Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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.

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