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.

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