so he decided not to bring the matter to the Fayetteville City Council for action to collect the $25,042 monthly payment for liquidated damages from the developers. They told Mr. Williams that they would send the check at the end of the month. They missed the deadline at the first of the month, not at the end of the month, so on what authority did Mr. Williams give them a 30-days same as cash deal?
An editorial in today's local variant of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette says "there's no reason not to believe them." I, too, think that developers John Nock and Richard Alexander will pay up, but they should have done so two weeks ago, and it would still be prudent to bring the matter to the City Council next week to establish the record and the facts. A lot of people are still waiting for payments from other prominent local developers that were taken at their word.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Domestic violence should not happen to anybody. Ever. Period. But it does, everyday.
Many times well-meaning friends will tell the battered victim in an abusive relationship to "get out now!" The Mayo Clinic says the first sign that you may be a victim of abuse if you're in a relationship is someone who controls finances, so you have to ask for money. For those locked into an abusive relationship, getting help is not always as simple as just leaving, partly because they don’t think they can survive financially and partly because the abuser has made them believe that.
Mrs. Maier said, “I know he takes advantage of me and the kids with his demands that we do humiliating things to please him, but I’m afraid to ask him to stop. He buys things for us, and we couldn’t get along without his paycheck. I’m afraid to ask him to stop beating me, because he said he might leave.”
Mr. Mayor said, “I know they take advantage of our citizens by demanding lower water and sewer rates, but I’m afraid to ask them to pay as much as residential customers. They pay taxes that provide revenue, and we couldn’t get along without their payroll. I’m afraid to ask them to pay their fair share, because they said they might leave.”
Today is the Grand Opening of the Fayetteville Sam's Club. I'm not a member, but many folks are happy about this. “Sam’s Club will be a huge asset to Fayetteville in so many ways,” said Mayor Dan Coody. “The design of this unique club demonstrates the company’s commitment to the environment, and their generosity in supporting local charities, city services and organizations demonstrates their commitment to improving the quality of life for residents throughout the area.”
Another thing the opening of the Fayetteville Sam's Club does is put the lie to the Chamber of Commerce spook stories about how planning regulations, sign ordinances, and impact fees drive away business investment and depress tax revenues, always bemoaning Crackerbarrel's decision to take it's oversized sign and locate in a generic shopping center near Big Lots and Freight Tools. Springdale has no impact fees and is just now getting around to adopting a lame sign ordinance, yet Sam's Club up and moved to Fayetteville. Even Wal-Mart wages are higher than the sub-minimum $2.63 wait staff workers are paid in Arkansas, and I hear that a nearby store sells American-brewed beer for cheap.
The next time Bill Ramsey or Steve Rust say the word "Crackerbarrel" like it is some kind of synecdoche for economic depression, just laugh at them and whisper, "Sam's Club."
You'll recall last spring when Dr. Ben Israel, the optometrist turned real estate developer, was blowing hard against the proposed Fayetteville road impact fees that would have required developers to pay their fair share for the infrastructure demands they were creating. He said the very the idea of making new construction pay a fee, especially when it adds to the city's tax base, is counterproductive and would deter investment. "Instead of punishing a developer, I think the city should encourage them to come into
Road impact fees are not the only thing Ben Israel and his Dixie Development conglomerate don't like to pay. Arkansas Business reports that for the first eight months of this year, Israel's business ventures have been the target of almost 50 lawsuits, liens or foreclosures valued at a combined $6 million, not including claims of damages, because they have not been paying their bills. The Bank of Fayetteville is among the financial institutions that are foreclosing on Israel's property, and unpaid subcontractors have been left hanging for millions. . The Internal Revenue Service filed a $302,425 lien against
I hate to see any business fail, but I am glad when bogus arguments are exposed for all to see and keep in mind when they are used again to deceive the people. For all of the squawking that the Chamber of Commerce, the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, and the Arkansas Realtors Association did about how Fayetteville was killing jobs and businesses by asking developers to pay their fair share, none of this can be blamed on the road impact fees which they killed with a $40,000 ad campaign. They will have to come up with a new excuse next time they demand a free lunch and taxpayer subsidies.