Friday, November 30, 2007

Another Candidate Wants to Be Mayor

Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, a native of Denver who recently moved to Fayetteville from Goshen, made his announcement as a candidate for Mayor of Fayetteville yesterday. He also made the news yesterday by signing a letter to the school board asking them to sell the current high school campus and build a new high school somewhere else.

Koenig's past political experience includes one term on the school board and financial contributions to several Republican candidates and the Republican Party. He was also active in the campaign this year to defeat the proposed road impact fees that would have required developers to pay their fair share for dealing with congestion caused by their real estate ventures.

Civic involvement by Koenig includes being instrumental in moving the Boys & Girls Club out of central Fayetteville to the Rupple Road location, and he is a member of the Northwest Arkansas Council that spearheaded the creation of XNA airport and the loss of passenger service at Fayetteville's Drake Field.

Mr. Koenig has been Chairman of the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds. Chamber President Bill Ramsey said that his group can’t make an official endorsement without giving up its tax-exempt status, but the Northwest Arkansas Times said, "it was evident by the more than 100 bankers, developers, real estate agents and other businessmen gathered for the announcement where much of Koenig’s support will come from." It looked like the old Fred Hanna crowd, including Alderman Bobby Ferrell.

No one doubts that the campaign will have plenty of money to buy massive media advertising. Local editorial writers for newspapers that hold membership in the Chamber and the Economic Development Council should be ready to endorse.

Peaceful Warriors Going Gently

The death of someone we know always reminds us that we are still alive and makes us thankful that we had the opportunity to have known them. This week two gentle souls departed Fayetteville, leaving it better for their having lived and shared their lives with us.

Louis Bryant and Jim Jackson were good men and great storytellers. In many ways, the similarities and differences in their lives represent and reflect the best of our community. They will be missed by all who knew them and many who didn't have the chance to meet them. Their lives were a gift; their wonderful families are their legacy.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Deciding What's News and What's Not

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports today on a KHOG-TV 40/29 story last night that State Senator Denny Altes (R-Fort Smith) sent an angry email wailing about how "we" are being out-populated by "black folks." Attacking Hispanic immigrants, Senator Altes said, "We are where we were with the black folks after the revolutionary war. We can’t send them back and the more we piss them off the worse it will be in the future."

Also, last night in Fayetteville, former United States Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders spoke at the 26th anniversary of Planned Parenthood in Washington County. Her views were not deemed worthy of any coverage or reporting by the television station or any daily newspaper in Northwest Arkansas.

Irony Is a Dog that Will Bite You

You'll remember the stunt that Dan Coody pulled earlier this month to make it appear that he had a great appreciation for city employees. That was about the same time that his trusted administrators were unveiling his budget recommending abolishing positions and cutting out funds for Christmas bonuses and the annual employee recognition event. That was pretty rude.

You'll also recall that last spring Coody led the purge of the Planning Commission and vetoed the reappointment of Commissioner Candy Clark, who was known for asking tough questions of developers. Coody whispered that Clark had been disrespectful toward his staff, but he produced no evidence of that. The developers were pleased.

Last night, Alderman Nancy Allen announced that Candy Clark had donated $1,100 to cover the cost of the staff appreciation and recognition ceremony that was axed in Coody's budget. There was no mention of any contributions by Dan Coody or from Bobby Ferrell, Robert Rhodes, or Adella Grey, who voted against Clark's reappointment last March.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Wages of Sprawl

Fayetteville is fortunate to have a wonderful staff and a great new facility for the Donald W. Reynolds Boys and Girls Club. It is quite unfortunate that the Board of Directors decided to build it way out west on Rupple Road. That is now more evident than ever, as are the shifting reasons and unconvincing pleas for more city tax dollars to sustain the folly.

Former Mayor Fred Hanna bears much of the blame for giving the city land for the remote site and promising
$395,000 from the trails and parks program for building construction, $300,000 for a parking lot, and $124,000 for water and sewer line extensions. At the same time the board requested another $750,000 a year in city tax dollars for three years. To Mayor Dan Coody's credit, he tried to convince the former Youth Center board to build the new facility in Walker Park, which made far too much sense. Jeff Koenig and the other board members ignored the suggestion and insisted that it go forward out west of town, and Coody quickly backed down.

One of the reasons given for building the Boys and Girls Club out west, said Board member Susan Anders, who was paid $157,000 as a consultant, was so
it could provide a better mix of children from a wider range of economic backgrounds. Athletic activities at the existing Youth Center site at Harmon and California draw participation from a wide range of children of all circumstances, but the children from wealthy and middle-income families seldom take part in the other youth center programs. The Rupple Road location would draw more "children from wealthy families."

At the same time, former Youth Center Director John Benberg said,
"We've thought about the importance of serving the kids that come here now. We've thought about the logistics of transporting kids and getting them there. We know we'll be transporting dramatically more kids than in the past." So, from the beginning, the plan was to make the facility more convenient for children whose parents were more wealthy and could provide private transportation, but kids from low income families (with both parents working or without a second car) would be bussed across town at city taxpayer expense if they wanted to use the facility.

Now when city revenues are down and the continuing subsidies are being examined, Eric Schuldt, current executive director, claims that getting only $147,000 ($98,500 less than the club requested this year) will harm poor children. The club transports many children from low-income families in town out to the club in western Wedington sprawlville. "One of the things I really don't want to see impacted is transportation," he said. "The pockets of poverty in our community are getting further spread out. ... We need to reach out more and bring people into the club." No, Eric, the pockets of low and middle income families are where they've always been. It is your facility that is farther out.

The city can address the immediate threat by contracting only for transportation costs and fee scholarships for low and moderate income children. It would have made far more sense to have built the Boys and Girls Club in the Walker Park area, where it could have served more children after school and on weekends without the expense of a massive busing program that wastes tax dollars and energy. Apparently, Board member Jeff Koenig still doesn't get it. Building a new high school out in Wheeler is not the solution; it will just make matters worse.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Educational Priorities

There are plenty of websites, blogs, and whole sections of newspapers devoted to sports, so I try to avoid that topic here. An exception is when school superintendents and college presidents come out of the locker room closet and reveal their true institutional priorities. That is what happened yesterday and is worth noting.

If you have ever made a contribution to the University of Arkansas and that donation was less than $3.5 million, you should be aware that your tax-deductible gift just went into Houston Nutt's pocket. Wally Hall says that was the size of the resigning bonus Nutt was given by UA Chancellor John White. Of all the possible uses of foundation funds to advance the educational mission of the University, White decided that giving millions as a going away present to a quitter was the best use and top priority for the money donated to help the University.

"We seen it coming," said Stanley Reed, chairman of the UA Board of Trustees. "We knew we were negotiating to the point of what was best for all parties concerned. I don't think it should be a surprise to anybody that's been around Arkansas the last month or two." It was somewhat of a surprise that White reportedly offered Nutt a two-year contract extension to 2014 and an annual salary of $2.4 million to stay then gave him $3.5 million in foundation money as a gift after Nutt rejected the offer. Who saw that coming?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Going Postal

The Bush-Cheney Administration, legislative booger hunters, and bureaucratic rulemakers continue to exhibit a hysteria that knows no bounds for making life more difficult and rights less secure, and my latest experience exceeds my amazement at having to eject my toothpaste and nail clippers at XNA.

I recently tried to mail a book to a friend. It was an adult book entitled Blood in Their Eyes by Grif Stockley, about the Elaine Massacre of 1919 and the subsequent legal battles. My regular letter carrier told me that he was "prohibited" from picking it up along with the rest of my out-going mail, because it weighed more than 13 ounces and had official USPS stamps on it. I looked as confused as I was. Homeland Security was the answer. I would have to mail it from the Post Office.

I drove to the Post Office and deposited the book in the outgoing mail slot in the lobby. In a few days it came back to my house, even though it had more than enough stamps to cover the postage. It was returned "due to heightened security requirements." Another sticker informed me that I must personally present it to a "retail service associate at a Post Office."

So, the gang that can't find Osama bin Laden with both hands, is protecting our country by making me take off time from work, drive to a Post Office during business hours, stand in line for 30 minutes, hand my book to a postal employee, present identification, be visually evaluated as a potential terrorist, watch my stamped package get tossed in a bin, and hope it arrives within a month of the event that led to the gift.

You could be next, so remember this if you're sending Christmas gifts, running a home Ebay business, or planning to mail explosives weighing more than 13 ounces.

Quote of the Day

"Any cutback on information now available should be considered unacceptable. Fayetteville has a reputation for being especially willing to debate local issues. The attitude is so commonplace that it’s become common knowledge that nothing gets done in Fayetteville without a furious argument beforehand. Which speaks well of its citizens’ interest in their town. Now somebody is proposing a change in the way information about city government is made available. Cost-cutting or no cost-cutting, this is no way to proceed in Fayetteville, where opinions may outnumber the population.

"In response to the proposal from city hall, the cable station is doing what it does best. It’s taking the discussion to the public. A forum has been scheduled for next week, and the debate should be enlightening. For a city that prides itself on staying informed about itself, the forum will be another opportunity for citizens to remind their government that things work best when the public is kept in the loop.

"The government channel serves an important role in the democratic process in Fayetteville. Anything with the potential to diminish its independence or reduce the information that the channel provides deserves all the skepticism this latest proposal has inspired."

-- Editorial, "Here We Go Again," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette NW

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Downright Depressing

Depression is a dangerous disease, and lawyers are more prone to it than members of any other profession. A 1990 study at Johns Hopkins University found that of 28 occupations studied, lawyers were the most likely to suffer depression, and were more than 3.6 times more likely than average to do so. Why? Perfectionism (wanting to avoid public failure) and pessimism (skepticism of what clients, witnesses, and opposing counsel tell us), leading to stress and disillusionment, which make us vulnerable to depression. Or maybe we work too much and blog too little?

You think I'm kidding, but in Arkansas we have a Lawyers Assistance Program to help attorneys and their families deal with stress and related problems, and about 230 of roughly 6,500 licensed lawyers are in the program. An article by Michelle Bradford reports that "the number of lawyers in Northwest Arkansas has grown tremendously in the past few years, and so has the number of lawyers needing services." I'll buy that.

What is really depressing is the lack of compassion, intelligence, ethics, and critical thinking skills of the students in law school today. A prime example is the incoherent screed in today's newspaper by someone named David Hardaway, who claims to be a law student in a course called Employment Law, one that is always taught from the perspective of the employer's lawyer, since they pay better. Hardaway rambles on, but his main point seems to be that "a minimum wage increase is unnecessary because there are plenty of new immigrants to the country who are more than willing to work at the current minimum wage or even less. They are grateful for the work and they find a way to live on the money they make. People who advocate an increase in minimum wage are doing more harm than good for this country by continuing to foster in our poorer citizens a false sense of entitlement."

That's the kind of self-serving nonsense that gives lawyers a bad name and exposes the weaknesses of admission standards and legal education at the UA Law School. And it makes me depressed.

Just Another Bunch of Bureaucrats?

The Multi-basin Regional Water Council is a newly formed organization of more than 20 water-related organizations in this region, which includes contiguous areas of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, encompassing at least a half-dozen watersheds. It is meant to help the organizations cooperate in "promoting common planning and focused action; providing information-exchange and common decision-making tools; and raising public awareness of their efforts, objectives, and achievements."

A survey of the member organizations identified some of the common threats to water quality in Northwest Arkansas: uncontrolled development; stormwater and urban runoff; cost of wastewater treatment; and changing the public attitude toward environmental protection. Those are a good start, but the omission of the obvious effects of land application of 1.2 million tons chicken litter without any meaningful nutrient management plan would seem to reduce their credibility in "changing the public attitude toward environmental protection."

The concept of a regional approach to protecting water quality could be a good development. Pretending that agricultural non-point pollution doesn't exist or is not a serious water quality problem might be politically popular with the chicken corporations, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Farm Bureau, but the only public attitude that approach will change is the one toward the value of a Multi-basin Regional Water Council that fronts for power by protecting the financial profits of polluters.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Multi-Media Personality

The mainstream media hardly pretend to be much more than advertising and cheap entertainment, so it is good to see a local radio station out on the cutting edge of unreality radio. Former Centerton Mayor Ken Williams, who resigned earlier this week after confessing he was really a brainwashed preacher named Don LaRose, yesterday was back on air at KURM-AM 790 where he’d worked as a popular on-air personality for 17 years.

On KURM, Williams recounted his story about being kidnapped by devil worshipers, having his memory erased like a jump drive, waking up in a boxcar in Minneapolis, spending time in a mental institution, chemical hypnosis, phones being tapped, riding a bicycle from Indiana to Iowa, and leaving behind a wife and two children — preparing him well to be an on-air media personality and mayor of a town in Benton County.

After the one-hour broadcast interview by Kermit Womack, whose son is also a former on-air radio personality and mayor of a town in Benton County, Womack said, “Ken worked at KURM for 17 years, and he’s one of the most professional people we’ve ever had here.” That is probably true. Womack implied that he’d welcome the former Centerton mayor back on the air without hesitation and said a typical listener called the station to suggest that LaRose-Williams run for mayor again.

That's about par for the mainstream media in Benton County -- and elsewhere.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Siloam Springs Unfriendly to Business

Two weeks ago the Siloam Springs Planning Commission approved an ordinance to restrict certain retail shops and new businesses to one acre of industrial land and to keep them 1,000 feet away from churches, homes, parks, schools and other areas frequented by children. Businesses covered by the ordinance include strip clubs, nude model studios, adult theaters and arcades, and massage clinics that offer “adult services.” A special use permit would be required before such a shop could open.

The City Council will vote on the ordinance on December 4, but several local Siloam Springs residents oppose the ordinance because it isn’t restrictive enough. They don't care about economic development or free enterprise; they want the businesses banned completely. They might also like to see an ordinance that bans sex and self-abuse within the city limits, but this would be a good first step.

This is good news for the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds, because they can now quit whining that Fayetteville has the most "unfriendly" attitude toward business and economic development. We already have a Hooters.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Being Thankful and Giving Thanks

The thoughtful words of Brenda Blagg call upon on us to address the twin specters of food insecurity and true hunger. "This is the time of year when food banks everywhere try to remind those of us fortunate enough not to need them that there are hungry people in this country, including around a half-million in Arkansas. . . . More people experience food insecurity than real hunger, but statistics for both are bad. More than one in 20 Arkansas households know hunger regularly," she reminds us. "Struggling families really need this food safety net provided through donations of goods or money to food banks and pantries. . . . You can give real food, but cash donations may stretch more, given the buying power of a charity. Donations can be made online to Arkansas Foodbank Network at

On this day, I am also thankful that
the Salvation Army in Fayetteville and Springdale will begin serving free meals to those who need them from 10: 30 a. m. until 3: 30 p. m. The Fayetteville location is 219 W. 15 th St., and the Springdale location is 315 Holcomb St. The Seven Hills Homeless Center doors will open at 8 a. m., and food will be served from 11: 30 a. m. to 2 p. m. The shelter is located at 1561 W. Sixth St. in Fayetteville. You can support both organizations with donations of cash, canned goods, or clothing at any time.

I am also grateful for the words and wit of Grady Jim Robinson on Thanksgiving. "We should spend a few moments pondering our blessings. I’ve noticed that the older I get my blessings have changed considerably. We tend to shift toward the simpler things in life," he writes. "This Thanksgiving I give special thanks: For conversations and cocktails with good friends. Fayetteville is a great place for pleasant friendships; For Dickson Street, the Blair Library and the Dickson Street Bookshop; For Fayetteville’s many artists, poets, playwrights and writers, and for all their patrons who appreciate the arts."

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them," said some speechwriter for John F. Kennedy. I am thankful today for both words to live by and deeds that share our blessings, as well as the bounty my friends, family, and community have received.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

There Is Hope Yet

The Federal Emergency Management Agency last week said it spends $1,089,350 per month to store and maintain 19,602 vacant mobile homes and travel trailers on Hope Municipal Airport property. The City of Hope collects about $25,000 monthly rent for the property, and about 75 people are currently employed at the site, where FEMA monthly payroll costs are $416,755.

Wesley Woodard, president of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation, said the city reaps an economic windfall comparable to the revenue generated by a small industry. This is much better than losing money every year like Fayetteville does with Drake Field.

Now here's something that Ray Boudreaux could do to justify his fat city salary and cauterize the annual operating loss of maintaining Drake Field for the jet set, still estimated at a continuing loss of tens of thousands of dollars in Mayor Coody's 2008 proposed budget. Fayetteville could submit a lower bid for trailer storage at Drake Field, since only a few wealthy corporate executives are using it anyway. We could even rent out the trailers until the city builds that golf course and those multi-million dollar homes with private runway access proposed in Ray's new $62 million Airport Master Plan.

Let's enjoy the benefits of the Bush administration's wasteful federal deficit spending instead of wasting our own local revenues in Mayor Coody's shrinking budget. Congressman John Boozman could use his enormous power and influence with George Bush to get the trailer storage contract for us instead of Hope, represented by that young Democratic Congressman Mike Ross who delivers for his constituents.

Why We Not Have?

Oklahoma's courageous Attorney General Drew Edmondson has been fighting to protect water quality in the Illionois River watershed in Benton and Washington Counties, while our state officials, local chicken corporations, and the Chamber of Commerce have opposed his efforts to protect our environment and asserted their right to keep polluting our water.

Now Attorney General Edmondson has partnered with Wal-Mart to help end the cycle of domestic violence with a public awareness campaign called "End the Silence -- End the Violence" that he said will "try to stop the curse of domestic violence." Wal-Mart has agreed to place specially designed informational posters in female-only areas of its stores, such as bathrooms and dressing rooms, where abuse victims can privately gain access to information out of sight of their abuser, Edmondson said. The goal of the campaign is to help domestic violence victims get information about shelters and domestic violence service programs in their area. Informational leaflets are printed in both English and Spanish.

Domestic violence is a serious problem in our state. The National Violence Center reported that Arkansas ranked 6th nationally in per capita number of females murdered by males, with 28 deaths in 2005. We should initiate a similar partnership with Wal-Mart in Arkansas for a campaign to provide essential information and assistance to those who are victims of domestic abuse.

Do you think the corporate interests controlling the Chamber of Commerce will also oppose this humanitarian effort as well? There is just as much right to abuse women and children by hitting them as there is to pollute the water they drink. Absolutely none.

The Sneakthief of Liberty

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding."- Justice Louis Brandeis

It was not on the Final Agenda for the City Council last night, or I would have been there to speak against it. Instead, Mayor Dan Coody pulled another last minute maneuver to amend an ordinance without advance notice, public comment, or adequate consideration and deliberation by the Council.

Coody's amendment
allows for a person to be removed from any city board by Council Resolution, proposed by any alderman or the mayor, if anyone is offended by "abusive comments" made during discussion. What kind of political correctness nonsense is that? Polite and inoffensive discussion is nice, but should it be mandated by law?

We need vigorous, passionate, wide-open discussion of controversial public issues, and we need public servants with the courage to express their positions. There is no right not to be offended by what someone says, but now Fayetteville has made it an offense to offend by words in the course of performing public service. This opens the door for insidious viewpoint discrimination and a pretext for removing board members who disagree with the Mayor or his political supporters and financial backers.

Mayor Coody can be glad that the ordinance doesn't provide for the removal of a mayor who makes abusive comments to or about elected members of the City Council.

Bullshitter of the Day

“This is a pretty big, outrageous thing. I think that someone who is going to be a mayor and leader in a community has to have credibility with the staff, the people and with the city council. I hope they don’t feel betrayed.”

Don LaRose aka Centerton Mayor Ken Williams, quoted in Benton County Daily Record

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Reason I Love Fayetteville

Alan Wilbourn has a regular Tuesday column in the Northwest Arkansas Times about the goings on in the Fayetteville Public Schools. I was relieved but not really surprised that today's column was not devoted to hyping up the state 7A football championship game this weekend. Wilborn chose to write about things much more important, but he did so with mirth by adapting David Letterman's Top Ten format.

I don't disagree with any of his ten items, although I might have arranged them differently or tried to squeeze in even more. For example, I would have included thanks that the School Board has decided to keep and expand the high school on the present campus. Also, I would have placed this one higher on my list than No. 7: "That we can agree to disagree and still be friends and neighbors. We understand that differences in opinions are not character flaws in the other person or reasons to go to war against each other. Fayetteville always has and always will love a good debate!"

Wilbourn will get no quarrel from me on his top three:
No. 3. That we live in a “wired” community. No, not the kind of wired that will get you drug tested. The kind of technologically wired, plugged-in people who keep up with what’s going on via technology and are savvy in the newest and coolest tech gadgets.
No. 2. Our teachers. There are days and situations when I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be a teacher. But, thankfully for us, they’re there, day in and day out, molding, shaping, and persuading young lives. When they retire, few of them get the kind of sendoff they deserve, like the one in “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” though they certainly deserve it.
No. 1. Our students. They just “get it,” whether it’s academics, athletics, community service or being environmentally responsible. They grasp what is important, and they will do the heavy lifting necessary to get it done. Like collecting more than 22,000 pounds of food for the Ozark Food Bank last week.

We do have much to appreciate and to be thankful for during this holiday season. Thanks, Alan, for that reminder.

Quote of the Day

"I understand the methods of Arkansas’ good ole boys. …It’s not difficult for them to exchange favors and take full advantage of their privileged status. Chances are you, too, have observed the good-ole-boy networks in action. These clubs cluster around the magnets of political power and lucre.

"I also believe that while we may call ourselves a democratic republic of free and equal people, those are noble-sounding phrases rather than the realities of day-to-day life for many. The phrase “doing the right thing” becomes but a dream for the masses when this noble principle is crushed for the benefit and protection of a clustered few. …

"I’m convinced that these pockets of undue control are a fundamental reason why our state remains near the bottom of most national categories. The rich do get richer, the middle class stays afloat and the indigent of virtually every community remain impoverished. …It’s little wonder that the ordinary people who must live or work under the control of such networks fear the power that they wield over their lives. Those excluded can come to feel that change for the better is hopeless. …

"Naturally, they sometimes turn to their last possible hope, the media. Today, however, many in the media lack the inclination to shine a revealing light into the darkness. …Any hope for evolution toward higher functioning in our mutual dealings lies in the heart, conscience and strength of character of those who are gears inside the machines. They alone must realize how crucial it is to have honorable systems that function fairly in which political decisions are made for the obviously right reasons rather than with personal gain or political favoritism in mind."

--Mike Masterson, "Cronyism Hard to Defeat," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Monday, November 19, 2007

What Is "Economic Development" Anyway?

Just what is "economic development," anyway? Bill Ramsey says its not the $113,000 in public funds wasted on the light bulb festival, and he doubts that the Chamber of Cowbirds will pony up and pay for the spectacle they've been claiming for years. He said he has never seen any economic impact study, so there is no way of knowing how much revenue is generated for private businesses in town. The public has been told for years that the light bulb spectacle was good for business, but finally someone admitted that was BS without any evidence of income for anyone except the light bulb sellers.

There are probably more important priorities given the state of the Fayetteville economy. "Economic development and working with Steve Rust [Fayetteville Economic Development Council] will always be our number one priority,” Ramsey said. “It had better be our number one priority.” So we have the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, the Chamber of Cowbirds, and city employee Ray Boudreaux (half time jet set valet and half time meeting attender) all working on something important called "economic development."

What is economic development and who benefits? I had always thought it was about good jobs for people who live and work in a community, but I must be wrong. The Chamber and the FEDC advocated raising your property taxes to build a new high school out in Wheeler. They were against road impact fees on developers who create demands on the infrastructure, wanting to shift those costs to you. They also want residents paying higher water and sewer rates to subsidize corporate welfare in lower rates for industrial corporations. They want to abolish the sign ordinance. They fight against increeases in the minimum wage and even tried to lower the minimum wage for wait staff. You get the picture. It's about growth at any cost and higher profits for big business and developers.

What else have they produced for all their efforts and expense in the last year? How many new jobs have been created in Fayetteville? How many of those new jobs pay a living wage? Figures released last May from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that job creation in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers-Bentonville Metropolitan Statistical Area, had fallen below projected statistical trends for the first four months of 2007. According to the latest Skyline Report just issued this month from the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, job growth in our area is down by about 16% below its five-year average, which translates into about 90 fewer new jobs per month.

So, what is economic development again?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Quote of the Day

" Keeping the public’s business public takes eternal vigilance. . . .

"Technology should be used to make access to government easier.

"I believe in newspapers and their role of delivering the news of the day in digestible form to readers, but I also believe citizens should be involved in their government. Sometimes, hearing a debate from beginning to end is important to understanding the nuances of the discussion.

"The more access is embraced and celebrated, the more the public will be served."

Greg Harton, "All Out in the Open," Northwest Arkansas Times

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Words and Deeds

Mayor Dan Coody has shown himself to be a master of manipulation. Events on Thursday and subsequent news reports on Friday gave him an opportunity to create a diversion and try to avoid responsibility for the current budget debacle. On cue, the Northwest Arkansas Times fell for the pseudo-event and missed the news.

Three news articles reported on real events and real responses. First, a staff memo from Susan Thomas Ph.D. proposed to cut positions related to neighborhood organizations and PEG cable operations and create another public relations position reporting to Dr. Thomas. The Times reported on the memo and council reaction to the cuts on Thursday, and on Friday there was an article on the reaction from the Telecommunication Board. The Morning News also reported on the Thomas memo and the reaction, including an admission by Alderman Adella Gray that she trusts the staff recommendations more than her own judgment because, "They know a lot more about what's going on."

Another article in the Times reported on something worth even more attention. It was announced on Thursday and reported on Friday that the Mayor's $186 million sewer plant was facing yet another cost over-run, this time a $700,000 no-bid hiccup because someone "didn't have their thinking cap on" and failed to include the cost of essential equipment. The report was delivered for Coody by Dave Jurgens, the same fellow named in an ongoing sewer lawsuit and for whom the council had just appropriated $50,000 for his legal fees. The Council's Water and Sewer Committee was not pleased.

To divert public attention from the proposed firings and the cost overruns, Mayor Coody dressed up like a redneck with a red bandana to focus on a comment made by Telecommunication Board member Jon Zimmer. Zimmer was making a point in the meeting that the PEG channels were more important and should have a higher budget priority than the light bulb festival. He foolishly added that the city light bulbs were being installed by "rednecks."

Rather than address Zimmer's point, defend the cuts contained in the Thomas memo, or explain his latest cost overrun debacle, Coody attacked Zimmer for using the word redneck. The light bulb installers couldn't be rednecks because Coody's man Gary Dumas said the city was paying the 25 Parks and Recreation crew members who have been working for six weeks an average wage of $13.84 an hour. Instead of explaining the sewer cost overrun and taking action against those who have been responsible for millions of dollars in extra expenses, Coody wants a city ordinance against using certain words in public debate so he can fire volunteer members of advisory boards more easily than he can purge planning commissioners. And this is what the reporter thought was news and what the Northwest Arkansas Times published today. Trained lapdogs.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Chamber Pot and Poultry Polluters

The Poultry Community Council must think that it has a right to pollute our lakes and rivers and that it must do so to make big profits. Yesterday the Council of Chicken Corporations accused Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson of trying to destroy the poultry industry by requesting a preliminary injunction to halt the spreading of poultry litter in the Illinois River watershed. Water testing within the watershed has found fecal bacteria levels comparable to raw sewage.

Attorney General Edmondson is suing Arkansas poultry producers over the pollution of lakes and streams by chicken litter, because he believes we will face dire consequences if we do not protect our water quality. “Destroy the water and the farms will disappear and the people will leave the cities,” Edmondson told water managers and planners at an Oklahoma Governor’s Water Conference. “Destroy the water and you destroy the future for our children and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its National Chamber Litigation Center have filed briefs in the case opposing Edmondson and supporting the chicken corporations, which one commentator said was calling in their friends "to help them pollute the legal waters” as well. You know where the local Chamber of Cowbirds stands on this issue.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The City's Idea of Public Information

An informed public can be inconvenient for those in power. When the people have the facts, keep a close eye on the actions of public officials, and express their concerns or make suggestions, well, it is a democratic distraction. The most recent suggestion for cutting city expenses reflects the administration's conception of public information as a controlled one-way process.

In a late coming email yesterday, Susan Thomas, Mayor Coody's public information and policy adviser, laid out the administration's proposal to gut the community's unique Public, Education, and Government cable system in the name of efficiency. Fewer meetings of public boards and commissions will be covered on the government channel, and it will likely kill that pesky community access television that thinks it's about freedom of expression.

There might be good reasons to replace some of the city employees involved, but it would be difficult to make a case that the function is less important to citizens than funding out-of-state travel by administrators. It appears to be more of an excuse to curtail the ability of citizens to keep an eye on public meetings and to express their views on community access cable. You'll recall that the last cost savings measure was to abolish transcripts of meetings of the City Council and Planning Commission, and timely website updates to the council agenda appear to be a thing of the past.

Adding insult to injury, Thomas says the administration will add one loyal full-time public information coordinator position to feed the people the government's positions in a monthly e-newsletter and updates on the wastewater cost overruns and street bond program. They want to be able to tell you what they want you to know, but they can do without having you knowing what they're really doing or letting them know what you think. When you do speak up, they'll say you're misinformed and don't know what you're talking about. I mean even more than they do already.

There are cuts to be made and programs to be abolished, but eliminating an informed citizenry should not be among them.

Republican Rumblings

Washington County Republicans have been making the news this week. The biggest surprise was the announcement by someone named Gene Long that he has the time to run for public office and wants to be in the state legislature. He will challenge incumbent Jim House, the popular Fayetteville representative who has been one of the more impressive freshmen legislators of the last session.

Long is an insurance salesman from Louisiana who has lived in Fayetteville for 10 years. According to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Long said he doesn’t have anything against Representative House, and he can't name anything specific that he would do differently from the incumbent legislator. “It’s just the perfect time for me,” he said. We'll see.

Mark Martin, the unpredictable Republican State Representative from Prairie Grove, issued some kind of statement this week complaining that the National Right to Life interest group has endorsed Republican Fred Thompson for President. Martin said it made him sad, because Thompson does not support amending the United States constitution to ban all abortions, and that he would not be giving the anti-abortion organization any more money.

Other big news this week for Arkansas Republicans is that Dick Cheney will be in Little Rock on Friday to raise money for John Boozman, and Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi, endorsed Mike Huckabee for President. It's a Grand Old Party.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

So, It Wasn't the Impact Fees?

Remember last spring when Ben Israel, Jeff Koenig, Bill Ramsey, and the rest of the Free Lunch Club were tying to make us believe that reasonable fees to cover the impact of development would hurt Fayetteville's reputation and kill new development? They fooled half of the voters and got their way. Now the truth is out.

“Due to the current instability of the commercial and residential markets, the progress of the development has been delayed,” wrote Michael Morgan of McClelland Consulting Engineers in one of several requests by developers to the Planning Commission for more time to get needed building permits and complete projects. Kathy Deck, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, presented the Quarterly Business Analysis yesterday and told local real estate developers that the good news is that residential building permits are down, when we were earlier told that would be bad news.

It wasn't impact fees that caused Mason Hiba to sue Brandon Barber and John Ed Chambers because of missed construction deadlines and several liens that were being placed on the Bellafont building due to nonpayment to subcontractors. It wasn't impact fees that caused the glut of empty houses and more than 1.6 million square feet of vacant office space in the two-county area, up 76. 98% from the same quarter last year. It wasn't impact fees that stalled the city-subsidized Renaissance Towers Marriott and led to monthly payments for liquidated damages.

You can blame "market conditions," or you can blame developers looking for a quick buck who didn't think through projects or plan for changing conditions. You can't blame the proposed impact fees, because the Chamber and the developers made sure that didn't pass. Those who falsely cry wolf should not be surprised by a lack of smypathy when he's at their door.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Starting to Look Like a Bandwagon

None other than the venerable sage George Arnold, opinion editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s northwest edition, now makes the case for Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody as the Democratic Party's nominee for Congress. He notes Coody's options and asks, "But is there another race in Dan Coody’s future? ... How does this sound? Dan Coody for Congress. ... Yep, there’s some discussion that Mayor Coody might make a worthy Democratic opponent for John Boozman, the Republican representative from the Third District."

"He’s not talking, so the rest of us must wait a while to see what he’s going to do," said Arnold. "The blogging about a possible congressional run could be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of his supporters or of Democratic stalwarts. But the mayor could be a formidable candidate. He’s experienced, with a generally good record as mayor of Fayetteville. (Don’t ask about the sewer plant overruns. ) He’s also articulate, and has been getting some notice in presentations around the country in which he’s been talking up Fayetteville for national audiences."

Arnold does not gloss over the difficulty of such a campaign, but he cogently argues, "The mayor would have some things going for him when it comes to national politics, too. We’re still a year away from the 2008 elections. But there’s a general weariness with Republicans. The president’s approval ratings are at historic lows. Republican congressmen are announcing their retirements at a steady clip. A lot can change in 12 months, but 2008 is shaping up as a Democratic year. If Dan Coody is thinking about life beyond the mayor’s office (as his supporters are no doubt reminding him ), a run for Congress by the long-time mayor could make political sense."

That sounds about right.

Monday, November 12, 2007

How Newspapers Manufacture News

Last week a fellow named Walt Eilers gathered up some friends, perched himself on the west side of the square, and announced that he wanted to be Mayor of Fayetteville. He went through some talking points and offered a list of innocuous goals, essentially saying he was for more of the same. That exercise in political platitudes was covered quite well by the reporters there that day.

Dug Begley of The Morning News added a bit of tension to the story by asking Mr. Eilers about the possibility that incumbent Mayor Dan Coody might run for reelection. Eilers said he didn't think Coody would run. "But if Dan runs, then there's two of us," he replied but then added, "If Lioneld [Jordan] runs, then there's three." Interesting answer to a question that wasn't asked.

Adam Wallworth of the Northwest Arkansas Times waited until the second paragraph before adding a quote from Alderman Lioneld Jordan about his interest in running for mayor. He followed that with comments from Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, who has also let it be known that he would like the job.

Then, yesterday Greg Harton's weekly opionion column touched on the developing race for mayor. Eilers is the only announced candidate, but Harton gave as much or more attention to the coy Mayor Coody and Republican businessman Koenig's plans to announce soon. Then came this: "Last week’s most surprising development for some was the move by Alderman Lioneld Jordan to toss his hat into the mayoral ring. That’s going to make the race very, very interesting. Jordan, who works for the University of Arkansas’ Facilities Management, has served Ward 4 for nearly seven years and serves in the ceremonial post of vice mayor. State law allows anyone holding an elective office to include the title of that office on the ballot, so Jordan might get a minor boost from his experience even as people cast the ballot."

Did Jordan really do that hat tossing thing, or did he just answer a reporter's question? Maybe it doesn't matter. Harton still says "
it will be a great year for a community discussion about what’s important to Fayetteville, what needs to be done to protect Fayetteville’s future and what voters want changed, if anything. And the best place in Fayetteville to watch it all unfold will be your local newspaper."

The local newspapers will even help that unfolding along if necessary, because readership is important to advertisers and advertising revenues are at the heart of the contemporary First Amendment. Just kidding. Actually it is the questioning that makes it interesting and news, and the editorial speculation by the corporate media is almost as entertaining as the blogs. Can you imagine reading reprints of politicians' press releases?

Reading between the "unfolding" lines in the local newspapers, as Harton said, the real news is that Vice Mayor and Alderman Lioneld Jordan might be a candidate. He has more experience and understanding of city government than Eilers and Koenig combined, and his candidacy would make it "very, very interesting." It is a possibility that is already making the local blogs.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Our Own Little Joe Lieberman

The headline in today’s Northwest Edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said, “No opponent in sight for Pryor Senate seat; Republican leaders see little to criticize.” Neither State Republican Party Chairman Dennis Milligan nor Republican Congressman John Boozman could think of any example to offer of a criticism of Mark Pryor that Republicans could use in a race next year.

“My take is they don’t have anyone outside of the Benton County area willing to take on an incumbent United States senator with a record they can’t find fault with,” said Bill Gwatney, Chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. “What issue would they run on?” Good point. Pryor has given unflinching support for George Bush’s senseless war in Iraq. He has voted to confirm his right wing judges and Supreme Court Justices. He backs the Bush administration position on torture. This way, they get a consistent Republican vote every time without having to run a campaign.

While the Republicans love Mark Pryor, he should not have been surprised to hear criticism from Democrats – even in Benton County – where he was keynote speaker at a chili supper attended by about 70 Democrats in Rogers yesterday. Pryor lamely advocated doing whatever Bush wanted to do in Iraq, but the Real Democrats were not buying it.

Roger Joslin of Bentonville told Pryor, "With all due respect, I think you're too much caught up in it. We need to get out today." The mother of a wounded veteran in the group said her son has suffered permanent physical and psychological disabilities, plus a divorce, from wounds that finally ended extended and repeated deployments to Iraq. "Bring our boys home and take care of our country," she pleaded.

My prediction: Pryor will be reelected with solid Republican support, but Rebekah Kennedy will get more than 100,000 votes.

Big Bucks for Bentonville Bosses

The Democrat-Gazette reported today that four Wal-Mart bosses are among the 10 highest-paid corporate executives in ArkansasDr. Lee Scott at $23 million, John Menzer at $12.2 million, Michael Duke at $10.8 million and Eduardo Castro-Wright at $6.5 million. The $23 million paid to Dr. Scott was more than any other Arkansas public company executive received. In 2004, Tom Coughlin was the highest-paid Wal-Mart executive at $19 million plus unlimited gift cards.

Allowing for two weeks vacation and not deducting for playing golf, Dr. Scott’s hourly wage was $11,500 an hour. That is somewhat more than the hourly wage of most Wal-Mart employees. In fact, it is more than 1,000 times what the average "associate" gets paid and well over twice the national average for CEO/employee salary disparities.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mayor Tells Council to Buck Off

Springdale Mayor Jerry Van Hoose told the City Council that he could not or would not make the necessary cuts to present a balanced budget for next year. Abdicating his responsibility and trying to shift the political heat for reductions in services or personnel, he responded to their request for spending cuts by returning his original proposal that would transfer $2 million from the capital improvement program and still leave the city $400,000 in the hole.

Buck up and be responsible, Mr. Mayor. Either you do your job, or you lose control of the executive budget. Someone will do it, even if by default, and that Chicken Little routine about cutting 60 employees or entire departments is nonsense. You can cut $400,000 without breaking a sweat. Return your police force to local service and patrol duties instead of being substitute ICE agents for the feds, and that saves six positions by attrition. Ask the cops to forfeit that money they scammed from citizens and put that in the general fund. Stop public subsidies for private business interests and let the Chamber of Commerce survive in the free market they always praise. Take a look at how much money the city is losing on that local airport to serve a few big shots with private planes and try telling the voters that is a wise use of their tax dollars that can't be cut.

The Fayetteville City Council agenda for November 20 has scheduled approval of the 2008 Budget and Work Plan. Citizens and Aldermen are looking forward to seeing Mayor Dan Coody's proposed balanced budget, hopefully in time to give it some study and consideration before being asked to rubber stamp whatever is laid before them. About right now would be a good time.

No word yet from Tontitown Mayor Joe Edgmon on that town's proposed budget, but at least the City Council has a remedy for a mayor who fails or refuses to do the job for which they were elected.

Friday, November 9, 2007

More City Help for Corporate Jet Owners

Ray Boudreaux, the city employee who is paid to be director of the Fayetteville airport serving people who have private planes, yesterday accepted a $600,000 check from state government, representing 50% of the costs of two new hangars for corporate customers. The grant from the state will be matched by the city of Fayetteville.

“Over the last five years, we have invested about $9,200,000 in this airport,” Boudreaux said. Of that amount, $4.2 million came from the federal government, $2.2 million came from state appropriations, and $2.8 million "came from the city.” This money, he said, makes it possible "to improve and provide service to the flying public.”

Although the airport operation is losing thousands of dollars each year by providing service below cost to corporations, it still has funds in reserve to cover the annual losses. Some in city government seem to think that improving the hangar facilities for corporate jets is a higher priority than spending for other city services that are facing $2.3 million in cuts. The City Council is considering a hiring freeze and delaying cost-of-living adjustments for lower paid employees, and the staff is considering additional program cuts in services.

To learn more about how the new corporate jet hangars can benefit you or your corporation and how to take advantage of this important service, click here.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Is There a Vacancy?

In another sign that Mayor Dan Coody has other plans, Walt Eilers, president of a consulting firm that specializes in fundraising for nonprofits, announced today as a candidate for Mayor of Fayetteville. He has not held public office before, but he has been active in the community as chairman of the Susan Komen Race for the Cure and is involved with the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association.

Judging by his recent political contributions, Eilers would appear to be a Democrat. He has made a contribution to the Democratic Party of Arkansas ($264) this year, and in 2006 he made contributions to Democratic candidates Mike Beebe ($200), Robert Herzfeld ($300), Lindsley Smith ($100), and Diana Gonzales Worthen ($150).

At his announcement on the Fayetteville square today, Eilers told a group of supporters that his goal was "moving Fayetteville forward." That is a safe theme but still a contrast with Koenig the Republican's slogan of "moving Fayetteville backwards."

Other names of possible candidates being tossed around in the rumor mill include Alderman Lioneld Jordan, former alderman Don Marr, and Mark Kinion.

Decoration Day?

Decked out in GE light bulbs for Confederate Veterans’ Day in celebration of those domestic terrorists and enemy combatants who tried to overthrow the United States Government by force and violence? Getting an early start on promoting Thanksgiving sales figures? No, the monument will be lit up on November 17th to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus.

Thanks to the keen eye of Jason Ivester of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for capturing this view of the Confederate Monument facing the Wal-Mart Museum on the Bentonville Square and giving us a look into the commercial Christmas soul of Northwest Arkansas.

Old times here are not forgotten. But in the state's most Republican of counties, it seems that Abraham Lincoln has been, along with his ideas about liberty and justice for all.

Belly-Up in Benton County

A wave of foreclosures is sweeping Benton County, and developers say its not their fault. Just because they decided to build huge McMansions in exclusive enclaves instead of affordable housing in established neighborhoods, they are blameless. This time its not the usual bugaboo of impact fees nor planning commission regulations but that old familiar devil -- the media.

Regions Bank and First Security Bank filed the suits in Benton County Circuit Court against Johnny King Construction, foreclosing on 11 lots and three houses in the gated Pinnacle Country Club estates in Rogers to recover almost $2.5 million. “The media has [sic] hurt us bad [sic]. They all say you can buy properties for next to nothing now, but it isn’t true. ... Everyone wants to offer a lot less than what you need for your house,” said Johnny King.

First Federal Bank of Harrison has filed a foreclosure suit against Rogers-based builder Wayne Mumford seeking repayment of nearly $1 million in loans on two properties Mumford built in the Windsor Manor subdivision in Bentonville. Mumford has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

There has been no news coverage of foreclosures against or bankruptcies by developers who are building homes eligible for FHA, HUD, or VA mortgages. Maybe because the hotshot developers in Northwest Arkansas have no interest in building affordable homes for moderate income families?

Po Po Pinocchio

Springdale's finest, the police force that says it is understaffed yet has assigned surplus officers to the federal snipe hunt unit, has been telling fibs about other things, too. The department is conducting an internal investigation into the Fraternal Order of Police fundraising scam at a softball tournament and a charity golf tournament the cops held earlier this year. Doh! Where else would they investigate?

Donors were told or led to believe that the funds would go to the "Shop with a Cop" program for underprivileged kids. Thousands of dollars were raised from trusting citizens. Turns out that 75% went to the marketing firm collecting the money, and the rest went into the pot for whatever the Fraternal Order of the Police wanted to spend on themselves.

The police and their fundraising operations do not consider themselves covered by the Do Not Call laws that allow citizens to avoid telemarketers. The next time one of them calls asking for a donation to one of their various public relations projects, ask them how that internal investigation is going.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bad Day for Boozman

The Gallup Poll reported yesterday that 64% of Americans disapprove of the job John Boozman's hero George Bush is doing, and USAToday notes that for “the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50% say they 'strongly disapprove’ of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous high, 48%, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974.”

In Washington yesterday, Congressman Boozman joined fellow Republicans and voted against legislation providing funds for health care, education and job-training programs -- including the Veterans Affairs appropriation, funding for the cancer research center at UAMS, and $215,000 in technology funds for North Arkansas Community College -- which Bush has threatened to veto. The measure passed by a vote of 269-142.

As Boozman was voting against the bill, local residents gathered at the Fayetteville Town Center to call attention to funding cuts proposed by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Parents of children with disabilities organized the gathering in Fayetteville in part to convince Boozman, the only member of the Arkansas congressional delegation who voted to sustain Bush’s veto of the children's health legislation, to change his mind and support funding for programs such as the Benton County Sunshine School in Rogers. He was not moved.

Then, word leaked out that Dick Cheney was coming to Arkansas this week to raise funds for the Republicans, of which John Boozman is the only one elected to Congress or statewide office in Arkansas. Cheney, whose approval rating is even lower than Bush's, last came to Arkansas in 2006 to raise money for Asa Hutchinson.

Boozman finally broke with Bush today and voted to override a veto of the plump pork pot of funds in the Water Resources Development Act. He doesn't mind busting the budget to build a dam for developers on Lee Creek, a state designated extraordinary resource waterway, but he'll stand fast against another nickel going to ARKids first and health care for children from low and moderate income families. What a guy.

The Wrath of Grapes

Joe Edgmon was elected Mayor of Tontitown by a 21-vote margin last year. "I think people basically wanted a change of course," he said in claiming victory and expressing confidence because so many of his friends had been elected to the city council. "It's going to take a lot of public forums to bring people together to see what they want to do with this town."

In less than a year, Mayor Edgmen has found a way to unite the city council in common purpose. Last night the Tontitown City Council adopted an ordinance defining nonfeasance in office and providing a means to remove elected public officials who weren't doing their job,and they adopted a motion of "No Confidence" in the mayor. The vote on both issues was 5-1.

“It should send you a message,” Alderman Becky Alston told Edgmon. “If you can’t do the job, and you’re not willing to change, I think, for the sake of the city, you do need to strongly consider stepping aside. . . . I am positive that I have no confidence in you to lead this city.”