Friday, February 29, 2008

Looks Like It Will Be the Boys Club

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 72% of all K-12 educators in this country are women, but only 17% of 13,000 superintendents are women. Whether that is because school boards won't hire women or because few of them have been head coaches, we don't know. Last month, I ruminated that the upcoming replacement for School Superintendent Bobby New is likely to continue the unbroken line of white male supers in the district. I hoped I was wrong, but the auguries are not encouraging.

Steve Percival, President of the Fayetteville School Board,
said last night that even after a nationwide search and a Valentine's Weekend Recruiting Trip to Tampa, he has received only nine formal applications to be the next superintendent, and the deadline is today. Surprise! Eight of the nine applicants are male, and there is considerable speculation that it is a pro forma process and already wired for Randy Willison, the current Associate Superintendent.

That's too bad. The only woman applicant is Dr. Liz Celania-Fagen, Associate Superintendent of the Des Moines Independent School District. She has graduate degrees in Educational Leadership and an undergraduate degree and classroom experience in Science Education. A glimpse of her educational philosophy might be gleaned from her observation that we need to be teaching "how to find, access, disseminate, analyze, and interpret information in an environment of constantly evolving technology," and seriously address the question, "What do our children need to learn to be successful in a future we can't predict?"

It is hard to believe that Percival is serious about recruiting Dr. Celania-Fagen. The article in today's Northwest Arkansas Times doesn't even spell her name correctly, calling her Celana-Fagan. Who knows if the press release or the reporter made typos in both names? And while the Fayetteville School Board hasn't gotten around to naming finalists, Dr. Celania-Fagen is one of four finalists for the superintendent position at Tucson and is scheduled for an interview on Monday. That position pays $185,000-$230,000 a year with a benefits package of up to $50,000.

Percival and company must already know if they drag their feet a little longer, they can get their pal Randy Willison a lot cheaper and not have to hire a woman to oversee construction of that new high school they want to build on the outskirts of town.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Round One Goes to Jordan

Walt Eilers, Lioneld Jordan, and Jeff Koenig addressed transportation infrastructure issues at a Chamber of Cowbirds transportation committee meeting yesterday. Eilers and Koenig are members of the Cowbirds and have announced their candidacies for mayor, but there was general agreement that Alderman Jordan smoked them in their first joint appearance. He was more knowledgeable about transportation issues, gave specific answers instead of platitudes, and was a far more able public speaker.

As expected, Republican businessman Koenig said his first priorities would be better access to shopping at the CMN Business Park, a hollow promise from a man who led the fight against road impact fees to pay for sprawl and improved roads. Professional consultant Eilers said that transportation planning needs to look not only at alternate transportation systems but at the different ways people commute, and he seemed to think getting state government to appropriate general revenues to increase "turn back" of state revenues to cities instead of state programs would be a possible funding solution. A good plan but not realistic, because Governor Beebe is committed to repealing the rest of the sales tax on groceries, and that will reduce available state revenues for all state priorities such as public schools and higher education.

Vice Mayor Jordan, who is chairman of the Street Committee and has considerable experience, "
described a more specific plan to improve transportation in the city." He presented a proposal to develop a comprehensive economic corridor to "trap sales tax revenue in the city," and advocated boulevards that included green medians, trails, and sidewalks for safety and alternative transportation. He reiterated his support for transportation impact fees so growth would pay for the cost of growth. It was no contest, really.

On the location of Fayetteville High School, Jordan and Eilers both supported keeping the school in central Fayetteville for educational, environmental, and fiscal reasons. Republican businessman Koenig
supports the Cowbird plan for building a new school on a new site, regardless of infrastructure and transportation costs. He said earlier it would create new jobs. It would also help developers make more money.

Republican businessman Koenig told the Cowbirds what they wanted to hear. Consultant Eilers offered some valuable ideas from his prepared script. Vice Mayor Jordan presented a detailed plan that will work.

Hey, Now, What's That Sound?

Buffalo Springfield told us that "there's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." Our unpredictable local columnist Mike Masterson thinks he has it figured out. He says there might be some connection between the 20-cent per gallon jump in gasoline prices this month and the record $40 billion corporate profits of ExxonMobil. "The whole mess tells me that oil pricing, not supply and demand in a free market, is what dictates your cost and mine," he concludes.

Cynicism strikes deep; into your heart it will creep. "Yeah," Masterson says, "I readily concede that I have devolved into a skeptical cynic who today believes his lying eyes rather than the calculated blend of vague explanations from well-oiled PR execs or any others with agendas. I also believe that an industry raking in such obscene world-record profits at the expense of our economy’s well-being badly needs to examine its level of national gratitude and morality."

Sorry to break it to you, Mike, but business behavior is not driven by gratitude and morality. Why do you think Arkansas Western Gas is opposed to paying a fair severance tax for depletion of a non-renewable natural resource? Why do you think Wal-Mart jerks around its employees who try to organize for a living age and imports cheap Chinese products instead of buying American? Why do you think our local developers and the sprawl merchants at the Chamber of Cowbirds killed road impact fees?

Everybody look what's going down. Bigger profits are the heart and soul of capitalism, you late-blooming pinko. More money. Your quaint appeals to gratitude, morality, and the common good will fall on deaf ears of those in the corporate world, whether it be the big oil companies, the local developers, or the servile politicians who do their bidding. Profits will always trump prophets, but thanks for playing.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No Day of Rest for the Wicked

There was a major crime wave in Benton County on Sunday. Even Ronnie's Mega-Tabernacle has not been able to reach the wretched who continue to violate the laws against nature and property. No one reported Wal-Mart for unfair labor practices, and no cops were arrested for downloading porn or fondling children or barnyard animals, but there was crime and sin nonetheless.

The Bentonville Police Department records reveal that Edith Berue reported Sunday, just before church, that a man stole two tasty T-bone steaks from Braum’s. After church, rapture watchers reported a suspicious plane flying low over the Bentonville Wal-Mart Supercenter. No arrests have been made in either incident.

In Rogers, the police received a report from an unidentified caller who said a license plate was stolen from a government vehicle at 4608 W. Walnut. Only two minutes later, Luke Lindsey reported that a male was playing peek-a-boo and looked over the dressing room door at a female in the J. C. Penney store on Belview Road.

Maybe next year Sheriff Andy Lee will post the Ten Commandments on the city limits signs entering Bentonville and Rogers, so the good people once again can rest peacefully in the assurance that nothing bad will happen therein. Until then, keep checking the Northwest Arkansas Crime Report.

Absence and Malice

I should have known I was going to regret all the praise I have been heaping on the fine work of Raymond Burns and the Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce. They were doing some really good things for the community during the last year, so I guess I expected more from them when they threw a big hoopla banquet last week to celebrate the past year's accomplishments and praise local leaders. Some even deserved the awards, recognizing such things as excellence in education, outstanding volunteerism, and contributions to the arts. The rest exhibited serious symptoms of Cowbirdism.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was a Diamond sponsor of the 86th annual bacchanalia of boosterism, the University of Arkansas chipped in enough money to be a Bronze sponsor, and a reception prior to the program was sponsored by The Morning News. Reporting of the event had all the objectivity of paid home team sportscasters. Festivities began with a speech by Senator Mark Pryor (R-Club Lieberman) praising the effectiveness of Congressman John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Community) then, if you can imagine, got even more weird.

The 2007 Spirit Award, the biggie, recognizing "unusually significant, worthwhile activities benefiting the community" was presented to Pinnacle Country Club and others who "made the area’s first professional ladies golf tournament a success." Excuse me, but it didn't happen. It was a disaster. It got rained out and was called after only one round. It didn't qualify for points. It was a waste of time and money. Pretending that it was a big success doesn't make it so. But it was far more than a character-building sporting event. As Mayor Womack explained, "It is important to our community, our economy, and our ability to recruit and retain the best people to serve our corporate partners." Such honesty is rare.

Then there was
the Dick Trammel Good Neighbor Award, which the Chamber said is "Rogers’ highest honor", presented each year in recognition of an individual who contributes to the betterment of the community. It was presented to Republican Senator David Bisbee, the good neighbor who forced out dozens of Hispanic tenants in his Monte Ne Mobile Home Park because the galvanized water pipes were crumbling and not worth his time or money to repair. Then the Rogers Waterworks and Sewer Commission had to direct the city attorney to take any legal recourse deemed necessary to collect the $18,000 past due on Bisbee’s water bill. Last year, Bisbee got a little payback by passing legislation to require the Rogers Water Utility to retroactively repay collected impact and hook-up fees, helping Tim Hutchinson in a lawsuit brought by developers and real estate salesmen against the utility. In Bisbee's acceptance speech, he said, "I’d do it all over again if we could." No doubt he will.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mayor Dan the Travelin' Man

The Fayetteville City Council met this evening for an important agenda session. They talked about the square renovations and no-bid contracts. They learned that December sales tax revenues were $1.6 million, about $8,770 less than last December for a decline of -.54%, while Rogers sales tax collections were up 4.6% for the same period. They heard from staff, but they did not hear from our lame duck Mayor Dan Coody.

Dug Begley of The Morning News looked for an excuse as to why Coody was "Missing in Action." Someone tried to tell him that Coody was in Washington, D.C., allegedly on city business, but neither Director of Operations Gary Dumas nor any council members had any idea what that business was. What was so important that he just blew off the agenda session and answering the Council's questions? Why won't Public Information Manager Susan Thomas Ph.D. tell us where he is and what he is doing on our dime? Surely someone has to approve the Mayor's frequent travel on official business, right?

Barefoot and Breast Cancer

The Respect Life Apostolate of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock has issued an edict discouraging its parishes and schools from supporting or participating in any activities that might possibly benefit the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. They claim that this nefarious event raises money for embryonic stem cell research and Planned Parenthood.

Consequently, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Tontitown will not be selling any charity spaghetti and fried chicken dinners on April 18, the night before the Komen Ozark Race for the Cure in Springdale. The irony here is that the Komen Ozark affiliate has given about $350,000 to Catholic hospitals in Northwest Arkansas, while the Arkansas affiliate has donated $1.4 million to Catholic hospitals since 1992. I'm sure they will return the money forthwith.

That is the second low blow this month for the fight against breast cancer, support for survivors, and the search for a cure. The Ozark affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation held a big fund raiser at the Fayetteville Town Center on February 9th. Thieves hit the items displayed for the "Pretty In Pink" silent auction and made off with about $24,000 of goods that included a necklace, a Teno watch, some Ray-Ban sunglasses, and one earring. Someone should consider dispatching Sgt. Shannon Gabbard with a probable cause warrant to search the vaults at the Vatican.

Adequate Education

To hear Fayetteville School Board members Steve Percival and Susan Heil or former member Jeff Koenig tell it, it is amazing that our students can learn anything at all in our crappy old high school located in central Fayetteville near the Walton Arts Center, the Blair Library, and the University of Arkansas. Surprised they must have pretended to be when 14 Fayetteville seniors were named as National Merit Finalists this week and qualified for $40,000 Chancellor's Scholarships at the University of Arkansas.

Congratulations on the outstanding achievement and high academic honor to Jane Thomason, Christina Ye, Victoria Bryan, Louise Li, Jeanne Vockroch, Bridgette Bailey, Tommy Peng, Guiming Xiao, Steven Hailey, Harsha Malshe, David Zweig, Alex Ivey, Samantha Puckett, Paul St. Clair, and their teachers and parents.

A big shout out to our farm teams as well. Students from the antiquated Woodland Junior High won the state Quiz Bowl competition, and Ramey Junior High nee Hillcrest won First Place in the regional competition, despite being located in a building more than 40 years old. Congratulation are due to Alex D’Alisera-Gordon, Katherine Gea, Miracle Loniak, Nicole McNabb, Ian Pace, Hyrum Richardson, Jonathan Wang, Margaret Schweiger, Guthrie Fredrick, Bryan Glenn, Vasu Suresh-Kumar, Baylor Bestgen, Joel Freeman, Kyle Lawrence, George Paulson, Tyler Steiner, and Emily Webb, as well as their parents and faculty sponsors Larry Driver and Cindy Gray.

Read My Lips

Did you catch the meeting of the Washington County Quorum Court's County Services Committee meeting last night. They were discussing the demands on county government, and all expressed a desire to hold the line on taxes. Such talk is plentiful here two weeks before the filing deadline for office.

County officials have expressed the idea that the Quorum Court might be thinking about the possible expansion of the current over-crowded courthouse; a new pod at the Washington County Detention Center to hold women, cops busted for kiddie porn, and all those illegal roofers and waiters that Sheriff Tim Helder is chasing; and the replacement of four unsafe bridges that present a real threat to the lives of our citizens. All of these project would cost big money, but our JPs expressed little enthusiasm for raising taxes to pay for them.

To a man, Democrats Norton and Kieklak and Republicans Pond, Daniels, and Patterson, all said "no new taxes." Justice of the Peace Joe Patterson, who chairs the Public Works Committee, said, "I’m not in favor of doing anything we don’t have the money for." He agreed with JP Ken Kieklak, who said, "I don’t think there’s even the need to go to the voters," because putting an issue to the voters would indicate that the Quorum Court thinks there is a need, and "I don’t think the need exists yet."

Fine words and brave. I wonder if they'll say the same thing about the corporate welfare plan hatched by the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives to build those multi-million dollar bypass projects in Bella Vista and Bethel Heights. They'll vote on that scheme after filing deadline. Will they decide we need those deals more than adequate local bridges? Will they be willing to please the PTB by pushing a big tax hike on the people?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Highway Signs Say Yield

It has been interesting to watch the manipulation of the media and local governments by the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives. They are behind the scheme to create a new government bureaucracy to raise taxes and build more highways for the benefit of the trucking industry and a certain major retail distributor.

In one of today's corporate chain newspapers, a reporter named O'Toole tells us that this cabal "of influential business leaders dedicated to regional economic development" wants a "regional mobility authority" that would carry out their "goal to fast-track $1.9 billion worth of road projects." That doesn't mean a nickel for light rail, mass transit, or trails that would promote sustainable transportation for the average citizen; it means big concrete bypass projects around Bella Vista and north of Springdale with future plans for a western "beltway" to move those big trucks even faster. And they want you to have the opportunity to pay higher sales taxes to pay for their dreams.

Even if the residents of our community can be duped into accepting the transportation priorities chosen by the unelected Good Suit Club, there would be better ways to pay for their truckers' speedway. Governor Beebe and Sheffield Nelson are both working on plans to increase the severance tax on natural gas and oil to the same rate paid in Texas and Oklahoma, a revenue source that the energy extracting corporations would pass on to customers in other states where most of these Arkansas natural resources will be distributed and sold. This would increase funding for the state Highway and Transportation by about $60 million per year.

Like all Republican legislators in the famous Northwest Arkansas Something for Nothing Club, Rep. Keven Anderson of Rogers is always saying we need more state funding, but he is never willing to vote to raise the necessary revenue through taxes and pay the piper. He wants more highway dollars for Benton County projects, but he says he is against Beebe's proposal to increase severance taxes. As Chair of the House Revenue and Tax Committee he has a say, and he says “I would first rather explore some other potential revenue streams that we can dedicate to highways.”

Other revenue streams? There are two. One, they could get you to raise local sales taxes on everything, including groceries, to pay for their bypass plans. Two, they could divert certain sales tax revenues on auto parts or new cars, taking those funds away from general revenues for our public schools to subsidize the highway construction frenzy they so desire.

Those are the choices offered for funding new highways: take it from the school children, raise the severance tax on energy extraction, or get citizens to pay more local sales taxes. I think it is already greased, and I expect that our local quorum court is ready to roll over for them and create the Regional Mobility Authority by which they'll collect increased sales taxes. Be watching how your JP bends over and votes.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Easy Call in Rogers Council Election

Rogers Alderman Jim Clark resigned to go lawyering as the Assistant City Attorney, so the City Council will fill his Ward 2 position by cooptation. It should not be a difficult decision.

Gary Townzen, a third-generation barber at the shop opened by his grandfather in 1936, is the odds-on favorite and the hands-down choice. He has served four years on the Rogers Planning Commission's Board of Adjustments. In his spare time, Gary raises funds for the international nonprofit Feed the Children, which then delivers food to the local Samaritan Community Center. Good guy.

The other person seeking the appointment is a real estate agent named
Kelly Chimarys, who works for Jim Lindsey. Her involvement in public affairs is rather limited.

Elect the barber. He cares about people.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Agenda Awareness

City government is downright fascinating. Reading the tentative agenda for the next Fayetteville City Council is an educational experience not to be missed. Thanks to our outstanding citizen activist, Jeff Erf, you can view it online and comment on the upcoming issues -- a feature curiously unavailable on the taxpayer-funded city website that assumes public information is a top-down, one-way process.

Among the items scheduled on the March 4th "non-controversial" consent agenda are three contracts with out-of-state computer software firms totaling more than $130,000 for the year. For that, we get software updates and technical phone support to the city's information technology staff. Maybe they can add a comments feature to the official council agenda and the mayor's official blog that would allow citizens to offer feedback and opinions.

Also on the consent agenda is a proposal to grant a variance to developer Chainsaw Gary Combs who ignored the law and removed existing tree canopy to build a strip mall on Huntsville Road. He and his engineer, Thomas Hennelly, have told the city staff that reforesting the site to the required 20% canopy plus the 10% penalty for unauthorized clearing of trees (including a 16" ash) would be inconvenient and make the venture less profitable. Not only would they have to pay the cost of replanting new trees to replace those they illegally destroyed, they might have to remove a building from the planned commercial mecca or have a smaller parking lot. Instead, Combs wants to get out of the replanting penalty by giving a preservation easement on some nearby trees in an area less suitable for commercial development.

On the regular agenda under new business is a Resolution directing the City Attorney to draft a new water and sewer rate ordinance with rates that better reflect cost-of-service and encourage conservation. It will actually lower rates for some residential customers, and the Water and Sewer Committee is to be commended for bringing this forward. The Cowbirds and their house organ won't like it, but it is a vast improvement over what the Mayor's out-of-state consultants and staff first proposed.

Mayor Coody is also pushing a resolution to approve an interlocal agreement for ambulance service, establish a new ambulance authority bureaucracy with no city control of service or costs, and give a no-bid monopoly for service to Central EMS. It is supported by Fire Chief Tony Johnson who has developed a reputation for supporting anything and everything the Mayor wants and by County Administrator John Gibson who has a conflict of interest as a member of the CEMS Board.

I thought that the ambulance committee had already decided to continue the present system for another year and to take bids to secure the best price for this essential service. And no one has explained why it is just fine for Springdale to operate independently while trying to blame Fayetteville for seeking the best service for taxpayers. The Northwest Arkansas Times, a member of the Chamber of Cowbirds, says the City Council should hurry up and approve it and quit worrying about "what's best for Fayetteville."

You'll find the supporting documentation for all this here. Then you can make up your own mind and let our elected officials know what the people think and want them to do.

Friday, February 22, 2008

On the Square, On the Level?

According to a local newspaper account, the current reconstruction of the Fayetteville square is at least a $920,000 project. Some merchants on the square have agreed to make voluntary contributions to help pay for improvements, so the figure might be higher. The Advertising and Promotion Commission approved $460,000 from the HMR tax fund last February, and someone at "the city agreed to match that amount" with other city tax dollars. Now there appears to be a question of who is paying how much for what, and the newspaper reporter doesn't seem to be able to find out that information, either.

The city Street Committee approved street and sidewalk improvements that were deemed necessary for public safety, but whoever is in charge is doing much more than that. One item in question is a
$165,000 no-bid contract to King Electric that the staff brought before the City Council this week. Why did this not go out for bids to allow other responsible contractors to submit a lower bid and save the taxpayers some money? The city staff knew they would be needing electrical work for quite some time, so what is the rush now to award $165,000 to one company without taking bids?

Mayor Dan Coody admitted that the city could have taken bids on the electrical work but he preferred awarding the $165,000 to the company without asking for competitive bids from other local contractors. Allowing other businesses to submit bids would have been “exceptionally more time-consuming and much more expensive,” he said. Somehow he figured that asking for the lowest responsible bidders would have added six months to the project and would have increased the cost by $50,000.

That is nonsense, Dan. We have an open bidding process to save the taxpayers money instead of throwing no-bid bonanzas to a selected favored business. The bidding process wouldn't add six months to the project if bids had been requested in a timely manner. There is seldom any reason not to take bids on a project that involves spending this much of the taxpayers money, whether it is electrical work or a monopoly ambulance service. It is just good business sense to select the lowest responsible bidder.

Ward 4
Alderman Lioneld Jordan thinks so, too. He has requested a report from the staff about the no bid contract and the square project at the upcoming agenda session next Tuesday. “I just need a little more information on that because it’s a $165,000 no-bid contract; I just want to know who’s paying for what," he said. “What I’m trying to do is do my due diligence as an alderman and make sure we’re properly managing the taxpayers’ money, or I am anyway. I don’t know about anybody else."

Major props for Alderman Jordan. It is refreshing to see a public official trying to manage a budget wisely and save the taxpayers' money. It is also good to see an elected city official with the diligence to take time to do a project right and with the courage to do the right thing.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

UA Caught Planning to Rob Students

Thanks to blog readers and posters, here's a story that has been ignored or buried by the local media. Six months ago, UA Vice Chancellor Don Pederson proposed raising student tuition or fees by $9 per credit hour for every student who takes a course for the next 30 years. That would increase the cost of a degree by about $1,100 to pay off bonds for buying Fayetteville High School and its current centrally located campus.

You can read the whole memo here, but this is the nut graph:

Subject: Revised Fee Estimate to fund Property Purchase
From: Don Pederson
Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2007 17:08:35 -0500
To: "B. Alan Sugg"
CC: John A White, David Gearhart

"Flat annual debt service to cover borrowing the average of the two appraisals and at our current cost of money would be $3.81 million for 30 years. I estimate based on tuition (currently tuition is $159.05/ for undergraduate residents though the percentage of mandatory tuition and fees would be lower) that it would take a 5.7% increase in tuition to cover this debt service though not necessarily all in one year. As a fee it could be pulled out of any further increases over time. Such a new fee would be 4.5% of tuition and mandatory fees and be on the order of $9/"

Does anyone else think this is a bad idea? Does anyone think the UA Student Council President would veto a Resolution opposing this? Does anyone know why the local media have not covered this aspect of the scheme?

Pondering the HMR Tax Collections

Fayetteville has a Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant tax that can be used for the advertisement and promotion of the City and the construction, reconstruction, repair, maintenance, improvement, equipping, and operation of parks and other public recreation facilities. We all pay this every time we eat at a local restaurant, but we also soak visitors who stay in local hotels and motels or enjoy our finer and lesser dining establishments. At least that's the theory.

Now think of all the high dollar places you've been to dinner in the last year or so and try to guess which restaurants have the highest sales and might be paying the largest contributions to our parks and recreation fund. Would you have imagined that the Top Ten in November, the latest report would be
No. 1, Chartwell’s; #2, UA Dining Services; #3, Chick-Fil-A; #4, McDonald’s on Sixth Street; #5, Golden Corral; #6, Olive Garden, #7, Red Lobster, #8, McDonald’s on Mall Avenue, #9, Rick’s Bakery, and #10, Bordino’s? Not me. There are a bunch of places I would have guessed before that hidden Chick-Fil-A out by Barnes & Noble, the 6th Street McDonald's, or Rick's Bakery.

This tax is self-reported. It is possible that a restaurant might not report accurate sales figures and tax liability. It is a fact that some do not pay what they owe. City Prosecutor Casey Jones has 25 such scofflaws in his sights for failure to pay what is due, including Domino's Pizza, the 1936 Cafe, Gypsy, On the Rocks,
Marlo’s Taco Shack, and Seafood Market Bar and Grill.

You paid an extra 2% on your bill every time you went out to eat, ordered a pizza, or shacked up in a local motel. Do you think it was reported? Do you think it was paid to the City to support our parks? Do you care? Do you think it might be worth the City's while to audit a few businesses to make sure they are in compliance? Can you think of any nominees? Is it possible that Fayetteville's current budget crisis might not be a crisis if businesses were paying what they owe?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Another news flash from the Land of Andy Lee provides additional insight to the secret lives of officers of the Rogers Police Department. This time it is not downloading computer porn or the favorite pastime of pretending to be a 13-year old girl on the internet. It doesn't involve the usual practice of illegal searches or even the pre-crime arrests for wearing sun glasses. Not even the normal lying, racial profiling, sexual assault, or sexual indecency with a child. It is even more bizarre.

Police Chief Steve Helms is conducting an inquiry into allegations that Lt. David Mitchell has a fetish for amusing himself by electronically tasering a cow with a standard issue RPD Taser Gun. It seems he also videotaped himself engaging in cow abuse for pleasure. Chief Helms declined to talk with The Morning News about the details of the allegation, and Lt. Mitchell did not return phone messages left Tuesday on his department voice mailbox.

"It is our understanding that the alleged incident occurred while Lt. Mitchell was off duty, that the Taser's darts were not removed from the cow's flesh afterward, and that Lt. Mitchell apparently found the incident so amusing that it was recently set to music and distributed as a joke among his friends and colleagues," wrote Stephanie Bell, PETA's senior cruelty caseworker in a complaint filed on February 11.

In the video, Lt. Mitchell apparently mocked the state's weak misdemeanor law on animal cruelty. City Attorney Ben Lipscomb, who is running for District Judge, said the incident happened beyond the statute of limitations for misdemeanors, so there would be no point in pursuing an investigation as a criminal matter. After all, it is not like Mitchell was neglecting the cow or trying to sell it on the side of the road. Mayor Steve Womack said it was clear the incident happened, and the city would take action if "city equipment is being used for someone's personal enjoyment and entertainment."

Maybe it was a training video?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Putzes Playing Politics

Having come of age in the era of George W. Bush and Mike D. Huckabee, and having watched the failures of leadership on their own campus, perhaps they can be forgiven for having no role models for political wisdom or intellectual independence. Still, it must be somewhat of an embarrassment for the professors who have had them in classes during the last year or so to watch their recent antics. I'm talking about the Student Council up at the University of Arkansas, a collective disaster of resume padders that give clusterforks a bad name.

The Student Council unanimously passed a resolution that called for
improving sustainability on the campus and for improving the funding and operation of recycling overall. It also suggested that students write letters to Congressman Boozman and Senators Pryor and Lincoln asking for increased federal funding for such programs. Really radical stuff for a group of student leader types. Not quite burning down the ROTC building or protesting the appalling lack of diversity on campus that will get you headlines or anonymous charges before the Judicial Discipline Commission.

Student Council President Nate Looney, a frat boy from Jonesboro, vetoed the resolution after meeting with Mike Johnson, associate vice chancellor for facilities, and Nick Brown, the newly created executive assistant for sustainability. He said the tone of the resolution might make some grownups think they were trying to mandate the administration to do something about sustainability or recycling. Looney said that any money to pay for environmental programs would come from a tuition increase or a student fee, and he told the students that it was not a good idea to be writing legislators to ask for funding things like recycling.

Mattie Bookhout, the student council secretary who supported the veto, also told the students, "
"Our university is $40 million under-funded already." How could that be when UA administrators are planning to raise tuition and spend $60 million to buy Fayetteville High School, something that is not even included in the long range master plan?

What They Said

This is spot on and worth more than an excerpt for "Quote of the Day." It doesn't happen too often, but you will not be wasting your time to read the editorial, "Seeking Expert Advice," in today's Northwest Arkansas Times. They get it, and they get it right.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Get Up, Stand Up

Celebrating Presidents' Day is difficult, considering the present one, but we can always make Citizens' Day our own and renew our commitment to take ownership of our government. There is no better place to do that than right here and right now.

Fayetteville School Board President Steve Percival, tan and rested after a conference in Florida, has called a special meeting of the school board at noon today at the Adams Leadership Center just north of the high school at 1000 West Stone Street. They will be discussing the sale of the school campus to the
University of Arkansas as a way to pay for building a new high school out near Wheeler. Don't count on being allowed to speak, but if no one cares enough to miss work and show up, they will claim that no one cares.

Tomorrow, the Fayetteville City Council will hold its regular meeting at
6:00 pm in Room 219 of the City Administration Building located at 113 West Mountain Street. Thanks to the interactive agenda provided by citizen activist Jeff Erf, you can post comments that might be read by the Mayor, Aldermen, or eager staffers. They will be discussing several items that should be interesting enough to watch on Channel 16, even if you don't show up and make your views known.

Mayor Dan Coody is proposing approval of an ordinance for a no-bid contract with King Electrical Contractors in the amount of $165,000.00 for electrical work associated with the Fayetteville Square Sidewalk and Planter Replacement Project. He has also added a resolution to grant approval to allow Southpass Development LLC to submit a Planned Zoning District (PZD) to the City of
Fayetteville prior to annexation into the city, now at the end of the regular new business agenda instead of the consent agenda where someone thought it might slip right through without discussion.

I know it is hard work, but take a few minutes to attend a public meeting every so often, or let your fingers do the talking by sending an email to our elected public servants who would be interested in knowing what citizens think and want.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Arkansas Sierra Club Honors Local Heroes

The 2008 Arkansas Conservation Awards were announced last night by the Arkansas Sierra Club, and numerous Northwest Arkansas businesses and individuals were among those recognized for outstanding contributions to environmental conservation and public service in our state.

Benton County Habitat for Humanity and the Fayetteville Sam’s Club received awards for incorporating green design features in construction, and Stitt Energy Systems was nominated for a long history of energy reduction measures. Fayetteville restaurants Smilin’ Jack’s and Greenhouse Grill were also winners in that category. The OMNI Center for Peace, Justice & Ecology was named environmental organization of the year, in part for its contribution to helping establish the World Peace Wetland Prairie in south Fayetteville, and the UA Community Design Center received a certificate of recognition.

Alderman Lioneld Jordan and County Judge Jerry Hunton received awards as outstanding local elected officials, and State Representatives Jim House and Lindsley Smith were recognized for their environmental voting records in the 2007 legislative session. Public employees honored for their service were Juliet Richey of Washington County and John Coleman and Matt Mihalevich of the City of Fayetteville.

Environmental media awards were presented to Aubrey Shepherd as environmental blogger of the year and to Scarlet Sims of The Morning News and Doug Thompson of the Arkansas News Bureau for print media contributions.

Area individuals receiving awards were Jon Johnson for environmental educator, Derek Linn for student Sierran, Ken Smith for senior Sierran, Adrienne Shaunfield for outstanding new Sierran, Joyce Hale for unsung hero, Sarah Lewis for Ozark Headwaters Group Sierra Club activist, and Dot Neeley for Arkansas Sierran of the Year. Marion Orton and Art Evans also received certificates of recognition for longtime contributions.

Congratulations and many thanks to everyone for their service to the public and contribution to our community.

Last One Leaving, Turn Out the Lights

Is Downtown Fayetteville about to become a ghost town? It seems of late that every major institution is moving on out. More room is needed, and it would be cheaper to build somewhere else, we are told. There are other costs to our community, besides just the price of new construction, that must be considered.

It started a few years ago when the Fayetteville Youth Center Board of Directors, led by Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, decided to build the new Boys and Girls Club out west of I-540. Mayor Fred Hanna abetted that bad decision by kicking in over $800,000 of taxpayer funds, and we are still paying thousands each year in transportation costs and pumping out the carbon to get students from town out to Rupple Road. It wasn't long afterwards that the Fayetteville School Board followed by closing Jefferson School and building Owl Creek in the same remote area at the urging of Superintendent Bobby New.

Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton and the Quorum Court hired an out-of-state consultant for $95,000 to help them get a grip on space needs. The report says it would be cheaper to build a new courts building down south of town by the new jail for $27 million instead of remodeling the current
Courthouse for $35 million. What a deal.

Walton Arts Center is also complaining about needing more space and a bigger theatre, and its Board has hired out-of-state consultants to study expansion plans. Rogers Mayor Steve Womack said he has talked with the consultants and would welcome relocation to his city, and Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin suggested that the WAC would provide synergy with the Crystal Bridges art museum in his city. Bill Ramsey, President of the Fayetteville Chamber of Cowbirds, said, “I would shudder to think what the positive future of Dickson Street would be without the Walton Arts Center.”

Mr. Ramsey, however, is all for moving Fayetteville High School out of town and away from its current proximity to the Walton Arts Center and the University, as is Republican businessman Jeff Koenig. There is money to be made, and they don't think that sentimental history and a sense of community should be allowed to get in the way of another opportunity for developers to cash in on sprawl. They are trying to tell us that remodeling and expanding the current location would be disruptive, which could also be said about the courthouse and the Walton Arts Center expansions. Then they try to tell use it would be cheaper to build a new plant out near Wheeler, but that might not be quite right either. To paraphrase Bobby New, they make money on sprawl for a living.

So, when the cheaper and newer crowd prevails and downtown Fayetteville loses the Courthouse, the High School, and the Walton Arts Center, there will be lots of free parking downtown. There just won't be any reason to go there.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rematch on Road Impact Fees

It looks like Vice Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Republican businessman Jeff Koenig are about to square off again and have another go at it. Koenig led a group of developers, real estate salesmen, and Cowbirds who spent almost $50,000 to get a tie vote killing road impact fees that would have made them pay their fair share of dealing with the sprawl they are creating, but Jordan appears undaunted.

As the local developers continued last summer to scheme for a way to make citizens pay for their sprawl and congestion, Jordan announced that he would be back with a revised road impact fee proposal. Planning Director Tim Conklin says the requested research is almost complete, and The Morning News reports that Alderman Jordan, the biggest proponent of road impact fees on the city council, said he's eager to get to work on a tiered system taking home size and location into account in the fee structure. Jordan is also looking at reduced fees for affordable housing and LEED certified commercial buildings. A few months' delay over the winter as the council grappled with Fayetteville's 2008 budget and proposed water and sewer rate changes isn't a concern, he added.

The City Council should carefully consider Jordan's revised proposal and enact it with due dispatch. If Mayor Coody again insists in referring it to a public vote so the developers can mount another media campaign against it and outspend the supporters, then let's have it at the general election in November. That way, voters can make a clear choice between Jordan's progressive impact fees and Koenig's recalcitrant opposition to them at the same time we choose a new mayor.

Liberal Media Are Killing Jobs

Featherfest attendance, construction starts, housing sales, IQ scores, and sales tax collections are all down in Springdale, yet the city is being attacked by the liberal media and being sold out by its own elected officials. As Bill Ramsey has been trying to tell us for years, sign ordinances are job killers, a term he usually reserves for anything that will inconvenience the Chamber of Cowbirds. Now the liberal media, often the handmaiden of unbridled growth and profit at the expense of aesthetic and environmental concerns, has turned on Ramsey's short-sighted twin Perry Webb at the Springdale branch.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a bastion of liberal opinion, today turns on Springdale and says, "Sure, it’s the city of chickens and 18-wheelers, and while the town may never have had much eye appeal, it did have a long and successful history of bringing business and industry to town. So let Fayetteville keep its tree-huggers...." Now, it seems, that Alderman Jim Reed has grown a pair and joined Jesse Core to defy the local Chamber, but the editor warns that "previous efforts have failed. Nobody’s been willing to take on the deeply ingrained if dubious assumption that ugly is good for business."

The Chamber acolytes at the Northwest Arkansas Times were even more blunt about Signdale. They admit "one can't really appreciate the insanity of the situation just driving down U. S. 71 Business or U. S. 412. But if you come to a stop and get out of the car, then glance down these big boulevards, you quickly see that unbridled enthusiasm for business promotion has its effects. And those effects aren't pretty. ...Parts of Springdale (and just about every town) demonstrate that commercial interests left to their own restraint will often exercise none of it."

It seems that even Mike Masterson might be coming around to supporting a ban on billboards as well as library books. "As for the good folk of Springdale and their quandary over limiting the number of highway billboards to the 57 that now exist there, I can appreciate their conflict," he says, because "Perry Webb, president the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, initially said that these giant signs benefit local businesses and sales tax revenues because Springdale is the only city in the northwest corridor that allows them." His point is that "Fayetteville, Bentonville and Rogers have opted for the natural scenic beauty of their communities over erecting billboards that ballyhoo out-of-state casinos and weight-loss programs above their streets and highways," and now, like Sun Tzu, they are tactically using Springdale's billboard farm to hoist them on their own petard and lure business away.

Well, Fayetteville should have listened to Bill Ramsey. Instead, it stuck by its 30-year old billboard ban and current sign ordinance, losing all those high paying sub-minimum wage $2.63 an hour jobs at Cracker Barrel and Fuddruckers. The Cowbirds can't help us if citizens continue to stubbornly insist on being different from Springdale, especially without the constant cover of their dues-paying members in the local media.

Friday, February 15, 2008

School Daze

Well, well, well. It seems that Steve Percival yesterday called a special meeting of the Fayetteville School Board to discuss selling the current campus to the University of Arkansas. The meeting will be at noon on Monday, so any patron who wishes to attend can skip lunch or take off from work. It must be so urgent that it couldn't be held that evening or at the next Board meeting.

School Board President Percival is off in Florida at some important meeting and could not be reached for explanation, nor were UA Chancellor John White and Chancellor-elect David Gearhart available for comment. Board Member Susan Heil, who favors dumping the current property, said, “I think this is a meeting just to gauge what our approach is,” but that doesn't explain the urgency of such a meeting.

Superintendent Bobby New says he thinks the meeting is just to give him instructions on how to proceed in negotiating a sale to the UA but would not deal with a discussion of a preferred school location. One might think that efforts to sell off the current high school would indicate a decision has already been made. Be looking for a future switcheroo, where the University suddenly offers a land swap for part of the UA farm north of the campus.

In a related development, Dr. Janine Parry, UA political science professor and representative of BuildSmart, said the Fayetteville School District’s estimate of $86 million for construction of a new high school is a real low ball figure and that $145 million is a more realistic cost. Superintendent Bobby New, who has never been accused of having much imagination, said he can’t imagine a new facility costing $145 million and dissed Professor Parry by saying he couldn't imagine how his architects and construction experts "were so far off from BuildSmart when they do this for a living.”

Bobby New and everyone else should remember that Dan Coody's fabulous sewer plant to accommodate westward sprawl ended up costing far more than $145 million after a $63 million cost overrun that Coody blamed on low ball estimates from his design and construction experts.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quote of the Day

“For only $400,000 we get to watch this all winter long. Alderman Bobby Farrell wondered aloud during this week's City Council agenda-setting session how much of that money will come from the trail and sidewalk budget and how much will be donated by grateful merchants who have been suffering because the sidewalk and planter boxes weren't of the latest design.”

--Aubrey Shepherd, "Closed or Destroyed?" Aubunique

Too Little, Too Late?

"There are some large, long-term revenue issues on the horizon that we need to start dealing with now," Fayetteville public information manager and policy advisor Dr. Susan Thomas Ph.D. told City Council members yesterday during a meeting at Fayetteville's abandoned airport on south School Street. Now in his eighth and final year in office, Mayor Dan Coody finally says that our city needs an economic development plan, proving Hegel's dictum that Minerva's owl “spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk."

Relying on
"the best guess on the part of the experts at the university's Center for Business and Economic Development," Coody's Director of Operations Gary Dumas predicted that the city budget would have a $10 million annual deficit by 2015. Before making such dire predictions, Dumas and the "experts" at the University of Arkansas might want to consult with developer Tracy Hoskins, who told the Johnson City Council that his "research" indicated we would be experiencing tremendous economic growth in the third quarter of this year and everything would be just peachy. It convinced them.

Coody's solution to the potential calamity was equally predictable. He had his main man, Gary Dumas, propose spending $150,000 to hire some outside consultant to tell us how to do economic development.
Dum as said, “We’ve come up with an idea that we think will help us begin that discussion, not just on how we manage growth but how we can define an economic development policy at the council level with input from all of the fractions and fractures within the community, so there will be a public policy to guide the Chamber of Commerce [sic] and [Fayetteville Economic Development Council] and all those others who really invest in the city.”

Whoa, there big fellow. I thought Mayor Coody had placed Ray Boudreaux on the payroll to handle economic development for the city. Is he admitting that is a failure? And how is it that the Chamber of Cowbirds "really invest in the city," other than cutting ribbons on public works projects paid for by taxpayers or selling us Christmas lights at a 20% markup? And why do we need to pay some over-priced outside consultant to come in and run a bs focus group to tell us what we cannot find out from all the tax-paid experts sitting up there in the UA Wal-Mart College of Business?

What we need is leadership, not another out-of-state consultant to take our money and hand us a slick report that will sit on the shelf. Two announced candidates for mayor, Jeff Koenig and Walt Eilers, attended the meeting, but neither said a word about whether they had any ideas or what they would do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Great Rates, Well Kinda

Congratulations to Alderman Kyle Cook and the Fayetteville Water and Sewer Committee for the fine job on developing a new water rate structure. After four months of serious work and discussion, the committee recommended rates that move more toward rational cost-of-service instead of the hidden costs and benefits of the old structure that penalized residential customers.

The proposed residential water rate structure will include pricing that gives a break to those who conserve water or who might be on fixed incomes by adopting a lower rate for the first 2,000 gallons per month and a higher rate for those consuming in excess of 15,000 per month. Some residential bills will actually be lowered under this plan. "I think we did a good thing tonight," said Alderman Lioneld Jordan. "This is really going to help the elderly people and low-income people who can't afford a rate increase."

Proposed sewer rates are quite another matter. The committee was divided and did not recommend a plan to the full City Council. Aldermen Cook and Jordan supported a cost of service plan to go into effect next year, the so-called Option B.

Bill Ramsey spoke on behalf of the Cowbirds and seemed to be confused. He said that one large industrial customer was taking steps to conserve water, like that was a bad thing, and this would reduce revenue to the city. He didn't seem to understand that providing wastewater service is not a moneymaking venture or that conservation was a goal of sustainability. It was almost like he was just making up stuff to get lower rates for certain large industrial users.

Following Ramsey's remarks Aldermen Adella Gray and Bobby Ferrell supported a plan that would give industrial users a special break and delay their paying cost of service by jacking up the rates on residential customers above the cost of service. Fayetteville Finance Director Paul Becker said this sop to the Cowbirds would have residential customers paying an extra $1.00 a month to pad the profits of Pinnacle Foods about $8,000 a month. Other corporations would be given smaller gifts of corporate welfare from the citizen ratepayers.

The various proposals will go to the full council for a decision. Let us hope that our elected representatives will do the right thing on sewer rates and assure fair cost-of-service for residential customers instead of soaking them to subsidize large corporate industrial users.

Understanding what has and is going on here makes it clear how important it is to have these meetings carried on the Government Channel 16 where citizens can see and hear what's really happening. The Morning News account by Dug Begley is accurate but still incomplete. The coverage by the Northwest Arkansas Times only serves to remind readers how much we will miss the outstanding reporting by Adam Wallworth, who usually understood what was important and could write coherently.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another Wheeler Dealer

As Deep Throat told Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, "Follow the money." I am beginning to think that the only people who support building a new high school out west of I-540 are people who are looking to make big bucks at the expense of the public school kids and the generosity of the taxpayers. Or newspapers that are dependent upon their advertising and do their bidding.

On Sunday, we were treated to two infomercials in the
Northwest Arkansas Times that featured over-built strip mall development on Wedington and developer Tracy Hoskins touting the remote location he had unloaded on the school district several years ago. And, oh yes, he still owns lots of undeveloped property nearby, while developers Brandon Barber and Collins Haynes are sitting on unsold lots accruing interest. Imagine that. No wonder Jeff Koenig, Bill Ramsey, and the Cowbirds want the taxpayers to come to the rescue, pay for all the new infrastructure and roads, and build a multi-million dollar high school to stimulate sales for distressed developers and real estate speculators.

Today, Virginia Fedosky has a letter to the editor of the Democrat-Gazette in favor of selling off the current centrally located high school and building a new one near her acreage out on Salem Road. Here's her transparent pitch: "The University of Arkansas would like to buy the present property. This money would go a long way to pay for a new high school. Fayetteville has the needed acreage in a pleasant, attractive area just waiting to be developed." She failed to disclose that her husband retired from the UA Athletic Department in 1990 or how much their land and business on Salem Road, "just waiting to be developed," has appreciated since 1974.

No one is fooled by these grasping Wheeler Dealers looking to make money by pretending to care about the quality of public education and the future of our students. No one with genuine concern for outstanding public education will fall for their phony self-serving arguments or vote for a property tax millage increase to fund the developers' dreams of greater sprawl and more money.