Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fire Chief Gets Hosed

The Morning News reports that Rogers Mayor Steve Womack relieved Fire Chief Alan Bradrick of his duties today. It was not one issue or incident that brought about this decision, but a totality of issues relating to communication, department morale, budget and overall management of the department. "I have lost confidence in the chief's ability to lead this high profile organization," Womack said.

Looks like layoffs are happening everywhere these days.

Chief Tabor Exercises Contract Option

Fayetteville Police Chief Greg Tabor this afternoon exercised his option to resign as Chief of Police and return to his former position as Deputy Police of Chief. The move was announced by Mayor Dan Coody in a press release from from City Hall and posted on the Northwest Arkansas Enquirer website with the "breaking news" headline: "Tabor Out as Fayetteville Police Chief." The Morning News played it straight: "Fayetteville Police Chief Steps Down: Tabor Says He Hopes Move Is Temporary." By the time of the print edition, the Enquirer had caught on and gave it the head of "Police Chief Steps Down."

According to the release, "When Chief Tabor accepted the position as Chief of Police[,] he and Mayor Coody entered into an agreement allowing this move[,] since Tabor did not have the necessary years of service for retirement." It is understandable why Chief Tabor would have wanted an employment contract to protect him from the arbitray firing by the Mayor, who frequently called his numerous police chiefs with certain special requests.

This whole deal raises a number of questions that are not explained in the news release. How many other city employees has the mayor given employment contracts? If one employee deserved an employment contract, why not offer contracts to all city employees? Was the contract Coody gave Tabor approved by the City Council?
These questions should be answered by Mayor Coody before he leaves office, but we will not hold our breath.

Chief Tabor has done a good job, as far as we know. Perhaps he will continue as Acting Chief, protected by civil service and continuing to earn service toward his retirement. That also would be a good deal for the city to have his continued leadership of the Police Department and a savings in salary.

Changing of the Guard

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has a couple of editorials today on "Things to Forget" and "Things to Remember." Those lists are different from ours in some ways, but it is the thought that counts. As we turn a new page on the calendar, perhaps we should also turn a new leaf on our editorial rantings here at the Iconoclast. Nah, that's unlikely.

It is not so much that we metaphorically embrace Shakespeare’s famous eulogy of Julius Caesar, in which Mark Anthony proclaims, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” It is that we don't want to forget the stupid mistakes of the past nor to repeat them. If past buffoonery can serve as a warning, we will not hesitate to bring it up. There is no need, nor even any good excuse, to rewrite local history to hide the foibles and foolishness of those who have gone before.

In the meantime, let us celebrate the coming of new leadership and wish them well. Let us hope that they give us no new examples of hubris and howling at the moon. Let us welcome them to the public stage, but let us remind them that this is a tough audience packed with harsh critics. Let us find them up to the task for which they asked.

Actually, not to appear to be too much of a Pollyjonah, we think that the people of Fayetteville have traded up.

President Barack Obama replacing George Bush.
Chancellor David Gearhart replacing John White.
County Judge Marilyn Edwards replacing Jerry Hunton.
Superintendent Almost Anybody replacing Bobby New.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan replacing Dan Coody.
Chamber of Commerce President Steve Clark replacing Bill Ramsey.

We wish them well and all the luck that they will need in the year ahead. Let it be a Happy New Year for all of us.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Business of Politics

The final campaign reports have been filed, and those from the Fayetteville mayor's race tell an interesting story about the abilities and approaches of Mayor Dan Coody and Alderman Lioneld Jordan. Essentially, their approach to running their campaigns reflects their approach to managing the city.

Dan Coody raised a total of $87,375, borrowed $12,464 from himself and his wife, spent freely but ineffectively, and ended up with red ink, owing debts of $11,416. He got hammered by Jordan, 57.3% - 42.6%. Even with all the advantages of incumbancy, Coody could persuade only 4,321 people to vote for him in the runoff, spending $20.22 for each vote and still not getting the job done. Embarrassing.

Lioneld Jordan raised only $49,615, spent it wisely, worked hard, wasted nothing, and ended up with a surplus balance of $2,951. There were no expensive outside consultants and no cost overruns. His 5,803 votes in the runoff cost $8.55 each. We'll be fortunate if he is as frugal and effective with our tax dollars as he was with his own campaign.

Cashing in on Constitutional Connubiality

First, they amended the state constitution to "protect the sanctity of marriage" by forbidding certain people who love each other from getting married. Then, they had a Moonie-like Covenant Marriage ceremony to make it more difficult for thousands to get a divorce. Then the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services started awarding grants and training ministers in the Garden Marriage Program designed by the UA Cooperative Extension Service. Then, they got a $2.7 million federal grant from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families for the local JBU Marriage Ministry to run seminars to stem the divorce rate in Northwest Arkansas.

Now, they have the Northwest Arkansas Times running their press releases as news stories. There is never a question about the appropriate use of tax dollars, no demand for showing measurable outcomes, and no comments or opinions from anyone with a different point of view on the enterprise. That kind of "journalism" will never win a Pulitzer Prize for news reporting, but it should be in the running for the $10,000 Amy Writing Award.

A Novel Idea

Last month, the Bella Vista Library Board, rejected the idea of charging fines for overdue books. Beginning next month, "to better accommodate working people and families," the Bella Vista Library will operate with expanded evening hours two nights a week. All services, including Internet access, will be available to local residents until 8 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday evenings beginning January 12th. It appears that the Bella Vista Library manages to provide this expanded service with only six employees backed by 50 volunteers. Of course, being in Benton County, they are not open at all on Sunday.

The Fayetteville Public Library Board asked the City for an additional $26,000 to extend service hours on weekends, but the request was withdrawn after the recession whacked the anticipated basic operating revenue from the Fayetteville Public Library Foundation. The library is presently open until 8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and until 5 p.m. on Friday through Sunday.

Mayhaps the weekend hours at the FPL Blair Library could be extended without additional tax dollars if we had more volunteers taking on basic tasks and allowing flextime for the professional staff to extend services on weekend evenings? Please consider becoming a volunteer if you think you can pass the required criminal background checks, which are less onerous than the Siloam Springs body cavity searches.

Monday, December 29, 2008

We Can Hear You Now

Mayor-elect Lioneld Jordan has assembled an impressive transition team to prepare for taking office later this week. The two public meetings of the full committee have been on the local cabel channel and have revealed a bold approach to open government and informed action. It appeared to be a fresh start that included and welcomed everyone in our community. We should have known it was too good to last.

Jordan's transition team has a subcommittee allegedly charged with facilitating better communication and open government, and it has scheduled a public meeting today. Can you guess where? At the Cowbird Headquarters. Can you guess when? From 9:00 a.m. until noon. Walt Eilers, the subcommittee chairman, said the event is mainly for people in the business community and the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods to drop in and share their thoughts on the best way to have open government. He then expresses delight that 25 people have RSVP'd to attend.

Here's what is badly wrong with this. First, the subcommittee began by meeting last week with city staff and city employees to figure out the best way to get suggestions and communicate with the workers. These meetings were not open to the public, despite Jordan's pledge that his transition team meetings would follow the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. Eilers then said they drew the conclusion that city employees would like anonymous surveys attached to their pay stubs they could fill out and turn in. That survey won't even go out until January 16th, a full two weeks after Jordan takes office.

Second, if you really want to involve and hear from all the community, why begin by framing the discussion and holding your first open meeting at the Chamber of Cowbirds office? Why not just have it at the Fayetteville Country Club to keep out the unworthy? Are there no rooms available at City Hall or the Blair Library, where the full committee met? If you really want to involve and hear from all the community, why hold a "public" input session on a weekday during work hours? If you really want to involve and hear from all the community, why start with privileging the views of the "business community?" And what's with the RSVP? Are they having the event catered?

Eilers says, oh well, his group plans to have night meetings in each ward for the general public to attend and share suggestions. Of course, the dates for these four meetings have not been scheduled or publicized yet, and Lioneld Jordan takes office in four days.

Open government, indeed!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Regional Mobility Abomination

By now you know that the NWA Regional Mobility Authority, a subsidiary of the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives, has decided for you that our collective transportation priorities in Northwest Arkansas are a Western Beltway to Bentonville ($800 million), a Bella Vista By-Pass ($250 million), and a Bethel Heights By-Pass ($540 million). Staffed by a determined Mike Malone and a spineless bunch of bureaucratic toadies at the NWA Regional Planning Commission, the compliant RMA action surprised no one.

The surprise might come when the Good Suit Club goes for raising our taxes to build their runways. No doubt they will run a well-financed media blitz to persuade us to pay for their projects, and any opposition will be both disorganized and underfunded. We ran a little poll this month to see whether our readers would be inclined to vote to raise their taxes for any such transportation system.

The results are hardly scientific, but the process was more democratic than anything to come from the NWACC&WBE. Twenty-five percent of our participating readers said they would vote against taxes for any regional transportation project. The RMA's three priority projects drew little public support: Bella Vista Bypass (6%); Bethel Heights Bypass(4%); and Western Beltway (4%). A far larger percentage of readers favored Improvemets for Highway 265 (31%) and a regional Light Rail System (54%).

There appears to be a serious disconnect between what the
Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives wants and what the people they expect to pay for it have in mind. Our local elected mayors and county judges might want to rethink their position on priorities . . . or just go ahead and own up to which group they really serve.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Funding Educational Futures

The Fayetteville School Board has wisely committed to building a world-class high school on the current campus, and it is exploring an exciting new approach for teaching and learning to educate students for the 21st century. To get there, it will take a combination of state and local funding, and that will be a challenge.

Local funding will mean a property tax increase approved by the voters. If Bobby New will just get gone and forgotten, there is a chance that the Board and patrons can get together, have a two-way discussion, and agree on a campaign to get it done. State funding is more problematic, because the rural coalitions from the eastern and southern counties will oppose any new funding for "wealthy" districts in Northwest Arkansas. They don't think we need any more state funding up in this corner, and all of our local Republican legislators send that message everytime they vote against taxes and spending.

Changing the school building formula is unlikely. The deck is stacked against Fayetteville and the growing urban districts, because the state tax code is heavily influenced by the Farm Bureau and premised on welfare for plantations and the corporate timber interests. That is, rural land is by law assessed considerably below market value. In addition, rural districts with large federal land holdings (such as the national forests or the Buffalo National River) get payments in lieu of taxes.

So, here's an idea for our local legislators to help solve the problem. Despite all the cheap talk about being partners and good neighbors, the University of Arkansas pays not a dime of property tax to the city or the local school district on its billions of dollars worth of land and buildings. All of those large new buildings and those acres of agricultural farm land require city services, but the UA doesn't pay anything, much less its fair share.

Let's enact a provision for state appropriations from general revenues "in lieu of property taxes" to the cities, counties, and school districts wherein state institutions are located. Since we have so damned many two-year colleges and four-year universities, it should be easy to build a coalition and get the votes. If we could get the owners of the Cosmopolitan to pay the $13, 734 they owe in delinquent property taxes, then add in about 300 times that amount a year from a state luau fund, we should be flush enough to pay off the school bonds without a millage increase.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Secular Santa

The local newspapers have conspired with the television weatherologists to track Santa, but not everyone is buying into the cover story. Eric Holland of Fellowship Bible Church in Bentonville is demanding that the Christian Majority in Northwest Arkansas stop playing nice and start calling Christmas Parades and Christmas Breaks what they really are, social graces and constitutional commands be damned. Christopher Bell of Green Forest is in the Carroll County jail for stealing Baby Jesus, while Ronnie Floyd remains at large.

Through it all, we have managed to create Santa Claus in our own image, and he is still busy working the malls and encouraging commerce in Northwest Arkansas as he has in stores nationally since 1840. The best news coverage of the man behind the beard is filed today by Scarlet Sims of The Morning News about the jolly fellow working since late November at the Pinnacle Hills Promenade Food Court.

This particular Santa is working on contract through Qualex, which is under Santa Plus as part of Kodak, which pays the mall a commission from proceeds from photos with Santa. Beginner Santas can make about $4,000 for the five-week season, and some can demand as much as $250 an hour. That is the reason for the season and is more than most other hourly wage employees make in the stores at Pennacle Hills Promenade.

The Pinnacle Hills Promenade Santa is one of 72 professional Santas trained and represented by agents Billy and Alma Gooch of Naturally Santa, Inc. in Colorado Springs. Gooch's Santas cannot smoke, drink or womanize, and they undergo drug testing and background checks before being approved. This is probably essential, considering how many pervs there are in Benton County who might try to get work as a Mall Santa or American Legion chaplain.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Always High Prices. Always.

It has now been more than 10 years since Wal-Mart and their Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives hired Uvalde Lindsey and Scott Van Laningham to do their bidding and moved the all commercial airline flights to XNA in Bentonville. It would be more convenient for everyone, we were told, and the Fayetteville Cowbirds went along with it in the spirit of regional cooperation. It was more convenient for Wal-Mart and its vendors.

Now the big boys are tired of paying higher prices for flights from XNA. Earlier this year, XNA management executives
Kelly Johnson, Terry Franklin, and Barbara Busiek drove to Tulsa and flew to DFW for a meeting with Federal Aviation Administration officials. The XNA airport authority paid $241.50 per seat for the flight from Tulsa, when tickets from XNA would have cost them $450.00 each that day.

Recently we learned that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has a new policy to book "associate" business flights out of Tulsa, Fort Smith, or other airports if ticket prices at XNA are higher, which they usually are. Already the number of airline passengers departing XNA was down 17% last month compared with November 2007.

the rest of us, declining boarding numbers can only mean that airlines will be reducing the number of flights or destinations. The trip to Tulsa will become more familiar, but it is much farther than was the old run to Fayetteville's Drake Field or even the current one to Bentonville's XNA.

Maybe the
Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives and their subsidiary Regional Mobility Authority can persuade us to raise our local taxes to build a Western Beltway and a couple of Benton County By-Passes on the premise that it will make for a quicker trip to Tulsa International Airport.

Zoned Out in Benton County

Ron King is the poster boy for property rights, a local hero in Benton County. Officials have been complaining about his property since 2001, claiming it is an illegal landfill and public health hazard, but King is standing fast against the efforts of environmentalists and aesthetes to make him clean up the land around his trailer just outside Siloam Springs.

"I can take you to 30 places worser than mine," King says when picked on by the bureaucrats who fail to appreciate his private collection of pieces of rusty metal, rotting mattresses, chucks of foam insulation, piles of wood, bed springs, broken glass, a smashed plastic bucket, a pair of shoes, tires, wood and seat cushions. When accused of burying some of the trash in violation of state law, he explained, "It's not buried. It's just got dirt on top of it."

King is a man prepared to exercise his property rights to defend himself from those who cavalierly dismiss the virtues of a lone individual standing against the Leviathan. Last summer, he started a hog farm with 15 pigs near the road in front of his trailer at the closest point to the neighbor he accuses of complaining to county officials about his property. That sure showed them what happens when you squeal to the authorities.

Benton County property rights defenders like Penne Ramsey don't take kindly to plots by the leftist Benton County Quorum Court to consider nuisance abatement ordinances. Such nefarious measures make her "wonder who the communist is who wants to tell me just how to use my property and how clean I am to keep it." Theresa Pockrus, a licensed lawyer and former Republican Tax Collector for Benton County, adamantly opposes any zoning for the county, because it would be “moving toward communism and away from capitalism.” The Red Shirt Gang on the Quorum Court and the Northwest Arkansas Property Rights Association are the only thing keeping Benton County from the abyss of county zoning laws that would destroy their way of life.

Don't laugh. There are several members of the Washington County Quorum Court who agree with Ron King and the freedom fighters of Benton County, and they also oppose any effort to enact sensible county zoning ordinances.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sam Sneed Sez: Show Me Your Papers

Sam Sneed of Bella Vista holds himself out as something of an expert on immigration law, having published numerous letters to the editor of the Benton County Daily Record on the subject. It is, in fact, a topic with which he seems to be obsessed, even more so than the average Republican politician in Northwest Arkansas.

Sneed claims he knows how to deal with "these people." He says that "any child born in the U. S. A. of Mexican parents should be a Mexican," and "it’s past time for the U. S. A. to rescind the law that a baby born here is a citizen." It is not just a "law," Sam; it is the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Sneed sounds like he would be equally enthusiastic about repealing that, along with the Bill of Rights.

Remember that fatal bus accident in eastern Arkansas last November? It caused Sam Sneed to express heartfelt concern, concern that "several of the bus passengers didn’t have driver’s licenses or documentation that provided their names, ages and addresses. I ask you, why do people not carry identification when they are away from their homes? What are they attempting to hide? I say, 'People who have nothing to hide, hide nothing!'"

Today, Sneed calls for some full-frontal racial profiling, saying the police should be "stopping people who are obviously not Caucasian ... to rid our area of illegal drugs, illegal ID making, etc." He advises us that "it has become time that we ignore their pleas of 'racial profiling' in stopping people and making them show some kind of ID. Anyone old enough to be on the streets after 7 p.m. should be required to show IDs when asked."

Is this a great country, or what?

Song of the Times

The editorial board at the Northwest Arkansas Times is a broad-minded group, so broad that they can change premises to reach conclusions and not miss a beat. Such intellectual dexterity is a thing to behold. Just last month, the Times endorsed Mayor Dan Coody for re-election, suggesting that his emphasis on sustainability locally was "helping make a name for this community here in Arkansas and beyond its borders."

Now, when Coody's swan song was to bring forward a resolution opposing the construction of new coal plants in Arkansas, the Times editorial takes a switch to the City Council that passed it 7-1. "The Fayetteville City Council is elected to represent the people of Fayetteville and to make decisions on their behalf. They are not chosen to issue position statements on national and state issues. ...After all, does anyone really believe the City Council has the capacity to speak for all Fayetteville citizens on broad national political issues? Does anyone really want them to?"

So, got that? When they want to praise Coody, taking a national stance for sustainability is a good thing. When they want to berate the City Council, taking a national stance for sustainability is a bad thing. Simple formula. Besides, we are told, it is a waste of time.

Or, maybe when anyone criticizes the environmental actions of AEP/SWEPCO and rejects the demands of former Cowbird Chairman and AEP/SWEOCO spokesman Tommy Deweese, the Times editors just see things differently. We wouldn't suggest that shared FEDC and Cowbird memberships influence the integrity of editorial positions any more than do SWEPCO advertising revenues. It is just that logical consistency is the elusive hobgoblin of foolish Times editors and other small minds.

For the record, we commend Mayor Coody and the City Council for doing the right thing and passing the resolution in opposition to the smoke-belching dirty coal plant being built in Arkansas, charged to Arkansas ratepayers, and polluting our air to provide electricity to customers in Texas.

UPDATE: SWEPCO will soon be filing for a base rate increase to recover the costs of that coal-fired plant in Hempstead County and those attractive metal poles that run across Dickson Street and through our neighborhood near Old Main. Will the Times editors tell the City Council to keep quite about that, too?

UPDATE TWO: It is not only air pollution to be considered, as this massive coal ash disaster in Tennessee, 48 times greater than the Exxon Valdez spill, makes abundantly clear to anyone except SWEPCO executives and Times editors.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Citizen Quote of the Day

"Fayetteville is a unique and beautiful city, and we are all blessed to live in such a place. This holiday season, I would like to remind everyone in Northwest Arkansas that we should not take living in such a rare place for granted. A large part of what gives our community color are locally owned businesses and our local artists and craftsmen. This holiday season, more than ever, they need your support. Please shop locally owned businesses first when making your gift buying decisions. Don't take for granted that they will always be here. Surviving this economic downturn is especially difficult for small businesses, as the playing field is not tilted in their favor.

"Losing locally owned businesses and artists means less choice for consumers and less personality for our city. I promise you, there will be plenty of big-box stores and national chain restaurants here next year, and they will be exactly like every other one in America. Where we spend our dollars will determine how much 'local flavor' we retain."

Michael Baker, "Shop Locally this Holiday Season," Letter to the Northwest Arkansas Times

Saturday, December 20, 2008

America's Most Unwanted

Superior Industries International Inc. of Van Nuys, California, announced yesterday that it is laying off 268 workers in Northwest Arkansas, just before Christmas. Steve Rust, president of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, said, "This is not a good time of year to be laid off." He didn't say what time of year he and the FEDC thought would be good to lose your job.

When Superior resumes production in January, there will be about 400 employees at the Fayetteville plant, down from 1,800 in 2006. Local management at the Fayetteville plants referred all questions to the corporate office in Van Nuys. The local newspapers might have asked but did not report on recent workforce growth at Superior's three plants in Mexico or how many jobs would be lost there.

Gary Dumas, the City of Fayetteville's $112,000 Director of Operations, is also having a hard time finding a job. He learned this week that he didn't get the job as city manager in Shawnee, Oklahoma. His applications for jobs have also been rejected by Fort Smith and Janesville, Wisconsin. He could be out of a job in Fayetteville soon, too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Going Out of Business Sales

Daddy Warbucks, the ultimate local news sleuth and inside dopester, reveals two good examples of hubris and hard times in Fayetteville. His latest column in the Fayetteville Free Weekly takes note that the annual delinquent tax deadbeat list for Washington County is out. The largest amount in arrears is Pinnacle Air at $267,757 in back taxes, but it also includes the Cosmopolitan Hotel in downtown Fayetteville, $13,734.

One of the deadbeats is a habitual offender. "The Cosmopolitan Hotel, the last Daddy W. heard, is a project of developers Nock, Alexander, et al. who have said they are busy trying to put another hotel in downtown where the big open hole that will become a parking lot is." Then Daddy asks, "Will we in 2011, read that the property taxes on South Pass are delinquent?" Speaking of which, where's that check for $1 million and that warranty deed for the 200-acre park?

Daddy also uncovers an even sadder deal gone bad. "Not that the local media cares, but Daddy W. hears that Mayor Dan Coody is offering his office furniture for sale. When the lame duck mayor took office eight years ago, Daddy W. recalls that Coody used his city allowance to buy a car. But, wanting fancier furniture for his new office, Coody bought new furniture out of his pocket and now he wants to sell it. Daddy W. also hears that incoming Mayor Lioneld Jordan turned down the offer and will use city surplus for his office." That's quite a change from the French Empire throne room of the last eight years.

I'm sure that Greg Harton and the investigative reporters at the Northwest Arkansas Times will be all over these stories in a few days. It must be tough to get scooped every week by the Stephens Media tabloid shopper.

Fayetteville in National Spotlight Again

You will remember recent boasts by Dan Coody that he has single-handedly brought national media attention to our fair city. Well, he has done it again. The CNN Special Investigations Unit has singled out Coody's request for $6.1 million in federal funds to build corporate jet hangers at Drake Field as a laugable example of wasteful pork. They lump it in with a $1.5 million program to provide social workers for hookers in Dayton, Ohio, and $4.8 million for a polar bear exhibit at a zoo in Providence, Rhode Island.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors went to Capitol Hill earlier this month with a wish list of 11,391 infrastructure projects proposed by 427 cities, and those mayors claimed the proposal would create 847,641 jobs. When confronted about some of the questionable projects and asked by CNN if he had read the entire report, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz defensively said he had "read through a lot of it. Obviously, I didn't sit there and look at all 11,300 projects that were submitted." Although as president of the mayors' association Diaz was the one who submitted the package to Washington, he explained that he just didn't have the time to read and approve every project.

"I don't want the city of Rogers linked to a list that's as loaded with pork as that," said Rogers Mayor Steve Womack. "It's like a kid's Christmas list and extremely unrealistic." Rogers and Bentonville, which are not members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, are working together to submit requests for infrastructure improvements, and other area towns are submitting earmark requests directly to Congressman John Boozman. Fayetteville also has an $84,000 consulting contract with a nest of Washington lobbyists, so it might be assumed that the firm is also doing something on infrastructure that Coody thinks Boozman can't get done on his own.

Pete Sepp, Vice President of the National Taxpayers Union, did not single out Coody's request for $83,700 for Tasers or $644,000 to paint a water tank, but he called many of the requests just plain pork that would hardly qualify as legitimate infrastructure projects to create jobs. "It's impossible for any normal taxpaying American to read this and not come away scratching their head and saying, 'Wait a minute, this isn't about infrastructure,'" Sepp said. "This is about political power grabs, money grabs."

Mayor Coody said he was shooting the moon with his wish list. The problem is that likelihood of getting funding for the legitimate requests that could create jobs and rebuild our infrastructure is diminished by such inconsiderate mooning.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Veto Bandito

Tontitown Mayor Joe Edgmon has removed all doubt; he is a dick. Just over a year ago, the City Council voted a Resolution of "No Confidence" in Edgmon, which might have been overlooked as a passing moment of disagreement, but his inability to work with the elected Aldermen was a major topic of concern in this year's Council elections. Edgmon is so erratic that he tried to have an alderman arrested for trying to have a conversation with him.

Mayor Edgmon celebrated the Fourth of July this year with a double veto party. One was to nullify a contract he had previously signed, because Tommy Deweese was upset about water charges to SWEPCO. The other was a flip-flop he was performing about whether to refer an ordinance for a vote.

His latest boneheaded move was to veto two ordinances unanimously passed by the City Council to assure the city's compliance with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Mayor Edgmon has a habit of not coming to his office very often, and the city officials are unable to retreive documents to meet the 72-hour deadline for compliance. They passed an ordinance requiring the office to be unlocked during normal business hours, which Edgmon vetoed.

Mayor Edgmon also makes off with the city lap-top loaded with public documents. The City Council passed an ordinance requiring Edgmon to make his city-issued laptop available during normal city business hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., so they could retrieve official documents when needed for city business or to respond to citizen FOIA requests. He vetoed that one, too.

Some Alderman and lots of citizens are upset and have been critical of Mayor Edgmon's management practices. I am sure he thinks all those complainers and detractors are just extremists and Edgmon-haters. If so, it is only because his arrogant behavior has made them such.

Readers' Poll: Siloam Sucks

It was not even close. Iconoclast readers were asked to choose among several finalists in the contest for "Where Would You Least Like to Live" in Northwest Arkansas. Each town had certain unique characteristics that would qualify it for that dubious honor. Unlike Kiplinger's, Money Magazine, Sperling's, Mercer Consultion, National Geographic Adventure that send in paid staff to rank cities, we trusted our informed readers to draw on local wisdom to choose the rankest town.

Elm Springs, the speed trap that voted 74% for John McCain, was selected by only 3% of our readers; Lowell, home of spy cams and stagecoaches, drew only 9% of the votes; and Centerton, home of Mayors Ken Williams and Don LaRose, placed third with 17%. Springdale, the no zoning billboard Mecca and former host of Featherfest, was a strong contender and had the backing of the Fayetteville Flyer; but, drawing only 23%, it was no match for the champ.

Siloam Springs was the cheeks down winner, capturing 45% of the votes in a five-way cage match. We did not probe our readers on the reasons that Siloam sucked so hard, but feel free to use the comments section here to elaborate. The dildo ban? The soul market? The crossbar strip show? The American Legion pedophile? Bone Dry Benjamin Jones? John Brown University's online degree in home schooling? A mayor named Moose Van Poucke? Whatever.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Down and Out in Springdale

They did everything the local Cowbirds told them to do, but it didn't do much good. Big annual appropriations of tax dollars directly to the Cowbirds. Operating a municipal airport to serve those with private airplanes. Raising taxes to build a private ballpark. Naming schools after corporate chicken magnates. No sign ordinance. No tree ordinance. Embracing sprawl. Zoning the whole city as one big strip mall. Defending restrictive covenants. Hollering about illegal immigrants. Voting God, and always electing zealous idiots like Jim Holt and Jim Bob Duggar.

Next year's city budget projects a deficit of more than $5 million, with revenues of only $24.5 million but expenses of $29.9 million. Lame duck Mayor Jerry Van Hoose called for transferring $4.2 million from the city's Capital Improvement Program fund and making up the rest from general fund reserves. Alderman Mike Overton spoke against using CIP, and Alderman Eric Ford spoke against using reserves. No one had the balls to suggest raising taxes.

The City Council then started proposing ways to cut services. Alderman Jim Reed suggested cutting the budget of Shiloh Museum by $300,000 and reducing the subsidy to the Chamber of Commerce from $100,000 to $25,000. Jeff Watson proposed reducing funds for Ozark Regional Transit. Eric Ford proposed cutting hours at the city library. Rick Evans was for cutting all capital improvement projects. Kathy Jaycox argued against cost-of-living raises for city workers, not even offering them cake to eat. "No bonuses, no nothing," she said.

In the end, the City Council abdicated their responsibility and said the unelected bureaucrats could decide among themselves how to cut $2.2 million in expenses for people, equipment, and public services.

Meanwhile, down in Fayetteville, the City Council heard a report from Eva Klein, an out-of-state consultant, recommending that the city needs to create a $100 million venture capital fund or provide matching funds for faculty research grants in sustainability. They paid her $150,000 for that advice, with Mayor Dan Coody and the UA's Phil Stafford splitting the tab between the city and the university.

Now Klein says she wants another $150,000 to tell the city how to do economic development. I thought that was what the FEDC hired Steve Rust to do. We have paid Ray Boudreaux far more than that for nothing, but I'd still take a pass. Steve Clark is coming to the Chamber, and Mayor-elect Lioneld Jordan has promised an economic development plan. Let's give our new leadership and our local business talent a chance to do their jobs before throwing more tax money at out-of-state consultants.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Experience Fayetteville -- Virtually

If you download the 2008 Visitors' Guide, you'll be told to "think of this guide that you're holding as your own portable Visitors Center. With all of its articles, charts and maps, you'll know Fayetteville before you even enter the city limits."

Now both potential visitors and local residents can also see the many wonders of Fayetteville, thanks to the recent update of Google Maps Street View . It is pretty neat, typing in an address and getting a full 360 degrees view from that particular spot.

As the Official Visitors Guide also reminds us, "To get the true experience of Fayetteville, dig deep into its history." You can check out the Ozark Opera House and the Old Courthouse, but see the whole thing. Click here to start your virtual tour of Fayetteville's unique attractions!

Steve Clark to Lead Chamber?

Here is a good example of how bloggers report rumors when official sources are mum. The Arkansas Blog is reporting a rumor from "The Fayetteville Trucker" that former Attorney General and Mayoral Candidate Steve Clark will be named to replace Bill Ramsey as President and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds. We make matters better or worse by repeating it here with commentary.

If true, this is actually wonderful news for our community. Steve Clark has given considerable thought to what kind of city we are and can become. He could bring new energy, a fresh perspective, and a broad range of contacts in state and federal government. He appears to have a relationship of mutual respect with Mayor-elect Lioneld Jordan that could become a close working relationship for appropriate economic development. The fact that Jordan was wise and confident enough to have named Suzanne Clark to his Transition Team does not hurt that prospect.

In addition, my old Def Leppard albums would be worth more. The only downside that I see is that we would have less material to work with in our mission to continually carp about the poor policies and mental inertia of the Cowbirds. We're not even going to mention that other stuff, because we think Steve Clark has paid his debt and his dues.

Lunch with George Arnold

George Arnold has an interesting commentary in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on the nature and future of news and information in the public sphere. Unlike the editors at the Northwest Arkansas Times, Arnold gets out and chats with folks outside the office on a regular basis and considers their views. He tries to engage in a conversation with citizens instead of the unilateral preaching and navel gazing of certain other editorial and opinion writers. That was evident from his editorial column today, wherein he reflected on the national trend of newspaper downsizing and the rise of alternative information sources.

As Arnold tells it, "I sat down for lunch last week with some residents of Northwest Arkansas who keep close eyes on what's going on around them. They're veterans of community activism, politically engaged. What was on their minds? Judging from many of their questions to me, they are just as concerned about the future of news and newspapers as those of us working in the business. My lunch partners have been watching as the Internet, and blogs especially, redefine the meaning of news, and how news is delivered." At the other local newspapers, these kind of people are labeled extremists and dismissed as having nothing worthwhile to say.

George Arnold has learned what too many of his colleagues in the local press fail to understand or acknowledge. "Gone are the days when those of us in journalism school were trained to be the gatekeepers of information for the rest of the public. As newspaper reporters and editors, we would be deciding what was important enough to pass along to our readers each day. The responsibility was a serious one, and not to be taken lightly."

"The gatekeeper function hardly exists any more," he admits with a sense of caution. "Everybody with a computer has become his own editor, seeking out the news of interest to him and perhaps, like some of those at lunch with me, running a blog or at least contributing their own thoughts to blogs. The gathering of news has gone viral. I willingly admitted to the group that I scanned several must-read blogs in the course of my working day, along with the obligatory review of several newspapers. Without all of them, I'd be at a disadvantage in trying to keep up with what's going on in the world around me".

The mainstream media depend on advertsing revenue from business and government, while bloggers depend more on passionate opinions than paychecks and have less concern about offending the powerful. Arnold also knows "that there is a lot of bogus information on blogs, too. Anybody who refers to blogs has to be his own gatekeeper these days, sorting out the worthwhile from the trash. No easy task, as any newspaper reporter could testify." He should have said as any newspaper readers could testify as well.

It is asking a lot of readers to expect them to think critically, evaluate arguments, challenge evidence, and draw their own conclusions, but we think it is worth it. Bloggers and their readers sometimes get it wrong, but that is usually because government, corporate, and other institutional gatekeeppers (including the hired press) are less forthcoming about their true motives and prevent them having access to all of the relevant information. Bloggers must then speculate on what is missing and decide for themselves what news and views are "fit to print." Readers are not reluctant to let them know whether they agree.

But George, I thought what happened at lunch stayed at lunch.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Food, Music, and Peace at Home

The second annual Top Chefs & Rock Stars begins at 5:30 p.m. today at the Fayetteville Town Center. It is a fundraising event for Peace at Home's efforts to end domestic violence and provide support programs and services for survivors in Northwest Arkansas.

Come hungry. Stroll the Fayetteville Town Center, pigging out on more than 30 delicious dishes prepared by more than a dozen of Northwest Arkansas most talented chefs, including those from Herman's, Theo's, and Bordino's.

Come thirsty. Take advantage of the open bar while you listen to T.J. Scarlett, Opal Fly, Tiffany Christopher, Jed Clampit, Effron White, and Emily Kaitz perform. Bid on a performance from these marvelous artists, as well as BigUns,Ultra Suede, T.J. Scarlett, Oreo Blue, Patrick Sweaney, Joe Giles and the Homewreckers, Mountain Sprout and Claudia Burson.

Know that your $50 donation is going for a worthy cause.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hot L Fayetteville

Some of our local developers and economic development promoters have been telling us that building new hotels are a key component to economic growth.
Ray Boudreaux thinks he can save our economy with his $62 million Master Plan for "economic growth and commerce" that includes a huge hotel and golf course down there at Drake Field in Greenland. John Nock told us how our $3.7 million TIF district and his 22-story Renaissance Marriott hotel and convention center would revitalize downtown.

Now, the latest pipe dream has FEDC President
Steve Rust trying to tell us that he has a secret "prestigious" client ready to build a big chain hotel out by Sam's Club if the city will just cough up the money to build a multimillion dollar boulevard out in the middle of a field owned by developer Tracy Hoskins. Although the location was first suggested by Mayor Coody last year, even the Northwest Arkansas Times knows it is a bad deal. Hoskins this week admitted, "developers are having a difficult time acquiring suitable financing, just as every other business person or entity in America is, especially for such an expensive hotel project."

In good economic times, the "hospitality" industry pays minimum wage to most of its employees, so hotel recruitment is usually a marginal strategy for economic development goals. In these times, everyone knows it is a non-starter. Ask John Nock.
With the exception of New Orleans bouncing back from Katrina, all of the 50 top markets are forecast to suffer a decline in Revenue Per Available Room in 2009. Fitch Ratings has issued a negative outlook for the lodging sector and said it believes that lodging credit profiles may not be able to withstand the operating pressure, thereby increasing the probability of rating downgrades for hotel operators Marriott, Host and Starwood.

Just this week,
PKF Capital launched its Distressed Hotel Solutions Program in response to the increasing number of financially troubled U.S. Hotels, whose owners, lenders and legal representatives may be entering a crisis mode. “If you are a lender who is worried about loans in your portfolio that are secured by hotels, and you don’t understand the dynamics between RevPAR, ADR and hotel franchise agreements, then you probably need to contact PKF,” says Senior Managing Director Steve Hanover. “The hotel business is very complex and you can go from bad to worse very quickly."

Whatever economic development plan that Mayor Jordan and his administration bring forward, it must be diversified and focus on good jobs. It should also discount anything that Steve Rust has to say about the need to invest millions in infrastructure to lure his double secret prestigious hotel chain for that vacant field out on the edge of town.

Washington County to Cut Grocery Tax?

The Washington County Quorum Court has a Legislative Affairs Committee that considers and recommends changes in state law. Sometimes it is self-serving stuff like wanting to extend their terms of office from two years to four, but sometimes it is innovative like wanting the ability to exempt groceries from the county sales tax, which is one of their eight proposals this year.

We commend the Quorum Court for backing the change in state law to exempt groceries from the regressive sales tax. That shows more sense and courage than we have come to expect from Governor
Mike Beebe, who will only approve a reduction of the state sales tax on groceries from 3% to 2% next year. Other local ideas are less appealing, like the one to allow counties to sign no-bid contracts for asphalt. We know what kind of mischief that can lead to among local chums.

State Representative and County Judge-elect
Marilyn Edwards should be able to provide some insight into the best strategy for enacting the county's legislative proposals. JP Steve Zega is Chair of the Quorum Court's Legislative Affairs Committee, and he should be an effective advocate for the package of bills ... unless he gets distracted thinking about other legislation.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Well, Blow Me Down

Perhaps this is why the Siloam Springs Marching Panthers were selected to march in the Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 20th. Earlier this month the band's webpage had a link to some serious porn, unlike anything you or John Brown students might purchase in Siloam Springs or see live at the local jail. High school band director Keith Rutledge was contacted by a parent of a band member who complained they had discovered the link with "inappropriate" material before quickly averting their eyes.

District Technology Director Rick Jones claimed it was all a big mistake. "Nothing like this has every happened in our district, and we don't anticipate it happening again," Jones said. "We are under a state provided Web filter as mandated under the Children's Internet Protection Act, and we do take extra measures to protect our students." Webmaster Jonathan Livingston said that the domain name for Thotor, a site with thumbnail photo generator freeware, was bought out by a porn company which kept the domain name to market their photos. Yeah, whatever.

Those Internet Tubes will hose you, if you're not careful, even in Siloam Springs.

Citizen Quote of the Day

"As an ordinary citizen of Fayetteville, I may not be well informed of the inner workings of city government. However, if your recent editorial was correct, I am appalled that the South Pass development is, so it seems, a done deal and that there is no way out of this project.

"...With the current dire condition of our economy, it hardly seems like the best time to saddle our city government with a quarter of a century of unspecified expenses for roads, water lines and whatever else is in the contract without more detailed plans.

"I disagree completely with our city attorney that we should not consider our past experiences with the developer. It may be in his law, but common sense tells me that you don't involve yourself in a massive project after having been significantly burned on a previous one."

--Joan Wimberly, "Development Too Risky," Letter to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Friday, December 12, 2008

Taxing Times

Last week, the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration's Office of Excise Tax Administration closed Cafe Rue Orleans on South Walton Boulevard in Bentonville. Such closures often happen when the business collects sales taxes from customers but does not remit the taxes to the state. The restaurant's Fayetteville location on North College remains open, although it never reports enough sales tax collections to make the Top 60 restaurants in Fayetteville. Chef and co-owner, Maudie Schmitt, is a member of the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission that oversees expenditures of the HMR tax collected by the city.

This week, the DF&A issued a Business Closure Notification to Mary Maestri's, operating in Tontitown since 1922 and proudly displaying a lobby full of signed pictures with George Bush. In June, owner Danny Maestri said he was watching labor costs, cutting corners, looking at creative business financing, and seeking new investors for expansion projects that will give his company a broader financial base to grow during this difficult time. He should still consider paying the sales taxes he collects from customers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Budget Surplus and Big Raises in Johnson

The City of Johnson adopted the 2009 budget this week. It anticipates a surplus this year of $150,000 and projects a $200,000 surplus for next year -- and that is after approving a big raise for all city employees. Mayor Lonnie Barron said the 2009 budget is frugal, but he believes a 6% increase in city worker's pay is needed.

Bentonville city employees are scheduled to get a 5.8% cost-of-living raise next year. Rogers is promising a 5% raise for employees making above $41,600 and a $2,080 raise for city workers making less than that.

Music Makers

Our local artists and musicians seldom get the recognition they deserve, so it is good to see two groups receiving some national publicity. Trout Fishing in America has received its fourth Grammy Nomination, this year for their album, Big Round World, in the Best Musical Album for Children category. There is a nice article on this in today's Fayetteville Free Weekly. Add our congratulations to Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet for the honor.

Keith Rutledge and the
Siloam Springs High School band learned recently that they had been selected as the only Arkansas band to perform in Barack Obama's Inaugural Parade on January 20th before the ceremony. Why the Marching Panthers were chosen by the Inaugural Committee from among 450 applicants is unclear, but perhaps it was a formula that applied an inverse ratio for percentage of votes for Obama. We'll know if there are several bands from Utah, Idaho, and Alabama. Our hearty congratulations, just the same, for the honor and a chance to escape from Siloam for a week.