Thursday, January 31, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I know there are companies that are waiting in line for billboards. Anytime you tell someone they can’t do something, there’s a problem.”

--Springdale Chamber President Perry Webb, quoted in "
Officials Start to Consider Sign Ban," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Risky Business for Future Enterprisers

The Northwest Arkansas Times editorial today is effusive in its praise of a Fayetteville student council plan to spend $18,000 and buy six spy cameras in an effort to "create a deterrent to, or a documentation of, vandalism, vehicle break-ins and the like. It’s an impressive goal for a student council," they write. "You’ve shown us a brand of leadership adults would do well to emulate more often."

Perhaps, but it also makes me wonder if the editors of the
Northwest Arkansas Times might have a side business that sells spy cameras to school districts, like former editor George Smith and the Chamber of Cowbirds peddled the light bulb scam without disclosing their financial interests and profit skimming. Spending $18,000 on surveillance equipment must raise other questions. If such security measures are necessary, why hasn't the school board taken action? Does such a plan really require six cameras that cost $3,000 each?

If the newspaper editors wish to praise the student council and inculcate the security state as a splendid model to be embraced without question, that is their right. Beyond the philosophical questions, someone should also question the cost of such a scheme to prevent these future leaders from getting in the habit of wasting money on public projects. Even the
Public Peeping Toms in Lowell can spy on their entire city with a single Panasonic WV-NS 202 camera that cost only $1,500.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bone Me Greed

I am not surprised that this story comes out of Benton County, a few yards away from Ronnie Floyd's Six Flags Tabernacle, but I am sure it will quickly spread throughout the Arkansas "hospitality" industry that has demanded a sub-minimum wage for employees. The Bonefish Grill is just one among many.

Laura Stevens reported yesterday, "Facing an average creditcard processing fee of 3 percent, some restaurants are passing along part of that cost to their waiters and waitresses." The Tampa-based OSI Restaurant Partners LLC, which owns Outback Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill, pays wait staff employees $2.36 an hour, and now they want to takeback 3% of the tips paid on credit cards. A non-union waitress at Bonefish Grill in Rogers who asked not to be identified because she said she might lose her job, said “We don’t get a say in what credit cards are used, and we don’t have the ability to negotiate, on our behalf the rates that these credit cards use.”

Today, Meredith Oakley asks some good questions. "Talk about your cheapskate, money-grubbing schemes," she says. "What’s next, renting out the wait stations? Hey, corporate bigwigs, I know times are hard, but why take it out on the wait staff? They work long hours on their feet, shuffling plates and trays between table and kitchen, trying to keep all manner of customers satisfied, for about half as much pay as is drawn by your average minimum-wage worker in another field of endeavor, and the government already extracts a percentage of what it estimates they should be taking home in tips whether they’re taking home that much or not. Why penalize them for what everybody knows is the cost of doing business today?"

Oakley advises to write a zero for tip when using a credit card and leave your tip in cash. Other alternatives to recapture the corporate theft would be to get the state legislature to require restaurants and bars to pay the $6.25 state minimum wage. Another good solution would be for the abused wait staff to contact Unite-Here and get a union to stand up to such schemes to perpetuate wage slavery. These servers now have no voice at the legislature or in the boardroom of OSI Restaurant Partners, and, unless they organize, it is likely they'll keep getting boned.

Reading the Northwest Blogs

The Mainstream Media have made a muddle of the national political narrative, and the local newspaper editorials are as predictable as the last Chamber meeting. Local political news on television is so useless as to deserve not even derision. The bloggers make it fun and keep the conversation lively. Here's whats going on today in the local blogosphere.

The brash newbie Fayetteville Flyer takes a look at the Renaissance Mudhole and reports on canned cheeseburgers. A once great one that had almost died from inattention, The Five-Forty, appears to be back with wit and some regularity and a great riff on the state of the union. Another of my local favorites for wry commentary on national affairs and cultural contradictions is On the Virg.

I'm glad to see that Richard Drake's Street Jazz is on a roll again. He's back with a grit and gusto after a fallow period of reposting old columns. One of Aubrey Shepard's blogs, Northwest Arkansas Environment Central, has a good post about the approval of yet another auto parts store on South School Street. And Valerie Biendara's Bien disses education at Fayetteville High School, admits her failure as a member of the Parks and Recreation Board to do anything for Red Oak Park, and touts a Republican candidate for the state legislature.

Congressman John Boozman's blog, which usually devotes repostings to attacking Democrats in Congress, has fallen silent for the last two weeks. Maybe his communication staffers have volunteered for combat duty in Iraq. Mayor Dan Coody has also gone lazy after a flurry of three postings on his city-sponsored blog since last September, and it has been vacant for two weeks. Just as well, since alone among all of these blogs, he doesn't allow citizens to reply to his opinions and pictures. Likewise, the NWA Crime Report has been asleep at the wheel for two weeks.

If you know of other good local blogs that deal with politics and public affairs, please let me know in the comments section. If there are none that suit your fancy or reflect your point of view, start one.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Quote of the Day

“It is thoroughly disingenuous of the group’s president, Jerry Cox, to shield this mean-spirited effort with words meant to make people feel better about acting like bigots. …

“Also, it is just shy of being scandalous that a petition of this sort, which means to deny a home and loving parents to adoptive youths and foster children across the state, is expected to be circulated in houses of worship across Arkansas during the coming months. The terrible arrogance this implies is appalling. Are we to believe that mere moments after churchgoers have been told to love thy neighbor, they’ll walk by petitions asking them to try and only love life’s straight participants?

“I feel sorry for the people who think signing this petition and approving it at the ballot box this fall is going to somehow make Arkansas a better, safer place to live. Folks, it won’t. What it will do is legitimize a form of discrimination. It will also probably keep deserving adults from caring for a lot of even more deserving young people, each of whom could probably use a break at this point.

“Furthermore, this proposal will embarrass us where matters of history are concerned, and should it become law, decades from now sensible minds will laugh as they overturn this oddity of early 21st century America, no doubt inquiring about what drove people to attach themselves to such an unreasonable demand.

“It is a disease of the heart that has brought us to this point. Who among us wishes to spend his day arguing in favor of discrimination? Who among us wants to keep lonely children and childless adults who meet the grade from becoming a family? Who among us desire to give in to that fearful combination of fear and arrogance which has all too often ruled the day? Why must any of us allow these interruptions in our shared belief that all people should be judged not on the color of their skin, or by their sexual orientation, but on the content of their character?”

School House Rap and a Public Parable

The Chamber of Cowbirds hope the Fayetteville School Board will act hastily and decide to sell the central campus and build a new high school on the outskirts of town before Board member Susan Heil has to face reelection. In his column today, FHS public information officer Alan Wilbourn says school administrators are being told almost daily, “You guys have been chewing on that thing forever. If it was my company, we’d have decided something a long time ago.”

"That’s probably true," Wilbourn acknowledged candidly. "A private organization, which is usually a benevolent dictatorship, doesn’t have to answer to as many constituents as does a school district, so the decision-making process is much more streamlined. In our fishbowl, however, things don’t work that way. Major decisions, such as the one on the future of Fayetteville High School, absolutely require the informed consent of all of the affected parties. ...Building consensus for a public project is a time-consuming process that takes months and sometimes years of effort."

This little vignette is quite telling about a deeper relationship between levels of education, business experience and attitudes, and genuine respect for the opinions of the people of our community. There is almost an inverse relationship between the first two and the last one, which is also the most important. We need experienced leadership at all levels who will listen to the voters and represent their informed views, instead of ignoring us and telling us how smart they are and how they know what's best for us.

"Not Listening"

I'm not listening, not anymore
The more I learn, the more I ignore
I'm not listening, not anymore
The more I hear, the more I ignore
I'm not listening, not anymore, No

-- Papa Roach

Mayor Fred Hanna was a businessman with a business degree, and he was the faithful servant of the Chamber of Commerce. George W. Bush has a Masters degree from Harvard Business School, and he has devoted his two terms in office to tax cuts for the rich and record profits for Halliburton and the big oil companies. Neither cared much for what the people thought, because they were the deciders. Officials with business degrees and business experience do not bode well for the common good and the average citizen.

Mayor Dan Coody has a B.S. in Industrial Technology, and he studied Drilling Fluid Technology with Dow Chemical Corp. Coody’s management and citizen input style was captured by his appointing a Citizen Task Force to develop a plan for Wilson Spring, then totally ignoring its recommendations and selling off the property to developers on his own whim. His promise four years ago to have bi-weekly press conferences, take serious questions from citizens and the media, and give straight answers to the public and their elected aldermen was broken long ago.

If UA Chancellor John White’s leadership is an example, it could be concluded that an engineering degree and corporate experience is equally advantageous for big business but an absolute disaster for the arts and humanities that enrich our culture and enhance the creative community life. Like White, Jeff Koenig has an engineering degree and corporate experience. He has ignored public opinion and has advocated selling off Fayetteville High School, because he knows what’s best – for his developer pals and his Chamber buddies who see money to be made in spending our tax dollars to build out in Wheeler. He just moved here from Goshen a few months ago and wants to be Mayor of Fayettevillle. He already has a plan of what he wants to do to Fayetteville, but he doesn’t have any experience and hasn’t taken the time to listen to what the average citizens are thinking.

We need candidates and public officials who have a little humility and are willing to listen, to learn from their constituents, to represent the whole community, to work for our interests, and to be straight with us about problems, facts, and their views. We deserve Servant Leadership.

Voting Starts Today

If you haven't been paying attention, the presidential primary election is upon us. Unless you are a convicted felon, a foreign national, or were too stupid to figure out how to register, you can early vote at the courthouse starting today through next Monday and at the regular polling places on Tuesday, February 5th.

You will have a choice among eight Democratic candidates, six Republicans, and four Greens. If the satisfaction of voting for one and rejecting the other 17 is not enough, you can also vote for "none of the above," or uncommitted, as they prefer to call it.

I don't care who you vote for or against, but here is a tip, some advice, and a small rant. If you have moved in the last two years, check here to make sure you're registered at your current address. If not, you can make a phone call to the County Clerk at 444-1711 and change that by Friday. It could save you some time and hassle at the polls on election day. And my advice, cast your vote using a paper ballot instead of those trick touch screen machines.

My rant is, if you don't consider yourself to be a member of one of these parties, then stay the hell out of their primary. If you tell everybody you are an independent, you don't have any business voting in a party primary where they pick their nominee. If you do consider yourself a member of one of these parties, then vote in that primary and don't be thinking about crossing over to mess in someone else's business.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Living Up to Someone's Image of Yourself

It has been two weeks since the Springdale Chamber dropped the hatchet on Featherfest. The cultural celebration of the city's heritage wasn't making enough money, and the Chamber thought it needed a new and more lucrative image. Imagine. I wonder if we can.

The Morning News
was amused. "What's an image? The city of Springdale, by any other name, will still smell of chicken. ...We've always wondered at the serious talk about 'image' that sometimes echoes around the hallways in chambers of commerce and city halls. Everyone wants an image, it seems, but nobody knows quite how to get one." Even if Springdale's image is a giant sign-blighted strip mall that only Bill Ramsey could love, the editorial says the city "can't manufacture or assume an image and make it meaningful."

Columnist Bob Caudle was somewhat less kind. "
Springdale is a town where the hoot owls date the chickens, hoping to get lucky. That's not an image that needs to be expanded. On the Internet an image like that might be illegal," he wrote yesterday. "If it's image we're concerned with, the city could go Hollywood: They Pluck Chickens, Don't They? How about, A Fistful of Broilers. Face it, Springdale's ugly. It's a coyote-ugly, two-bagger of a city -- and proud of it."

Face it, Springdale needs to change it's future, not just its image. One encouraging sign is that
Josh Jenkins will soon announce as a candidate for the Springdale City Council. As a private citizen, he has demonstrated a concern for the city and a dedication to finding solutions for a better future. On the Council, he would add another unbought voice and reasonable perspective to those offered by Jesse Core and Kathy Jaycox.

The contest for the next Mayor of Springdale is uninspiring, even frightening. The names mentioned thus far -- Ray Dotson, Jim Holt, Mike Overton, Bobby Stout, Jim Reed, and Nancy Jenkins -- are dismal choices. If one of that group gets elected, let's hope that they bring back that proposal to build a huge wall at the southern city limits to protect themselves from the enlightening influence of Fayetteville. And to quarantine their own commercial excesses, xenophobic meanness, environmental ignorance, and general fanaticism.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Even a Blind Hog

I have from time to time poked fun at Mike Masterson's columns about The Cult of the Spankers, his belief in Flying Saucers, his Double Standards on Dining, and other essays on the sacred and profane. When he writes something that makes sense and with which I agree, I try to say so and encourage him to be the journalist I know that he can be.

Masterson today is spot on when he takes a look at the Center for Public Integrity's report, Iraq—The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War, that lays bare at least 935 lies told to the American public by George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and their hirelings whose deliberate falsehoods have cost us billions of dollars and more than 4,200 American lives, at least 60 of them from Arkansas.

He is also right when he says, "It’s tragic that nonprofit organizations such as [the Center for Public Integrity], rather than our major newspapers, have assumed the role of aggressive watchdogs."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Double Secret Proposition

Fayetteville School Board member Susan Heil nearly wet herself when Lame Duck Chancellor John White said yesterday that the University of Arkansas should consider paying a premium for the Fayetteville High School campus, if school district officials will sell it. Wink.

"This news from the university certainly provides an exciting option or options for the school district and the university," said Fayetteville Superintendent Bobby New, who first met with White about selling off the high school last August. Wink, wink. A school district-commissioned appraisal valued the campus at $61.28 million, then the School Board immediately dropped the asking price to $59 million. Not exactly what you’d call a "premium,” but what's a $2.25 million giveaway to friends like John White and Jim Lindsey.

This little scripted charade by White and New clearly makes fools of Board Member Tim Hudson and the other members of the Fayetteville High School Secret Committee that is pretending to be developing recommendations on whether to retain the current location of FHS or build a new school as demanded by the Chamber of Cowbirds. They are to give a recommendation to the school board in April, for what that's worth.

Bobby New said he didn’t think resumption of his secret negotiations to unload the present high school should concern the secret committee reviewing the campus’s location. Of course not. After all, we still remember New's poor judgment in ignoring his own advisory committee that reviewed the first round of library books challenged by Laurie Taylor and implementing his own secret plan overriding the committee’s considered decision.

I am disgusted by this whole smarmy game being played by White and New to have their way with public property, but I feel sorry for others who will suffer from these machinations, especially the future students at FHS. Board member Tim Hudson has been placed in a no-win situation, as have three outstanding teachers on the committee. This latest boxing only adds to the lack of confidence in the committee that began with appointment of a defeated school board candidate who was rejected by voters for her position on the very issue being considered and made worse by the decision to hold secret meetings.

I also feel sorry for Chancellor-elect David Gearhart, who told the Board of Trustees yesterday that his top priority would be the students at the University of Arkansas. John White's secret plan to buy the FHS campus will not be with money from the Razorback Foundation that he lavished on Houston Nutt and Frank Broyles, nor will it come from the billion dollars that Gearhart raised for the University. White plans to buy the FHS campus by raising tuition by $27 dollars per course, charging an entire generation of future students more than $1,000 extra in tuition for a degree, for the next 30 years!

White and New will soon be gone, but their actions will leave a legacy. No one will ever believe University administrators when they say the school needs more state tax dollars or continuing tuition hikes to provide an adequate education. Not when they spend state funds to hire more administrators and use student tuition money for real estate speculation. No one will ever believe that Alan Wilbourn is meeting the One Vision strategic goal #6, to "continually and effectively communicate with all stakeholders." A sad situation from a sorry deal.

Quote of the Day

"Is labor performed by illegal workers for wages below minimum really cheap?

"…Who benefits from this “cheap” labor? Who does not want the flow of this cheap labor stopped? Mostly businesses. So we the taxpayers fund the bottom lines of our corporations and businesses.

"…So cheap labor is very expensive for us, the taxpayers. Why should we, the taxpayers, have to subsidize corporate America, which has been working very hard at taking our jobs overseas, away from us?"

--Vivian Michaels, “Is Cheap Labor Really Cheap?
Letter to the editor of the
Benton County Daily Record

Friday, January 25, 2008

All We Are Saying Is Give War a Chance

Remember a couple of years ago when OMNI wanted to have school children decorate Peace Poles and place them on public property? City Attorney Kit Williams went off on how these monuments to peace could be read as opposition to the debacle in Iraq and could create a public forum in our city parks. Don Michaels of the Northwest Arkansas Times editorialized against the idea, so OMNI backed off and dropped their gentle idea to praise peace in our parks.

Well, glorifying war is a different matter altogether. Down at Ray Boudreaux's
corporate jetport on South School Street, we have allowed the Ozark Military Museum to set up shop on city property and display military weapons and other totems that sanctify war. The museum just received city approval of a building permit for a
6,000-square foot prefabricated metal addition on public property.

This is being done in the name of economic development and the claim that 10,000 visitors toured the shrine in 2007. That's about five paying customers an hour, if you believe that. We must be competing for tourist dollars with the Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks (AMMO) in Springfield. We are also shaping the views of future generations of children by aggrandizing the weapons of war. Lauding an armored military vehicle,
Leonard McCandless, president of the museum’s board of directors, said, “Every little kid would like to have that to drive to Wal-Mart, make their own parking place... It’s a neat little thing. Every kid and big kids, adults, would like to have that to play with.”

I would argue that those military artifacts might make good plowshares, but our city's leaders and editorial writers would think that a dangerous political statement.

Highway Robbery

We knew it was coming. Last night, the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives moved their first pawn in the game to get "authority" to exercise eminent domain and to raise your taxes for their latest project to increase their income at public expense. Judge Gary Black and the Benton County Quorum Court rolled over for their masters with hardly a fight and voted to join the Regional "Mobility" Authority. The vote was 9-2.

Green thinking and pump prices have convinced the public to reduce gasoline consumption and pay less in gas taxes, and road taxes on the trucking industry are ridiculously low. "Traditional ways of generating money aren't working anymore," said Jonathan Barnett, the state Highway Commissioner from Siloam Springs, so the Good Suit Club wants local taxpayers to build some roads for them. Thirty-five white men packed the room. Jeff Hammonds from Wal-Mart a
nd its 7,000 truck fleet said they needed to address infrastructure to keep businesses strong. J.B. Hunt trucking executives were there to demand passage, as was Scott Van Laningham from XNA. Ed Clifford of the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce told them that residents need to pony up $1.6 billion in new taxes to fund this scheme. No one spoke against it.

It is all about getting local residents to build high dollar bypasses for Bella Vista and Springdale, which the unelected
Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives have decided for us that these are their top priority. Not a dime for light rail or public transportation that would reduce congestion, save energy, support sustainability, and improve transportation for the elderly, the disabled, and the moderate income employees.

Governor Beebe is considering calling a special legislative session to raise the severance tax on natural gas and dedicate the entire $50-$100 million annual revenue to highways. If every last penny of that went to the
Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives' Regional Mobility Authority, it would still be $600 million to $1.1 billion shy of what they are demanding from local residents. And just for fun, let's start a pool on how many of the Republican state legislators from Northwest Arkansas will be voting to increase the severance tax on the extractions by big energy companies.

Mike Malone
said the business group will be asking the Washington County Quorum Court to approve its taxing authority and eminent domain power next week, and don't expect the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds or Jeff Koenig's FEDC to oppose this plan to tax you like they killed the city's proposed road impact fees on developers. Our Quorum Court might consider finding funds to expand public transit and improve the bridges on our county roads before they start raising our taxes to build a Bella Vista Truck Bypass for Wal-Mart, Tyson, and J.B. Hunt.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Unless one has watched an enormous, low-hanging, glowing sphere that pulsates silently while hovering motionless overhead before zipping over the horizon in less than a second without making a sound, then one cannot possibly explain the event for the person who did.... Many such physics-defying silvery craft spotted today are photographed in the daylight. They all clearly lack wings or propellers.

"We’ll never learn what we must know about this real phenomenon until our nation and its media begin to believe the many thousands of witnesses worldwide each year and give the issue serious scientific attention."

--Mike Masterson, "Gas Pains Return," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Recognizing Community Service

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has announced the winners of its Community Service Awards for 2007. Alderman Lioneld Jordan, community service committee chairman, said the awards recognize citizens “who significantly contribute to improving the lives of working families in the local community.”

Among the winners were two local bloggers. Richard Drake, who has a show on Community Access Television and maintains a blog called Street Jazz, received recognition in the category of Electronic Media, and Aubrey Shepherd, who maintains several outstanding blogs, received the Neighborhood Advocate award for his work on behalf of the Town Branch Neighborhood in Fayetteville.

Other media category winners were Adam Wallworth of the Northwest Arkansas Times for news reporting, and The Rev. Lowell Grisham, whose opinion column, “Roots & Wings,” also appears in the Northwest Arkansas Times.

In the education category, winners were John Colbert, principal of Holcomb Elementary School, for public education, and Bernard Sulliban, a student leader in the University community.

Public officials recognized were Alderman Nancy Allen for local government and Representative Lindsley Smith for state government.

Congratulations and thanks to all of the award winners for their outstanding service and contributions to our community.

That's Reassuring

The Secret Fayetteville High School Select Committee 2, the group charged with making a recommendation on the very important question of the future location of FHS, held their first formal meeting last night, and the signs are not good.

The public was allowed to observe only the first 20 minutes of the meeting, when Board of Education President Steve Percival and Superintendent Bobby New gave their opinion about the committee’s charge before walking out. Steve Percival warned the committee that many people felt very strongly about the issue and would be advocating their position, but the committee members should just ignore them, realize that they'll be mad, and then do whatever you want to do.

School board member Tim Hudson then closed the rest of the meeting, preventing the media or school district patrons from knowing what was going on. They claimed that the meeting wasn’t subject to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act provisions on open meetings after Percival left because in the absence of two school board members, it constituted only an appointed committee and was none of our business.

That's no way to build public consensus or pass a millage.

The $54,000 Question

That new sustainability coordinator, John Coleman, sure is smart. He just figured out that the city was wasting $54,000 a year for gas and electricity at that magnificent Tyson Mexican Original property the city got such a bargain on a few years ago. Apparently, no one else in the city administration had a clue.

"We didn't know what the utilities were running until they did some homework and found out what it was, and it surprised all of us," Mayor Dan Coody said. Doh! The city could save additional money if it learned anything at the wind energy meeting last week and can harness all that hot air.

Mayor Coody once claimed that the surplus building was a bargain and would house the city's police and courts, but that didn't quite work out. We learn now that it has been used to store 12-foot puppets used one day a year by First Night. It also stored boxes of new clothes donated but never delivered to refugees from Hurricane Katrina, which we are now told are in such bad condition that the Salvation Army doesn't think they are worth picking up. "It was awfully expensive for storage," said Gary Dumas, Coody's director of operations for the city. Double doh!

It is a sad reflection that the mayor and his staff had to hire a sustainability coordinator to point out the obvious waste of energy and taxpayer dollars. Not even their efforts to hire an additional public information employee and improve communication can spin this one as anything except ignorance and inattention to business, the people's business, by an administration that claimed there was no fat in the city budget for operations.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Being and Nothingness

Yesterday's events celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. were much covered in the local newspapers today. There were calls for peace, love, understanding, justice, caring, and universal brotherhood. For a moment, it was easy to believe, then I got to the editorial page.

The Other is alive and abused in Northwest Arkansas. Irate callers and writers who have never read Erving Goffman or Jack Douglas, much less Hegel or Lacan, are busy defining all difference as deviance. No understanding of or compassion for those who look different or speak differently, by the demanding advocates of all that is white and right.

Diane Patton of Centerton
, where they don't even know the mayor's name, lectures the Fayetteville City Council that it "is just ridiculous" to name a street in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King. "Aren’t there more important things? What is wrong with the Fayetteville City Council? Do they not have better things to attend to and spend the city’s money on?"

Eileen Bruno of Rogers, who previously claimed that the only reason children had no health insurance was because their parents chose lifestyles of drugs and AIDS, is now offering advice on electing the next president of the United States. It should not, she opines, be anyone who is black or female. That leaves only those Republican white boys to continue the Bush legacy.

Scott Shackleford writes today about an unnamed
reader who phoned to say that she was beside herself with a story in the Northwest Arkansas Times about the efforts of the Washington Regional Medical Center to teach staff members a bit of Spanish, to ask questions about patients' medical history and current illnesses to improve the treatment the hospital provides. "Why, she wished to know, is the hospital giving these people special treatment?" You know, being able to talk to "them" and provide appropriate medical care.

We can still dream that
one day all God's children will live in a community where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, or their gender, or the language they speak, or the rantings of insecure shrews who stigmatize them as deviant because they are different, but by the content of their character.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Don’t Cling to the Past: Sell Central High

Little Rock Central High School has served its students and the community for more than 80 years and, sadly, is at the end of its useful life. The 21-acre campus falls well below the state recommended minimum campus size.

Central students and teachers deserve a shiny new, modern high school. The classrooms are full, parking lots are beyond capacity, and the gym can only accommodate a fraction of the students at a time. The numerous exterior doors make it impossible to secure in such a dangerous part of town.

A high school is not a neighborhood school. It serves the entire district. While the Park Street location may appear to be more “central” than the property in west Little Rock, it is not “central” to the wealthier white student population out west in Chenal.

We have heard arguments that the loss of access to UALR by Central students would be devastating to the high school experience, but not many students actually enroll in courses at UALR. Teachers and administrators also will tell you it creates problems with high school students interacting inappropriately with UALR students.

How would we pay for a new high school in Chenal Valley? We could sell the current 21 acres to UALR for additional parking lots and have a down payment toward a new $150 million campus. If UALR doesn’t want it, we could sell it to developers for a condo project.

Our schools are our legacy, but that integration stuff is overrated history. Let’s take this opportunity to relocate the high school to an area with room to grow. Our developers need it, and our fast growing community will be better for it.

Just kidding, but those are the same arguments being made to sell off Fayetteville High School and build a new mega-facility out west of I-540.

Manufacturing Consent

Did you catch the Northwest Arkansas Times fluff piece Saturday on the developers and their proposed SouthPass project? One sentence in Marsha Melnichak's near-editorial hype caught my attention: "For Fayetteville residents, that means the regional park they requested in the Parks and Recreation master plan of 2000 is closer to being past the discussion stage and on its way to getting official city consideration."

Take it from me, Marsha, that ain't right, and I have been taken to task for falling for that little line in the past. There are serious questions remaining about both health risks and financial liability related to the former landfill on the property. There are sprawl issues related to authorizing such a massive development west of I-540 and in the Greenland School District. More to the point, Marsha, there are serious ethical questions that are obvious even to your Chamber-friendly editorial board about how the city employees used our tax dollars to manufacture the appearance of public opinion in support of the regional sports complex.

Here's a link for the full Parks and Recreation Master Plan, and below is one citizen's characterization of the deal that was posted on this blog last month:

"PUBLIC input gathered during the master planning process indicated only limited interest in a community park (see pg 4.1 for the one exception). Of the 150+ comments offered during ten public meetings, only 2 or 3 of them ever mentioned the need for a multi-sports complex (see pg 4.11). Moreover, respondents in a community wide survey of over 1100 residents ranked neighborhood parks as the number one priority, followed by a trail network (#2) and senior center (#3). The priority ranking for a multi-sports complex was eight (see pg 4.21).

"The demand for a community park has been overstated and even
fabricated. Meanwhile, the Chamber of Cowbirds go tweet, tweet, tweet..."

Would city employees engineer such a charade? If so, was the public deception done to further their personal agenda or to help out the developers? Or is there a difference? Was it authorized by the mayor? Was the City Council aware that they were being duped? Let's think about that, and let's discuss it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Coody Must Take Responsibility

Talk around the coffee shops is that Mayor Dan Coody droned on too long during his State of the City speech on Tuesday. The praise of all things good was to be expected, but the slick way the mayor tried to obscure the damage of his own actions surprised even veteran observers of city government. Specifically, many were taken aback by his comments about streets, roads, and traffic congestion in our city, and how he refused to own up to his responsibility for the mess.

Citizens know. Even in the recent survey commissioned by the city, a clear majority of residents expressed frustration with our local transportation system. Some mentioned the lack of practical mass transit or even any planning for future mass transit issues such as light rail. Most were adamant about what a pith poor job the city has done in responding to growth and providing adequate street improvements to accommodate the increased traffic. Everyone knows its a serious problem. Blogging about about bicycles in Amsterdam won't get it, Dan.

The editors of the Northwest Arkansas Times, which is a member of the Chamber of Cowbirds and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, noted, "Traffic and roads get a lot of chatter around these parts. Lousy speed humps this and annoying congestion that. People roll their eyes. Then they get out in it and realize that changes can’t come soon enough. Transportation in this town (at least, that is, getting across town quickly ) isn’t a realistic option most days. ... So the results of a recent citizen survey certainly shouldn’t come as any surprise. About 54 percent of those polled responded by saying that streets are the city service in need of the most assistance."

The corporate chain newspaper then gave Coody a pass on the problem. "Mayor Dan Coody had something to say about all this during his State of the City address at Tuesday’s Fayetteville City Council meeting: 'When I consider the top concerns of many other communities ... I thank God traffic congestion is our biggest immediate problem.' Well put, mayor. We couldn’t have said it better."

At least the newspaper editors admit their lack of imagination, writing ability, and critical thinking skills. Dan Coody is more reticent in admitting his mistakes or his intentional actions, and it's not just the honking cost overrun on the sewer plant. Dan Coody jumped in bed with the Chamber of Cowbirds and Jeff Koenig and opposed the road impact fees that could have begun addressing the traffic congestion created by growth and sprawl. If he had a better idea, he failed the people by not bringing it forth before the election that ended in a tie vote. If he has a better idea now, why has he not produced an alternative ordinance in the eight months since the election?

Dan Coody, Jeff Koenig, Ben Israel, Bill Ramsey, real estate salesmen, assorted developers, and the Chamber of Cowbirds killed the street impact fees, and they must buck up and admit their responsibility for the sorry state of our streets and the problems of congestion that undermine everything the city has tried to do for sustainability. The Northwest Arkansas Times is their enabler and apologist. The people are not fooled.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I'm Still Confused

I see in today's Northwest Arkansas Times that state Attorney General "Justin" McDaniel has advised changes in the proposed interlocal cooperation agreement for ambulance services.Than means the Washington County Quorum Court and the cities of Elkins, Farmington, Goshen, Greenland, Johnson, Lincoln, Prairie Grove, West Fork and Winslow will have to re-approve the scheme with the added provisions.

I'm still confused about the project and the process. Why is Mayor Dan Coody so fired up to approve a $250,000 No Bid Contract Monopoly? I've tried to understand why a no bid contract is ever a good deal and why County Administrator John Gibson is so adamant that Fayetteville has a responsibility to join in subsidize the cost for other participating cities.

From their inception, public utility model EMS systems like the one being advocated here have been controversial. The Fayetteville City Council and our residents need to know that the city is going to be in control and that quality control is being met, including finances, employees, equipment, compliance with regulations, control center and deployment policies, guaranteed response times, and accountability ensured by making it possible to replace a contractor immediately for failure to perform.

The University of Oklahoma’s Center for Economic and Management Research has designed an ideal EMS system model, making patient care its highest priority, followed by financial stability and a professional work environment for field personnel. The model embraced the idea that no organization should be allowed to provide service without earning that right through competition and that it would guarantee that customers and taxpayers get full value for their money. Maybe that would be a good place to start.

Whatever model our city chooses to assure an Emergency Medical and Ambulance Service for our community, local control of patient care policies and cost efficiency should be priorities. I hope someone smarter than me can explain: (1) why a no-bid monopoly contract is ever a good deal for our citizens and tapayers; (2) why Fayetteville gains anything by surrendering accountability and control of the EMS system to other cities; and (3) why it is imperative that Fayetteville join the interlocal compact if Springdale, Tontitown, and Elm Springs are free to do their own thing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Springdale 2, Fayetteville 0

It was that dreadful Fayetteville sign ordinance that, according to Bill Ramsey and the Chamber of Cowbirds, cost us the Cracker Barrel restaurant and all of those high tech, high wage jobs that went to Springdale. More recently, Ramsey said the sign ordinance killed Fuddrucker's and cost us even more jobs and tax revenues. Our latest loss in the economic development quest cannot be blamed on the sign ordinance, so what will be the excuse this time?

The Fayetteville Flyer is reporting that Krystal, the famous square burger purveyor founded in Chattanooga in 1932, will be opening a store in Springdale on January 28th. Enjoyed by four generations of Americans and craved by a cult-like following, Krystal is the oldest quick service restaurant in the South and the second oldest in the United States with more than 400 restaurants in 12 states.

Free wifi and all those good customer service jobs, but not a one of them in Fayetteville. I expect the Cowbirds soon to be arguing again to repeal the sign ordinance and for "incentives" and subsidized water and sewer rates to attract more fast food joints so we can compete with the economic engine that is Springdale.

Hooray for Habitat for Humanity

Local developers have shown little interest in building affordable housing or designing environmentally appropriate housing projects, so this makes news of Washington County Habitat for Humanity's success especially welcome.

For 15 years, Habitat for Humanity has been addressing housing needs of low and moderate income families in Northwest Arkansas, this week it announced its 40th house sponsor at its annual meeting. A faith-based nonprofit organization, Habitat coordinates private support and volunteer efforts to provide safe, decent, affordable housing for families with 30%-50% of the median income range, with many of the homes in south Fayetteville where it is proposing a Planned Zoning District project with 40-50 homes.

The Porchscapes PZD will be an example of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — Neighborhood Development and a demonstration project for Low Impact Development for the Environmental Protection Agency. Aaron Gabriel, assistant director of the UA Community Design Center, is coordinating the environmental planning and design of the neighborhood, and the Fayetteville City Council has waived parkland dedication requirements and designated land adjacent to the nine-acre development as parkland.

Congratulations to Habitat's Executive Director Patsy Brewer, to Aaron Gabriel of the Community Design Center, and to the Fayetteville City Council.

Quote of the Day

“If I told you that Mike Huckabee has raised more taxes, grown more government, supported more bureaucratic control of our schools, pardoned more criminals, helped bring in more illegal immigrants, and been more duplicitous in 10 years than Bill Clinton was in 12, would you feel betrayed?

“He can talk all he wants, but his record is who he is.

“…But evangelicals seem to love him. Home-schoolers flock to work for him. One foolishly said, “He’s a Baptist minister; you don’t need to ask what he stands for.” …Shouldn’t we analyze his record to see if it matches his rhetoric? We seem to want the sizzle rather than the steak. But some lose consciousness when a politician states, “Hey, I’m a Christian, too.”

“…Huckabee’s supposed to be a preacher, but what he’s speaking isn’t the truth. …And now we’re supposed to believe Huckabee when he tells us he will be tough on illegals? Who is he kidding? He can’t even be tough on rapists. "

--Jim Holt, "From Hope to Betrayal : Huckabee Can Talk All He Wants — but His Record Is What It Is," Northwest Arkansas Times

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Water Wisdom

Facing increased water and sewer rates to cover the expense of service to new developments, insufficient impact fees, and construction cost over runs, the Fayetteville Water and Sewer Committee has responded to the challenge and done so wisely. The policy implications of utility rate structures might seem wonkishly boring, but Chairman Kyle Cook and Aldermen Adella Gray, Bobby Ferrell, and Lioneld Jordan have crafted a proposed rate policy that serves our citizens well.

The Committee did a double good deed on residential water rates, proposing an increasing block rate that charges less for the first 2,000 gallons and more for consumption greater that 18,000 gallons per month. This plan encourages water conservation and provides a cost break for households that use less water, regardless of age or income.
Gary Dumas says that's essentially what is done with solid waste rates, David Jurgens says it would reduce red tape, and City Attorney Kit Williams says it's legal. This is simply brilliant and a considerable improvement over past policies. It gets even better. The Committee has proposed moving to a cost-of-service plan for both water and sewer rates by customer class to more fairly distribute the looming 15% increase in water rates and 20% increase in sewer rates.

Water rates would rise in four annual increments, beginning this year with residential customers increasing overall by 5.5% , nonresidential customers by 4.1%, and major industrial users by 6.6 %. The sewer rate increases will be 15% for residential customers, 21% for nonresidential customers, and 30% for major industrial users of more than 1 million gallons. Not pleasant for anyone, but greatly improved over the existing regressive rate structure that has residents subsidizing lower rates for business and industry, which have had three years to begin planning and budgeting to pay their fair share.

The new rate structure will have to be approved by the full City Council in February. Let us hope that they act as wisely as has the Water and Sewer Committee in resolving to enact a progressive policy for resource conservation and fundamental fairness in pricing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Honoring the Dream

By a unanimous vote of the Fayetteville City Council last night, Sixth Street will be renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard effective January 19, 2009. "This change will move us into another arena where we will join other cities to prove how much we care about racial equality and justice for all people," said Ernestine Gibson, president of the Martin Luther King Planning Committee. Fayetteville, of course, is the only city in Northwest Arkansas to have made such a move.

Wal-Mart headed the list of 71 local businesses that opposed naming the street in King's honor. Jim Burnett, an attorney and former Republican candidate for circuit judge, presented the list on behalf of Wal-Mart and the other businesses when he testified against the resolution. "We have 71 businesses that don't want to do this, and it's not because of disrespecting anybody," he said. "It's because of money." Parks and Recreation Board member and Republican activist Valerie Biendara is not pleased with the change and said she will continue calling it Sixth Street. Bill Ramsey from the Chamber of Cowbirds was at the meeting, but he did not publicly state any position.

Mayor Dan Coody said last week, "There were a lot of folks who opposed the name change but did not want to speak publicly.” Coody said his issue with the Council Resolution to rename the street is the process, not the name change, although he thought just having signs saying "honorary" would be enough to honor King's legacy. "Obviously other people think it needs to be made a single and permanent name,” he said, but he has not indicated whether he will veto the resolution passed unanimously by the Council.

Aldermen Bobby Ferrell and Nancy Allen spoke eloquently in favor of the resolution to honor King. Vice Mayor Lioneld Jordan said, "Dr. King was a man who fought for equality for all people. He was a man of peace. He was a man who gave his life for his beliefs. He was a man who changed the world. Dr. King laid his life down for all people, and if he can do that, then we can surely name a street after him."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Springdale Chamber Chokes the Chicken

There was no joy in Chickendale last night. Brian Moore, incoming chairman of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, announced the end of Featherfest at the annual banquet last night before 800 well-fed members. Springdale Chamber President and CEO Perry Webb said the Chamber made the decision to discontinue Featherfest, the city's premier cultural festival, because of declining attendance and revenue over the past few years. Hmmm, and perhaps the changing demographics of those employed in poultry processing?

Springdale Alderman Bobby Stout said that was the first time he had heard Featherfest was cancelled. “It concerns me that it’s not going to be held,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing, you know, that for a weekend, people could come in and see and participate in Springdale.” Stout has fought to preserve the character of Springdale by opposing the new sign ordinance, but he could not save Featherfest when the Chamber decided to dump it and pursue high tech jobs for the future.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
Mariachi bands are playing, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere hombres are laughing, and little ninos shout;
But there is no joy in Springdale — the mighty Chicken was kicked out.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Jeremiad of Bone Dry Jones

Benjamin Jones, a self-proclaimed born-again Christian, railed against the dangers of Demon Rum to a crowd of 50-plus in the Siloam Springs Community Building this evening. There are 122% more murders in wet counties than dry ones in Arkansas, he claimed, and 96% more rapes. "Take a drive outside Benton County," he said, holding Washington County up as an example of the crime and poverty that afflict counties with package stores selling beer and whiskey. "My fear is that we'll just become like everyone else. We're going to be sad if we do this."

A group called
Citizens for Choice 2008 has circulated petitions in Benton County to get the issue of changing Benton County to a wet county on the November ballot. Jones called the idea of letting citizens vote on the issue "goofy" at tonight's gathering. "Do we really want to put this to vote?" Jones asked. "I don't believe our country runs by a mob rule," he said, confirming the widely held suspicion that Benton County doesn't consider democratic decisions by majority rule to be as valid as edicts from an oligarchy.

Siloam Springs Mayor
Moose Van Poucke tried to moderate the event and asked several of those in attendance to stick to the debate format when they rambled off into unfounded opinion. David Routon, president of Citizens for Choice 2008, tried to respond to the rantings by Jones by pointing out that Siloam was losing out on opportunities for economic development and considerable local revenues, while Bentonville and Rogers prospered under the ruse of calling every restaurant a "private club."

Siloam Springs must feel besieged. Last week the City Council had to act quickly to defend itself from unfettered dildo sales, and now its moral residents are being threatened by the possibility that working stiffs might be allowed to vote on whether they can buy a six pack of beer. Just another sign of the End Times.

Boozman Gets a Golden Mouse

“I am very honored to have my office recognized with the Gold Mouse Award, as it affirms my commitment to the constituents in the Third District,” said Congressman John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Community) when his website was one of 104 Web sites commended in The 2007 Gold Mouse Report: Lessons from the Best Web Sites on Capitol Hill. That's good.

"The Internet has the potential to transform the connection between citizens and their representatives. While it is clear that the Internet has played an important role in mobilizing and informing voters, most Members have not seized the day. Surprisingly few Member sites offer much content on where the Member stands on the issues of the day," said Dr. David Lazer, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Program on Networked Governance at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"The most important reason we give the Mouse Awards is to highlight best practices and inspire and motivate other offices to improve their sites by learning from those doing a good job," said Beverly Bell, Executive Director of the Congressional Management Foundation. The report details six elements of what makes an effective website for elected officials. Let us hope that our city and county officials might download the report and give it some attention. It couldn't hurt; it might help.

Erasing Fayetteville

It has been ten years since the Northwest Arkansas Council wiped out commercial passenger service at Fayetteville's Drake Field with the witting support of Mayor Fred Hanna and Steve Ward of the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds. Now there is a campaign to eliminate the unspeakable word "Fayetteville" from any connection with their XNA airport serving Wal-Mart Headquarters in Bentonville.

I don't think this is directly related to our "community leaders'" efforts to brand everything XNA. If it is, they've recruited
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Robert Smith to lead their campaign to quit saying that XNA is in Fayetteville. At the suggestion of UA Engineering Professor Jim Gattis, travel guru Smith enlisted the help of Congressman John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Community) to make the airlines stop mentioning Fayetteville.

Boozman's staff said he was too busy fighting health care, education, and efforts to end the occupation of Iraq, that he didn't have time to draft a bill to prohibit saying Fayetteville, but he did send a letter to the
Air Transport Association asking them to have their member airlines to be more accurate and eliminate the confusion by calling it Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

Fayetteville city employee Ray Boudreaux, who is paid half time to be in charge of the Drake Field airport, was not mentioned in the article, but it must have been another blow after losing the multi-million dollar trailer storge project to the Hope Airport and the multi-million dollar aircraft assembly plant to the Rogers Airport. Now this.

The other half of Boudreaux's handsome salary is for being the city's director of economic development. Public opinion of his effectiveness was recently undermined by Mayor Coody's admission that Boudreaux had no worthwhile economic development strategy. Today the Northwest Arkansas Times ignored him completely and called for the city to "
put Fayetteville Economic Development Council President/CEO Steve Rust in charge of finding a notable buyer" for the empty Tyson Mexican Original building, one "with the potential to produce jobs [and put the building] back onto the property tax rolls." Bad day for Ray.