Monday, March 31, 2008

You Go, Girl!

Her name is Sarah Lewis, and there is a nice feature about her in today's Northwest Arkansas Times. She is chairman for the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods; she worked for the Applied Sustainability Center at the UA on incorporating sustainable practices in Fayetteville to create a better quality of life; she has been named Ozarks activist of the year by the Arkansas Sierra Club; she has been a public school teacher; she is a member of Fayetteville Downtown Partners helping raise funds for the Fayetteville Arts Council; she has worked with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission stream team; she is a member of the Illinois River Watershed Group; and she is working on a doctorate in environmental dynamics at the University of Arkansas. She also works as a consultant for the Springline Consulting Group, teaching developers, architects, and engineers how to implement low-impact development techniques to manage storm water.

Sarah Lewis is an outstanding citizen, and we're fortunate that she's a leader in our community. I also think she would be an excellent choice for Ward Four Alderman to continue the fine work of Lioneld Jordan. Send her an email and encourage her to run.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Yearling

The Iconoclast observed its first birthday this weekend. We celebrated the good things about life in our community and gave thanks for our readers. Your comments make this a conversation, and a good one. Thank you!

We're giving some thought to closing up and going on vacation. Maybe even retiring. We know that there are other voices and views in our community who can carry on or take the contrary position. Jonah would like to spend more time with the grandkids, and the crappie are running. But then we think that this is good fun in a good cause. We'll see.

Quote of the Day

"The Fayetteville School Board violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Thursday night. …

"Without a vote in the open, the public is denied its right to see the decision-making conducted on its behalf. Perhaps some may see the winnowing of this list to four people as unimportant, but public bodies must be held to a standard of openness with each decision. No decision of a public body is insignificant….

"The problem is these violations of the law always flair up at critical decision-making moments. School board members will never violate open-meetings laws when they’re voting to support a resolution praising the district’s national merit semifinalists. The violations will always happen on crucial decisions when the public’s right to observe the decision-making process is most important, and when, perhaps, school board members are less comfortable rendering public decisions.

"It shouldn’t require a newspaper editor to remind the school board president of his responsibilities to the public. Every time school board members veer toward secrecy on an issue, they should recognize their responsibility to determine whether they are within the law, and part of each member’s leadership should be staunch advocacy for very public decision-making."

-- Greg Harton, “Time to Study Harder,” Northwest Arkansas Times

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Harmonic Convergence

Governor Mike Beebe's proposed severance tax on natural gas has helped clarify the political values of local political leaders, and it has been both instructive and surprising.

Last week, Alderman Lioneld Jordan, Chairman of the City Council's Street Committee, wrote to area legislators asking them to support the governor's proposal, because it would generate $95 million annually for state and local transportation needs. Then on Monday, the Chamber of Cowbirds passed a resolution in support of Beebe's severance tax plan. Yesterday, State Representative Jim House (D-Fayetteville) announced that he had signed on the bill as a co-sponsor, and Earl Hunton (D-Lincoln), the Democratic Nominee for State Representative from District 87 also announced his support.

The only two local politicians who have embarrassed themselves by coming out against the severance tax increase to fund transportation needs are Gene Long (R-Springdale), an insurance salesman from Springdale, who is the Republican running against Jim House, and State Rep. Mark Martin (R-Prairie Grove) who is running against Earl Hunton. It is a sad day for Republicans when their candidates oppose funding for the area's transportation needs. Those out of state oil and gas corporations must be as pleased with the stooges Long and Martin as they are with the testimony against the tax by the Walton College's Kathy Deck based on her research funded by the same big energy corporations.

The Iconoclast agrees with the Cowbirds on this issue.

I Shall Never See a Ditch as Lovely as a Tree

The Illinois River Watershed Partnership is hosting The Riparian Project from 8 a.m. to noon today. Volunteers will plant hundreds of green ash and sycamore seedlings on city-owned property along the bank of Hamestring Creek to create riparian buffers that help preserve and protect water quality. Show up and join in if your can.

Riparian buffers are important because they
decrease streambank erosion, filter sediments and pollutants commonly found in runoff, provide stormwater storage, increase wildlife habitat, provide cooler water and air temperatures, and increase groundwater infiltration, according to information available on the group's website. They provide environmental and recreational benefits to creeks, streams, and rivers, and improve water quality and downstream land areas.

If you'd like more information about planning a riparian buffer on streams on your property or to give as a gift to help educate those who destroyed the buffers at
Aspen Ridge or Kitty Creek, the University of Nebraska Extension Service has numerous publications available. The UA Extension Service has nothing like that, but it offers advice on grazing cattle in riparian zones.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bureaucratic Insight of the Day

Arkansas's unemployment rate fell from 5.6% in January to 5% in February. According to Kimberly Friedman, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, "The decline in the rate is largely attributed to the reduction in the number of unemployed."

Whew! It is a relief to know that it wasn't just a clerical error by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.

Killing the Goose

The University of Arkansas System trustees voted today to raise fees and tuition rates for students at the University to take effect this fall. In-state students will see a 6% overall increase, including a rise in tuition from $159.05 per credit hour to $167. A full-time student taking 15 credit hours would pay tuition and fees of $6,399 per year beginning this fall semester, up from $6,038. At the law school, it will be $8,569.

Don Pederson, one of the many UA vice chancellors, said tuition is going up because of inflation and because money from the state wasn't keeping pace. Keeping pace with what, Don? The growing number of bureaucrats? The expenses for that new World Trade Center the UA opened up in Rogers? The salaries of custodial workers? The state increased funding for higher education by a record amount last year, and you're sitting on a billion dollar endowment.

The UA will also stick students with a new $2 per hour facilities fee expected to generate $837,000 annually for maintenance projects that the administration has not properly budgeted for during the last few years. What next, a classroom chair fee?

Every additional $392 dollars students fork over for tuition and fees each year is another $392 they won't be spending on good, services, beverages, and pizza that generate sales tax revenue for the city.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Yet Another Missed Opportunity

According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the aerospace industry led the state with $1 billion in exports in 2006 and plans to add 5,000 jobs in Arkansas during the next 10 years. These are good-paying jobs that could and should be coming to Fayetteville, but they are going elsewhere.

Two months ago, Remos Aircraft, a Germany-based company, announced that it would be opening its first U. S. assembly facility for propeller-driven sport aircraft at the Rogers Municipal Airport.

Yesterday, Aviation Repair Technologies announced that it will invest $20 million and create about 300 new jobs in Blytheville within three years with an average hourly wage of $20 an hour. Arkansas Northeastern College, a two-year school in Blytheville, will train workers for jobs at Aviation Repair. The average salary of about $42,000 a year is well above the national average of $38,600 and Arkansas’s per capita income of $30,000.

Why are none of these new jobs coming to Fayetteville? With Ray Boudreaux directing the city's efforts for Mayor Dan Coody, Republican businessman Jeff Koenig guiding the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, Kathy Deck cooking the numbers at the UA Center for Business and Economic Research, Phil Stafford of the UA Technology Development Foundation hiring outside consultants, and Bill Ramsey leading the Cowbirds, you would think we might get a few of these good jobs that are going elsewhere?

Talk is cheap, and consultants are expensive. We'd much prefer to see some results. We'd like to see some good jobs created in our community.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Never Steal Anything Small

Former Bethel Heights Police Sergeant Michael Sharum pleaded guilty to forging a $500 check to himself. Under a plea agreement, Circuit Judge Tom Keith accepted his guilty plea. Sharum was sentenced to 15 days in jail, probation for five years, and court costs of $920.

Just last month, Keonna Yantize Williams pleaded guilty to theft of property and forgery, both class B felonies, under a plea agreement that got him 10 years in prison for his role in using forged checks to purchase a Sony Playstation 3 and a laptop at the Pleasant Grove Wal-Mart Supercenter in Rogers. Circuit Judge Tom Keith required him to pay $1,420 in court costs and gave him credit for the 156 days he spent in the Benton County Jail awaiting trial.

Tom Coughlin, the millionaire business leader who stole some $400,000 from Wal-Mart, didn't have to spend a single day in jail, but he has to go to fancy fundraising parties at Quail Unlimited to do community service for his crimes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Image and Reality

We have written here before about some of the great teachers and students in the Fayetteville Public Schools. We have also talked about some of the self-serving and boneheaded actions by school administrators and board members. Nothing here can compare with the views about the Fayetteville School District presented yesterday on the front page of The New York Times or the upcoming NBC's "Today" show.

The New York Times reported yesterday that school officials had been unable to prevent the bullying of a student that began at McNair Middle School, continued through Woodland Junior High, and now happens at Fayetteville High School. The educational bureaucrats issued a statement attacking the newspaper reporter but failing to address the charges against school authorities, other than the expected and hardly credible claim that they followed procedures and dealt with the problem.

You'll remember last June when Republican businessman Jeff Koenig sent a letter to School Board President Steve Percival urging the District to sell off the current central campus and build a new high school out west of I-540 in Sprawlville. One reason he stated, without any evidence to back his claim, was that "l
ack of a high school campus equal to or exceeding those recently built in Rogers, Bentonville, and Springdale has been detrimental to recruitment of business and knowledge based workers to Fayetteville."

How will this latest episode affect the recruitment of business and knowledge-based workers to Fayetteville? Here's a sampling of more than 300 emails received by the school yesterday. "
You won’t find many people who will want to move to your town after reading the Times article. You must all be proud. How awful can a school district be? What is wrong with you people?" Robert Wexler. "I cannot express enough my disgust at the sorry excuse you seem to have for school administrators. How can you allow this sort of thing to happen? Are you living in the dark ages, or do you simply not read the research that has been done for the last decade on the harm bullying does to the targets AND the bullies?" David Mangefrida. "Here’s hoping that the family that is having to sue you to protect their son from the bigotry which Arkansas is famous for is successful. Very successful." Roy Treadway.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Speak Up Now About Fayetteville High School

At long last, the Future of Fayetteville High School Select Committee 2 will hold its first public comment session on the location of FHS at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Ramay Junior High cafeteria. According to a press release from school district administrators, “The purpose of the meeting is to allow district patrons to express their thoughts on the future location of [FHS ].” Committee chair Tim Hudson said he isn’t sure what the input gathering format for the meeting will be, so be ready for anything.

An article about the meeting in today's Northwest Arkansas Times quoted School Board Member Susan Heil as saying, "
I’m very interested to see who will be there." She didn't say she would be interested in hearing what people might have to say, but, then, she's already made up her mind to vote for selling the current location and building a new Mega-School outside of town.

The only other person quoted in the article was Judy McDonald, who along with Jeff Koenig and Laura Underwood, has been a vocal advocate for selling Fayetteville High School to the University. That is the kind of "fair and balanced" reporting we have come to expect from a newspaper that pays dues to the sprawl-loving Cowbirds and the secretive FEDC, both of which have testified they want the Mega-School out in the suburbs. Executive Editor Greg Harton for months has been humping for dumping the central location and building the Mega-School in Wheeler, so it is not surprising that the "reporter" Brett Bennett "forgot" to interview anyone from BuildSmart, the 900-member citizen group that was been providing tons of information and lots of options for a sensible compromise.

To paraphrase Paul Harvey, here's the rest of the story that you can't read in the Northwest Arkansas Times. Dr. Janine Parry was ignored in the Cowbird's house organ, but here's some of what she wrote to The Morning News.

"BuildSmart supports a compromise solution for the future of FHS. It is a solution available to the current select committee and likely to satisfy people who seek a 21st century high school and people sensitive to the new fiscal reality of our community; people who prefer the current site and people who worry about construction safety; people who understandably prioritize the experiences of their own children and those looking ahead for generations.

"The solution is this: the construction of a new 3-4 story building across the street from the current facility. Once that is complete, and students are safely located in the new facility, the current building would be subjected to a massive renovation. The total anticipated construction time for both stages is 3-4 years, though the first building -- the brand new facility to be occupied by the 10th-12th grade upon its completion -- would be done sooner.

"The beauty of this compromise is manifold. It results in a world-class school with high-tech classrooms, a large cafeteria, a gorgeous auditorium, and modern security measures. It is modestly-priced ($65-77 million). It looks ahead to the transition to two schools. It plays to Fayetteville's competitive advantage with newcomers by showcasing FHS's unparalleled access to the University of Arkansas. It preserves our community's few remaining large acreages for the residential and commercial development that will generate property taxes. It considers the negative impact of a longer daily commute on students, families, and the district's transportation budget. And, above all, it stands the best chance of exciting enough voters to build the 21st century facility we need.

"This kind of compromise solution is what BuildSmart is for. It is what we have supported for nearly a year."

You should, too. Show up Wednesday night and speak your piece.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lowell Business Goes Belly Up

National economic conditions have impacted our local economy, and some local service industries are now feeling the pinch. Just this week, once-booming Lowell lost several good paying jobs in the $150 to $300 an hour range as local entrepreneurs, one of whom had been in business for 10 years, gave it up after deciding that they could no longer make ends meet because of burdensome legal regulations on their business.

After a six-month "undercover" investigation, the Lowell Police Department cracked down on five independent contractors conducting a physical therapy business in that city. These dedicated business leaders were already facing hard times before being charged with misdemeanors for being in a unique position to meet market demand and fill a niche in the local service economy.

Lowell Police
Chief Joe Landers said officials are not considering any charges against the businesses' customers who made illegal purchases. Why the hell not?

Fayetteville Trails Program Gets Grant

Congratulations to Trails and Greenways Coordinator, Matt Mihalevich. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department announced the award of $33,600 to Fayetteville among the 26 most recent “Recreational Trails Program” projects funded under the federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act. It was the only grant awarded in Washington or Benton County.

Counties, universities, and non-profit groups are also eligible to apply for funding from the Arkansas Recreational Trails Program.
Sebastian County received $80,000; if Washington County applied, their proposal was not funded. Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia received $87,620 for their trails program; if the University of Arkansas applied, their proposal was not funded.

Washington County and the University of Arkansas should at least make an effort to apply for funding to build multiple use trails. The Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association could also apply for these funds to construct trails in the Mt. Sequoyah Woods and Brooks-Hummel Nature Preserve, and perhaps OMNI might apply for funding a boardwalk trail on the World Peace Wetland Prairie.

The next round of funding applications for FY 2008 are due at the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, 10324 Interstate 30, Little Rock, AR 72209, no later than 3:30 p.m., Friday, May 2nd. Grants have ranged from $119,000 to $1,500, with the average being about $33,000. It's federal money, and it would be better spent on local trails than on that damn war.

Another Entry in Fayetteville Mayor's Race?

Today's surprising news is that Steve Clark is considering running for Fayetteville mayor. He would join Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, consultant Walt Eilers, and Alderman Lioneld Jordan, who have already announced. I don't know Mr. Clark, but I think anyone who wants to run for any public office should be able to do so as easily as possible, without high filing fees or overly burdensome signature requirements. The voters can usually sift the more qualified from the less so.

Steve Clark moved to Fayetteville in the 1960s, was a member of the law school faculty, and lived here until he left to work in state government in 1976. Anyone asking to be elected mayor should have lived here long enough to understand the city's past as well as to have a vision for our future. He said he moved back to Fayetteville in 2006 to live closer to his children and grandchildren. That's a longer period of residence and a more legitimate excuse than a candidate from Goshen who moves to an expensive condo in town just in time to run for mayor.

The newspapers make a big deal about Steve Clark having been convicted of a felony and having been pardoned by Mike Huckabee. However, he is a registered voter and is eligible to run for mayor. Clark blamed his lack of judgment on alcohol and hubris. At least he admitted it and didn't try to hide his past financial transgressions. The law has forgiven him, and so should the newspapers. That doesn't mean he should be elected mayor or anything else. A person who files a false expense claim and steals money from the people or from their employer does not deserve to be trusted with taxpayer dollars, ever again.

We deserve a mayor we can trust.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

"There is one test that ought to be universally applied, one question that should be asked of all who seek election. How committed is the candidate to open government? ...We, the people, give the power. We, the people, have a right to know how it is being used."

--Brenda Blagg, "An Open Issue," The Morning News

Failure of the FEDC to Git-R-Done

"They have officially admitted that they were powerless over Fayetteville’s economic development — that our economic future had become unmanageable. They came to believe that an outside consultant greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. The Mayor and a majority of the City Council made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of unknown outside consultants, who will make a searching and fearless economic inventory of our city. They should admit to the media, to themselves, and to each citizen the exact nature of their past failings as members of the FEDC."

It was a sad moment. Mayor
Dan Coody finally admitted last night that the city had no economic development plan. Bill Ramsey hid out so he didn't have to confess the obvious failure of the Cowbirds. Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, former Chairman of both the Cowbirds and the FEDC, sat there in shame without saying a word about the utter failure of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council to land a single new job, other than for his son to make a video.

Gary Dumas
presented Coody's plan to spend $75,000 to help FEDC Director Phil Stafford and the UA Technology Development Foundation hire an outside consultant for $150,000 to develop a "visioning statement" about economic development, because no public officials, university professors, business organizations, or local consultants could handle the job. Coody and Stafford are on the Board of the FEDC, and each have committed $75,000 of public funds to pay for the consultants, and that is only Phase One. Alderman Robert Rhoads, a Director of the FEDC, led the charge for spending our money. The FEDC and the Cowbirds have not offered a dime for the project.

Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives says that "Fayetteville's deep industrial base and diverse tourism attractions ensure a healthy economy" already. The Cowbirds tell people that "Fayetteville offers a stable business climate," and they have said for years that their purpose was "fostering a prosperous business community!" Mayor Coody claims that we are already paying Ray Boudreaux to be in charge of economic development, so why doesn't someone ask him what his vision has been all these years on the payroll. The Fayetteville Economic Development Council says its vision is to "create and grow a diverse, vital and sustainable economy." Nice "visioning statement" we could borrow for less than $150,000, even if they don't have much to show for it after four years in existence.

Judging by the letter that Dumas sent and read last night, the Coody vision sees the purpose of economic development only to generate more tax dollars for the city. Republican businessman Jeff Koenig, the Cowbirds' candidate for mayor, says rather selfishly that he "
will support a serious economic development initiative to increase our high tax yield properties in order to relieve the ever-increasing tax demands upon the citizens of Fayetteville
." Neither are very inspirational.

I always thought that economic development was about creating a sustainable economy with good jobs that paid a living wage so that our citizens could afford decent housing, good health care, quality education, and full lives in our unique community. That's true economic development, and Alderman
Lioneld Jordan is the only public official who has articulated that vision.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thank You, Bobby Ferrell

Those of us who remember the Reagan Pentagon spendthrifts who gave taxpayers $434 hammers and $640 toilet seat covers were having flashbacks tonight. Mayor Coody's staff proposed spending almost $30,000 for office furniture at that new West Side Wastewater Treatment Plant, the one that already had the $63 million cost overrun. Alderman Adella Gray said that they needed state of the art chairs, no matter what it might cost.

Alderman Bobby Ferrell said that $450 chairs were a waste of taxpayer money, and he was against it. Thanks, Bobby, for looking out for the taxpayers and refusing to go along with padded purchases and the almost routine government extravagance that squanders our money.

Hard Work Pays Off for City

"I think we have come a long way," said Alderman Kyle Cook, a member of the Fayetteville City Council's ad hoc ambulance committee. "I know it's taken awhile, but I firmly believe we end up with a better agreement in the long run." The City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution tonight approving an interlocal agreement with the county and several other cities for a public utility model ambulance service. It is now a far better document than was first presented, and it protects the interests of the city and its residence in affordable and efficient ambulance service.

It would be easy to criticize the delay in reaching an acceptable agreement -- and some have already done so -- but the end result was clearly worth the city ambulance committee's hard work and persistence in getting answers to hard questions instead of just signing off without considering the consequences. Chairman Lioneld Jordan and the other members of the committee, supported by the detailed draftsmanship of our dedicated City Attorney Kit Williams, deserve credit for a job well done.

The devil is always in the details. Getting things right for the citizens requires attention to those details, asking good questions, making necessary improvements, and solving the problem for the benefit of our community. It requires dedication and hard work by our elected officials, and the job is often made more difficult by detractors who seek publicity over progress.

We will soon have better ambulance service for our community and our neighbors. It didn't happen because some political candidate wrote a nice speech; and it didn't happen because of childish threats and mysteriously leaked letters. We got a better agreement and will have better ambulance service because of hard work by those in the trenches of government who kept negotiating despite the distractions of political opportunists.

Get the Story Straight

Time changes many things. Some things that were thought to be true when Coody and the Cowbirds rushed Fayetteville's approval of the questionable $3.7 million TIF subsidy for the Nock and Alexander hotel project are no longer true. The TIF District was created in January 2005, bonds were issued in April 2006, and the magnificent Renaissance Marriott was to open in September 2007. Didn't happen.

Straight answers are scarce as to why we have a huge downtown scar known as the East Square Dig Hole in the Ground. First it was that the Marriott chain was demanding changes in the plans, and that excuse worked for a while. Now we are being told that the delay is because they are engaged in "value engineering" over such things as the price of bricks. Right. Then we should believe that story and discount the rumors that the developers don't have a firm commitment for construction financing.

I hope that the grand hotel is eventually built, that the city gets its money back, and that the owners make a profit. However, here's where my confidence begins to wane. In two newspaper articles today, we are given two contradictory stories by the developers, so the "time" factor cannot explain the disparities.

In the
Northwest Arkansas Times article, John Nock said he didn’t know if they would build the hotel or the planned 350-space parking deck first. He also said they would love to be done by fall 2009, but whether that happens depends on their value engineering process. Nock says the city extension until December 2010 doesn’t mean they are waiting until then to start the project. “That certainly is longer than we anticipate,” he said. “Could it go to that? I guess, legally, it could. But our goal is not to wait until 2010 to do the project.”

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article has a different story from Richard Alexander. He says the big parking deck would be next on the construction schedule and before the hotel’s tower. He also is quite clear about the start date on hotel construction when he says, “We got an extension to 2010 to pull [apply for ] all the project permits,[and] we’re going to use every bit of that time.”

How to explain these two obviously contradictory stories? Nock and Alexander are reported as saying different things about material facts. Reporters
Marsha Melnichak and Stacey Roberts give us two very different versions of those facts. Someone could be fibbing, or maybe one of the reporters got it dead wrong. Whichever, I regret that we cannot trust the word of businessmen nor the reports in the local newspapers.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Just Another Thursday in Dogtown

North Little Rock long claimed the title to Dogtown, but our newest Benton County city is quickly gaining on them and seems determined to capture the municipal moniker. On any given day, Bella Vista's watchful citizens are at the ready to report the numerous strays and barking dogs that plague their peaceful burg. Among the steadily escalating incidents reported last Thursday to the Bella Vista Police Department were the following:

At 7: 54 a. m. Thursday, a white dog was reported loose on Dillow Circle.

At 9: 52 a. m. Thursday, an animal complaint was made on Kirkcudbright Drive.

At 2: 39 p. m. Thursday, an animal complaint was made on Dalbeattie Lane.

At 7: 17 p. m. Thursday, a caller reported that her 12-year-old daughter had attacked her.

At 9: 26 p. m. Thursday, a pregnant woman stopped at the Police Department to report her boyfriend was abusing her.


It seems that everyone I know, and lots of people I have never met, have a story to tell about the predatory practices of tow truck operators in Fayetteville. As far as I can tell, it is much worse here than anywhere else in the state. The abuses have given the city a bad name among visitors, one that wipes out any good that might be done by the limited advertising and promotion expenditures from the city's Advertising, Promotion, Real Estate, and Investments Commission funded by the 2% HMR tax.

Typical is a complaint in today's local newspaper.
Jacob Adcock of Monticello writes, "As a visitor to the city while at a football game, I unknowingly parked in a fraternity parking lot and $150 later I find my car gone and find that the towing company and fraternity had a business deal to split the proceeds. Let's say it left me with an 'impression' of Fayetteville that has pretty well stuck with me." At least he didn't have his car towed to Pea Ridge like some past victims.

Regulation of abuses by tow truck companies is a farce. The state board that is supposed to handle complains has two citizen members and six members from the towing industry, so you can guess how aggressive they are in pursuing the 40 or so complaints they get each month. One of the towing operators on the board is
Avon "Junior" Phillips of North Little Rock, who is the long-time president of the industry's Professional Towing and Recovery Association of Arkansas, which boasts that it is "the tower's voice in Arkansas." According to Walt Eilers, who was Executive Director for that group, it was formed to "represent the interests of tow operators" when the state first tried to adopt legislation and regulations affecting their business. They did a great job of that.

Fayetteville is in the
Arkansas Towing and Recovery Board zone of Mary Thoma of Siloam Springs, who represents the interests of Non-Consent Operators and McKnight's Wrecker Service in West Fork. She was first appointed by Mike Huckabee in May, 2005. If you want to waste your time, here's the complaint form. You can call her business at (479) 839-2400 or email her at Do not try to call her at home (479) 549-3983.

If you want to watch this charade in action, the March meeting of this industry-dominated "regulatory" board is tomorrow at
9:30 a.m.
in the Attorney General’s Office, 2nd Floor Conference Room, 323 Center Street, Little Rock.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rash Bash by Gash

Reasonable people can disagree about U.S. adventurism in the Middle East, but unthinking militarism that would squelch public dissent is alive and well in Fayetteville. Oklahoma native Kathleen M. Gash, 46, now of our fair city is adamant and apparently angry, because today she displays a serious misunderstanding of history, government, and current events in a Letter to the Editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Gash begins by saying, "I was appalled on a recent Saturday in Fayetteville to see people protesting the defense of our nation." You must be easily appalled and by the wrong things, Kathleen. You might justifiably be appalled that high government officials lied us into this insanity. You might be appalled that our Arkansas National Guard troops are being sent to Iraq by Bush and Cheney as an occupation force for Halliburton, while their families, our neighbors like Sophia Fowler, are torn apart and living alone on reduced incomes. You might be appalled that almost 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and that thousands are returning home with serious physical injuries and mental problems.

"I also would love to know why they think they have the right to stand on the corner and hold up a sign at all," Gash demands. It is called the First Amendment, Kathleen. It guarantees that citizens have the fundamental and inalienable right to speak, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances. It is an old-fashioned notion that our government is based on the consent of the governed, and "they" were letting Bush know they didn't consent to his policies being inflicted in their name.

Finally, Gash asserts, "If they did not live in the democracy they do, they would not have that right to begin with, a right that was given to them by the men and women who have given their lives for this great country." Okay, Kathleen, listen carefully. First, this nation is not a democracy, it is a republic, or at least it is supposed to be. Second, it is a "self-evident truth" that "they" were "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," and senseless military deaths had nothing to do with it.

Just because someone declares bankruptcy doesn't mean they should be bankrupt of facts, logic, and honest arguments.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sir Steve Percival Brooks No Dissent

Fayetteville School Board President Steve Percival is the boss man who insists on controlling and limiting public comments about anything to do with public education, especially when those citizens disagree with his position. Last year, Percival banned one outspoken critic from speaking at board meetings, citing frequent violations of his unwritten expectations of decorum. He declared that she would no longer be allowed to speak before votes on action items at meetings or during the "citizen participation" to time, because she did not show the proper deference to the board and administrators. Ten days later, Percival finally printed and distributed some official rules of decorum.

This week, Sir Percival clamped down on public comment again at a district-hosted forum Thursday evening in the FHS Bates Annex.
Justin Minkel, a Fayetteville resident who was the 2006-07 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, was the last patron to speak. He attempted to discuss the merits and advantages of the current location of the high school, but he was interrupted at least three times by Percival, who admonished him, "You’re not respecting what I’m asking you to do.” At least Mr. Minkel didn't get banned or put on double-secret probation; he was just told to STFU.

On the other hand, board member Susan Heil, who is up for reelection in September, was never interrupted by Sir Percival. She went
on and on about the "partnership" with the University of Arkansas that she is pushing to compensate for the disconnect that would occur if she gets her way and the central location is sold and abandoned. When she is talking about the need for the UA to provide round-trip transportation to FHS students taking concurrent enrollment classes, who doesn't know that is directly talking about Location and the long ride in from the burbs. That's alright, since she wasn't suggesting that the district should build a world class facility on the current campus in central Fayetteville.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Benton County Rich Are Different....

If you or I bounced a check for groceries at the Wal-Mart, they would have the local prosecutor throw our butts in jail. Now, if you were a wealthy corporate executive and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars then claimed to be feeling too poorly to go to a minimum security federal country club, well, then you'd probably just have to stay in your mansion for a couple of years.

The United States Attorney must have been surprised to learn that Tom Coughlin was out and about, feeling perky enough to attend the Hunting Heritage Superfund Banquet last
Saturday night at the Quail Unlimited barn in Bentonville -- where alcohol flowed freely in "dry" Benton County, where a designer camouflage suit from San Francisco-area clothier Foxy Huntress went for $2,500, and where firearms were auctioned in the presence of a felon. The banquet organizer said Coughlin was there doing "community service," and one of his admirers added that "all that stuff about his federal case is a bunch of crap.”

Benton County's own Congressman John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Community) today voted to give the giant telecommunications corporations retroactive legal immunity for participating in warrantless wiretapping and violating the privacy rights of their customers. The House of Representatives, with the support of Arkansas's Democratic Congressmen Berry, Snyder, and Ross, passed the amendment 213-197 denying retroactive immunity. Boozman was alone in shilling for the big corporations at the expense of the average citizen this afternoon, just before he voted to adjourn for a 17-day vacation.

Fitzgerald was right, the rich are different from you and me.

Fire Fighters Union Saves the Day

Fayetteville is blessed with dedicated public employees, and the Fayetteville Fire Fighters of IAFF Local 2866 are among those who deserve our support and appreciation. Not only do they provide outstanding service for the public safety every day 24/7, they also give back much to our community in numerous ways, from the annual Pancake Breakfast during Autumnfest to their latest financial support for summer family activities.

Movies in the Park was a casualty of recent budget cuts, but it will continue on Friday nights this summer, thanks to a $2,500 donation to the Parks and Recreation Department from our local fire fighters union. Two drive-in movies will be shown at the Wilson Park swimming pool, and three will be in the Yvonne Richardson Center.

Jeremy Ashley, president of Local 2866 of the International Fire Fighters Association, said the movies are enjoyed by the firefighters and their families, and they wanted to do something to keep it going for everyone in our community. “Movies in the Park is one of those things that’s profamily. It’s free to everybody who wants to come watch a movie, and we thought it was important to continue those things.”

There is no better place to be this summer than your neighborhood park. Grab a picnic basket and a blanket and enjoy the show. Bring the family, and our local fire fighters union will bring the stars.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Fix Is In

Last month, the Iconoclast reported that the applicants for Superintendent of the Fayetteville School District included only one woman, that it looked like the deal was already wired, and that Steve Percival and the Board were dragging their feet to make sure that Bobby New's hand-picked assistant Randy Willison would get the job. With only nine applicants, you know they weren't trying very hard to recruit.

Whether that was their plan or not, the pieces are certainly falling into place along those lines. The highly qualified Dr. Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, the only female applicant, will no longer be a threat to insider Willison's coronation. She was selected yesterday to head the Tucson Unified School District at a salary between $185,000 to $230,000. The Board members there said she was a "strong change agent" and that her colleagues in Iowa had called her "the teacher's teacher."

Six weeks ago, we predicted, "
Chances are that the Fayetteville School District's next hire will be a white guy and that patrons will have no real voice and little influence on the decision." Looks like the chances just got a whole lot better.

Bobby New Has Lost It

I guess it depends on what the definition of "it" is, but it could be (a) touch with reality, (b) public trust, (c) any sense of shame, or (d) all of the above. Fayetteville School Superintendent Bobby New's remarks in the Arkansas Times article today make no sense whatsoever. New appears to have been trying to discount the huge water, sewer, and road infrastructure costs that will be required for his Deane Solomon Dream, so he implies that staying in Fayetteville will also have street infrastructure expenses, too. See for yourself what you think he could possibly have meant:

Surrounded by university property and a state highway, the existing site faces tremendous infrastructure challenges, New said. Although FHS has not grown significantly in recent years, its university neighbor has, and traffic problems are particularly pressing on Razorback game days. Fayetteville has “an older population driving more cars,” New said.

Does New mean that there are too many old people driving their cars around the high school during school hours? Geezer brigades cruising the campus make it necessary to improve the streets? I don't think so, Bobby. The Census Bureau says only 8.7% of the city's residents are 65 or older, while the state average is 14%, and the median age here is only 26.9 years.

Or here's the big one, that "traffic problems are particularly pressing on Razorback game days." Yeah, right. We know that those five football games a year disrupt high school classes on Saturday afternoons, just like those 7:05 p.m. Razorback home basketball games cause traffic problems for all those students taking night classes at the high school.

Hang it up, Bobby. Your doublespeak has already poisoned the voters against the Cowbird Plan being pushed by Ramsey, Koenig, Percival, and Heil. Go away before you kill any chance of a millage increase to build a world-class high school facility in a central location.

"Sprawling and Brawling"

The debate on the future of Fayetteville High School has now become state news. Today's issue of the Arkansas Times has an article on the controversy between those who argue for keeping the high school in town and the Cowbird plan to sell out to the UA and build anew in the burbs. The school administrators' intentionally poor communication strategy is not the only factor undermining public trust in the decision process.

Of particular interest are the weasel words of
University of Arkansas Grand Poobahs who hatched a nefarious plan to jack up student tuition by $1,100 as a means to satisfy their land grab scheme. When the Pederson-Sugg memo was discovered by the public, it became an orphan, but it is still operative. You'll be amazed at the squirming and lack of fortitude to claim credit, assuming you can decode the abuse of language and lack of clarity expected from such overpaid University bureaucrats.

Here's an excerpt from Doug Smith's fine article:

“Something of an outcry arose with the recent publication of an August memorandum from Donald O. Pederson, UA vice chancellor for finance and administration, to B. Alan Sugg, president of the University of Arkansas System. Pederson wrote on the feasibility of paying for the FHS property by raising tuition and fees for University students. The increase would be on the order of $9 per credit hour, he said.

“Asked how he came to write the memo, Pederson told the Arkansas Times by e-mail:

“‘I may have been asked to keep President Sugg informed but do not recall if it was Chancellor White or Dave Gearhart that may have asked me or if there was some other reason. [John A. White is the outgoing chancellor of UA's Fayetteville campus. Vice Chancellor G. David Gearhart will succeed him as chancellor on July 1.] Since the decision on the property is a Board of Trustees decision and articles were to be written about it, I may have wanted to provide the then current thinking on the subject to the President who has the most interaction with the Board. I don't believe I got a response.’

“Sugg, whose office is in Little Rock, told the Times ‘My response is I don't want to be involved in the controversy.’ But he added that UA administrators are considering the long-range interests of the University. UA is presently buying ‘little pieces of property’ around the Fayetteville campus, he said, and the FHS property, if available, would probably be UA's last chance to buy 40 acres of contiguous land. Whether the property will be available is up to the Fayetteville School Board, he said. If UA does have a chance to buy, a tuition increase would be one way to do it, but that decision would be up to the UA Board of Trustees, he said.”

We report; you decide if it is just more bs.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hardball Response of the Day

Rep. Keven Anderson (R-Rogers), chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, said he's leaning against Beebe's proposal and criticized the governor for crafting the proposal behind closed doors with natural gas firms before taking it to lawmakers.

"Mr. Anderson's people have told me over and over their number one priority is to get more money for highways in northwest Arkansas because of a crying need. He obviously doesn't think they need highways in northwest Arkansas," [Governor Mike] Beebe told reporters at the Capitol.

"Republicans Line Up Against Beebe's Severance Tax Proposal," Associated Press

Arkansas Bad Cop Week

It has been a bad week for the image and fact of justice in Arkansas, as law enforcement officers continued to commit serial abuses of power. Of course, one poster commented earlier that it is a good week for the people when the cops don't shoot and kill an unarmed mentally-handicapped citizen who has committed no crime.

The buzz is all about
Cpl. Jarrod Hankins of the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Bailiff for the Circuit Court. He locked Adriana Torres-Flores, a woman who had entered a not guilty plea to selling pirated CDs, in a holding cell without food, water, or restroom facilities from Thursday until Monday. He says he forgot to call the Sheriff's Office to have her transported and forgot that he had locked her in the cell at the courthouse. Forgetting about people is a passive abuse of power, but it is a common one among public officials.

Then there is
Josh McConnell, another of Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder's boys and detective with the 4th Judicial Drug Task Force. He provided false information to have his sister's ex-husband stopped for a drug search by both the Sheriff's Office and the State Police. Washington County Deputy Steven Walker stopped the "suspect" for the amorphous charge of "careless driving" and wrote four tickets, and he also denied knowing fellow deputy McConnell. Then McConnell called Walker a liar for saying he had tipped him on the stop. As Rick Hoyt understated, there is "an integrity issue" with all of these cops, and there is a management issue with the Sheriff who cannot control such abuse by his personnel.

Former Springdale Police Officer
Donald Lee Stevens was arrested as a suspect in a bank robbery this week. Stevens was on probation for a 2004 case where he initially was charged with commercial burglary, theft, and breaking and entering for using keys and pass codes to plunder several Arvest bank machines in Springdale. In 2005 he pleaded guilty to one count of bank larceny and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Wonder who was supervising him?

On Monday in Benton County, Arkansas State Trooper Brian Garrett pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated assault and second-degree battery. If convicted, he could receive a sentence of up to six years on each of the felony counts.
Mandi Garrett of Bella Vista claimed that her husband physically abused her and was abusive toward her three children. Garrett is also accused of placing the muzzle of his duty revolver against his wife's face after he had been drinking.

Local hero Colonel Winford Phillips, head of the State Police, was backed up this week by the State Police Commission for firing State Trooper
Roderick L. Trotter, who abused his power and admitted seeking a three-way sex encounter between his wife and two women in a car he had stopped for driving with expired tags. Phillips said, "It bordered on soliciting prostitution," and that Trooper Trotter's actions were "unprofessional and unacceptable." Trotter's lawyer, J. Leon Johnson who is an Outstanding Alumnus of Harding University and was appointed Arkansas Attorney General by Governor Mike Huckabee, fought the firing and said Trotter's offense wasn't as bad as another state trooper who had sex in his patrol car when Huckabee was governor.

We're still waiting on Colonel Phillips' response to the investigation he ordered on abuse of power by Trooper
Thomas Weindruch, who was off-duty and showed up uninvited at a house fire to arrest a newspaper reporter on the bogus charge of "obstruction of government operations," the ubiquitous charge that is used when cops get mad and can find no crime. The judge dismissed the charge back in December, and Phillips directed that the investigation of Trooper Weindruch’s behavior by the Internal Affairs Division be made a priority. Three months with no action hardly seems like it was a priority.

How can people be expected to respect the police when the cops don't respect the fundamental rights of the people?

Always No Taxes, Always

It was a landslide defeat for Bentonville's proposed millage increase to build a new high school costing more than $100 million. To give you an idea of what a poor job the Bentonville School Board and administrators did in selling the millage, there are 3,053 students currently enrolled in Bentonville High School, and the millage increase got only 1,699 votes from 23,731 registered voters in the district.

Bentonville Superintendent Gary Compton said,"We just did our best campaign." If 59% of the voters in Bentonville said NO to 4 mills, when there was no vocal opposition to building a second high school, the Fayetteville School Board should rethink the prospects for passing a millage increase to build a controversial Mega-School on the outskirts of the city.

The last time out, the Fayetteville School Board asked for a 4.8 mill increase and got their butts handed to them by 61%-39%, winning the support of only 1,633 voters among about 40,000 registered. Assuming that they can recover from the past ill will and mistrust created by Bobby New and former board members, the current board will have a difficult time selling the voters on that Mega-School in Sprawlville advocated by Jeff Koenig and the Chamber of Cowbirds.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Guest Editorial

An anonymous commentator offered the following contribution in a comment posted to another thread. It deserves better placement and your consideration:

Fayetteville desperately needs a good breakfast joint in the tradition of a good old fashioned diner, but with an upscale twist. You know we'd all be down there right now.

Someone--please grab the now defunct Maison des Tartes building. Transform that cavernous dining room by installing booths below and a reading-room loft above for the coffee addicts, which would lower the ceiling and create some intimacy. Later on think about an outside patio--there's plenty of room.

Make as much of it self-serve as possible (coffee press-urns, toasters, bussing stations (ala Panera), etc.) In the back of that huge room, extend the kitchen out for an open style grill for cooking of omlettes/crepes etc. People order and pick up there. Table-waiting only for coffee refills & cleanup.

Serve the healthiest possible kicked-up peasant food with plenty of items adjustable for vegetarians. Keep a small bakery thing going for your own biscuits, focaccia, cookies, bagels, etc. Have to-go sandwiches/salads/sweets avail. in the front case that would be modified for virtual self-service (ask the Mad Barber Eric Loyd about this--he's got the idea down).

Keep it simple, nothing terribly hoity-toity but use the best locally grown ingredients possible.

Please--someone--do this. I remember back when Carey Arsaga told me it was a choice of either running for mayor or openeing a really good breakfast place where ONF used to be on Dickson St. Now there's a team who can do things right. If only....

Anonymous, March 11, 2008 9:40 AM