Saturday, May 31, 2008

Even the Democrat-Gazette Gets It

"What are some hot topics in Fayetteville these days? Perhaps the future location of the high school. Or what’s going to become of the Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street. Those subjects are getting a lot of talk in the papers, over the air, and in countless conversations in coffee shops and on street corners. But you won’t find them being discussed in forums on the Government Channel these days. The city’s would-be propaganda minister, Susan Thomas, has decided otherwise. The public forums have been dismantled.

"Ms. Thomas’ actual title is public information officer. Right now she’s busy limiting public information. It seems she agrees with the latest word from the city attorney. Kit Williams has opined that the forums on the Government Channel might be an illegal use of the channel. So Susan Thomas now has a rationale for killing the forums. Or as she put it in pure doublespeak, she didn’t really cancel the forums. She just announced that planning them had been stopped. Another distinction without a difference. Censors have a million of ’em. ...

"What’s going on here? Why the city administrator’s sudden interest in programming on the Government Channel? And why, after all these years, are the public forums on the channel deemed illegal? These issue forums have long been done remarkably well. They’re balanced. Every side is heard. ...

"The bigger concern is that the administration’s latest intrusions open the door to further meddling in programming on the Government Channel. Some future administration might be inclined to tamper with the policies even more. The programming could become just what it was designed not to be: a tool to put the current administration in the most favorable light. ...

"We’d especially like to hear something unequivocal from Dan Coody, the mayor. He’s notoriously touchy about public information that doesn’t come out the way he thinks it should. What’s his role in this flap? Does he support undermining the independence of the Telecommunications Board? And Susan Thomas’ fiddling with programming? Good questions. Answers are needed. ...

"The public forums on the Government Channel have been a good source of information about various topics of community interest. To undermine that success—for whatever reason—is a mistake. The city council needs to get to the bottom of this. Soon. Before silence becomes standard operating procedure. Even in once free-speaking Fayetteville."

Editorial, "Shut Up, She Explained," Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Friday, May 30, 2008

Pocket Parks and Public Parking

Main Street Rogers is sorta like Fayetteville Downtown Partners, only more successful because it has the visionary support of the Raymond Burns and the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, whereas it is hard to think of anything our local Cowbirds actually do for our community. Showing up to cut ribbons for projects the taxpayers or someone else did doesn't count. Also, unlike FDP President Daniel Keeley, Main Street Rogers Director Marge Wolfe has been applying for grants and state funds in a timely manner to pay for its operations and projects.

As in Fayetteville, the Bypass Business Booster Brigade has long spread the rumor that downtown parking is a problem. When the Rogers Main Street Design Committee looked for a way to draw attention to the abundant parking, they also found a way to add valuable green space to the same area with a plan for a series of pocket parks. Each of the eight public parking lots will soon have its own pocket park -- consisting of a tree, a bench, and a trash can -- a pleasant place for people to spend a few minutes, said Wolfe. Each pocket park, placed in space that can’t be used for parking, also will mark the lot as free public parking, rather than a towing trap like the lots owned by University Baptist Church in Fayetteville.

It is an idea worth stealing, and we could do it without having to spend a wad of taxpayer dollars to hire yet another out-of-state consulting firm.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Frequent the Fayetteville Flyer

The Fayetteville Flyer rules! It is one of our favoritest local links on our blogroll, and it has been especially good the last few days. Get on over there to read their current entries on the hot NWA Rollergirls, Badass Baby Smasher Rodney Lee Crosby, the famous Painted Horse at College and Joyce, our new Chicken Row on MLK, the Fayetteville Police Department's MySpace page, the Eureka Blues Festival, and other great stuff we wish we were cool enough to have written and posted.

Don't miss the news entry on Fayetteville being named in Kiplinger's Top Ten at No. 7 among the nation's Best Cities to Live, Work, and Play. You'll love the graphic reminding us what we had before the slick-talking developers gave us the TIF Mudhole. Might have been No. 6 if it weren't for that boondoggled blight on our city.

New Dog Up to Old Tricks

The Fayetteville School Board will meet today at 5:00 o'clock, and you can sit silently and watch as Superintendent Bobby New recommends and the Board offers to sell the centrally-located high school campus to the University of Arkansas for $59 million. It is a price less than the district's own appraisal. Fetch.

You can see it all on Channel 14, which is just as well, since the Board is not interested in your opinion or participation. Sit.

The morning line is 4-3 to sell. Roll over.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cable Imbroglio or Coody Implosion?

There were signs during last week's City Council meeting that something was not quite right. Planning Director Tim Conklin, a very competent and highly regarded city employee, is resigning to take a job in Springfield, Missouri. The City Council passed a Resolution of gratitude for Conklin's 15 years of service, then Mayor Coody announced that Conklin's position would not be filled until next year, dumping his responsibilities on the other employees. Quite a slap at the staff just honored by the Council in a 7-0 vote, then later in the same meeting he berated the Council for not respecting the staff and adding two burdensome weeks to the time it would take to fill a vacant position. Bizarre or Bipolar?

This week it got worse. No one has seen the Mayor at City Hall, and perhaps for good reason. Dr. Susan Thomas, Ph.D., Public Relations and Policy Adviser, has usurped all power granted to the Telecommunications Board by ordinance and declared it merely advisory. She decided to unilaterally draft new regulations. She has also suspended all public affairs forums on the Government Channel and decreed that even previously recorded and shown forums cannot be replayed. All of this comes on the heels of her firing the city's long-time Cable Administrator and having him removed by the police.

Then, yesterday, Dr. Susan Thomas Ph.D., Public Relations, Policy Adviser, and Self-Appointed Cable Czar, fired off a memo to Mayor Coody declaring that "the conflict of opinion between me and certain member of the Telecom Board in this matter has become untenable and has created a negative working environment in which I am no longer willing to participate." Big surprise. She asked the Mayor to relieve her of responsibility for the FUBAR situation.

It gets even more weird. If you have forgotten Dan Coody's bold statement before the Fayetteville City Council on September 19, 2000, that control of the Government Channel should be by the Telecom Board and not the Council and that there should be more citizen debates and not less, Richard Drake has that and more on his Street Jazz blog today. Now in power, Coody wants his office to control everything and squelch all public debate in that forum. City Attorney Kit Williams has also sent Mayor Coody a memo supporting that new position and repudiating as unwise the stance taken by candidate Coody when he ran for office.

It would still be okay under Coody's new scheme for Coody, himself, to use the Government Channel to present one-sided "educational" programs like the campaign to increase the sales tax or his press puffery of whatever he wants to brag on himself about endlessly. It would not be okay for citizens to request and present a balanced discussion of proposed impact fees or even proposed regulations of the Government Channel. The government will tell you anything they want you to know.

Although I had a couple of earlier blog entries about this topic, I haven't followed it closely and really don't know much about all of this stuff, so chime in if you have a better handle on what's going on here. I do think it looks like the end times for this administration. It seems to be so riddled with contradictory positions that the mayor has lost the public trust. Coody should be very glad that Scott McClellan didn't work for him. The rest of us can be glad that there are 217 days left in this year.

Wal-Mart to Shareholders: Just Say No

Lay up groceries and rent some DVDs before the Wal-Mart shareholders descend on Fayetteville and occupy the city next week. The big annual meeting is scheduled for June 6 at the University of Arkansas, the corporate giant's wholly-owned subsidiary. They are coming to be entertained and to vote against any shareholder proposals to reform policy or hold management responsible for their actions.

Wal-Mart's press release announcing the meeting and releasing its required Proxy Statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission led with boasting that "part of the company’s growing sustainability efforts, the annual report contains fewer pages than in past years, is printed on lighter, recycled paper and directs shareholders to the company’s website for additional information and to vote their proxy ballots." Charles Holley, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Executive VP/Treasurer, said, “we’re glad that an increasing number of our shareholders worldwide have joined us in that effort ... by filing their proxy ballots electronically.” Think Diebold voting machines.

The corporate press release fails to mention that Wal-Mart opposed all eight shareholder proposals to be voted on next month. No surprise, considering the overarching greed factor, that management opposes the proposals for performance-based executive salaries (No.5), to recoup compensation of executive officers based on fraudulent or illegal conduct (No.6), to allow shareholders to call special meetings (No.11), and an advisory vote of shareholders on "mushrooming executive compensation that sometimes appears to be insufficiently aligned with the creation of shareholder value” (No.8).

Wal-Mart management also asks the shareholders to vote against proposals to require "transparency and accountability in corporate spending on political activities," including the millions in campaign contributions and independent expenditures (No.9). The minority stockholders believe, "Disclosure is consistent with public policy and in the best interest of the company and its shareholders. Absent a system of accountability, company assets can be used for policy objectives that may be inimical to the long-term interests of and may pose risks to the company and its shareholders." It doesn't cover the millions they spend annually on lobbying. Corporate executives making those decisions disagree, and management says vote no.

Shareholder Proposal No. 10 requests a report from management on "the negative social and reputational impacts of reported and known cases of management non-compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and standards on workers’ rights and the company’s legal and regulatory controls" and "the Board’s recommendations and actions taken to improve compliance.” Wal-Mart opposes this one, too, and urges voting against it as well as against amending the corporation's written equal employment opportunity policy (No.4).

Shareholders are also proposing (No.7) "a Board Committee on Human Rights, which is created and authorized to review the implications of company policies, above and beyond matters of legal compliance, for the human rights of individuals in the US and worldwide." They say, “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and its suppliers have been associated with labor and human rights controversies both inside and outside the
U.S. Such attention damages our brand and thereby long-term shareowner value.” Wal-Mart management says it doesn't need no stinking committee on human rights and urges shareholders to vote it down.


Wal-Mart corporate management will prevail and defeat each of the stockholder proposals for reform. They always do. Still, if you're interested, you can read the proposals and Wal-Mart's arguments against them by downloading the full Proxy Statement.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

College Avenue Improvement Project

Eight years ago. Eight years ago, Dan Coody was running for Mayor. He stood in a parking lot on College Avenue, remarked on the power lines and curb cuts, and called the street "dangerous and ugly." If elected, he promised a beautification plan that included new sidewalks, bike paths, and convenient stops for public transportation, with trees all along the avenue and draping over traffic for seven miles from Drake Field to the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

Coody, who at the time had only two years experience in city government and none on the Street Committee, said
he would look to federal and state grants and private donations to fund the project. He didn't know how much it would cost, and he didn't know then that mayors who would be good managers have to figure inflation costs to avoid multi-million dollar cost over runs on public works projects.

At the time, everyone said it would cost too much to even bury the utility lines along College. Coody found that to be true when SWEPCO undermined the entire Dickson Street improvement project by installing those huge, ugly utility poles through the heart of the entertainment district and historic neighborhoods. There was nothing he could do about it. The city didn't have the money to bury the lines there, nor on College Avenue.

Dan Coody did have a vision for College Avenue, and a majority of voters in 2000 trusted him. Today, eight years later, work finally begins on College Avenue,
replacing the curbs and sidewalks and adding street trees and new lighting along seven blocks from Rock Street to Maple Street. It is part of the Street Bond Program passed by the voters in the 2006 sales tax bond election, after all of those imagined grants and private donations to make improvements didn't happen..

Mayor Coody will have a public ceremony to celebrate his accomplishment next month after he returns from vacation. It is not the grand seven-mile vision he offered voters in 2000, but seven blocks is an improvement. It should be finished in about six months, just before Coody leaves office. I'll be glad when it is done.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What's Going On with the A&P Commission?

The March collections for Fayetteville's Hotel, Motel, and Restaurant tax are now in; the leading restaurant in terms of reported sales is Red Lobster, which paid $3,878, and the leading hotel is the Clarion Inn, which paid $2,389. Those figures represent 1% of their monthly sales, and the money is supposed to be spent by the Advertsing and Promotion Commission on advertising and projects or events that promote tourism in Fayetteville.

Past funding from A&P tax dollars have been spent on things that don't seem to fall within the ordinance or the state statute and hardly qualify as promotion of tourism.
NWA BEST got money for a high school contest to build robots and encourage students to pursue careers in engineering. The Barbara Mashburn Scholarship Foundation gives money to students preparing for a career in vocal music with tuition and expense support for up to ten semesters provided the students participate in Singers’ rehearsals.

That's not all that is being funded under the guise of tourism.
First Night is a big New Year's Eve Party of fantasy and fun for local residents.
Pagnozzi Charities gives sports scholarships to grade school children for equipment purchases, travel expenses, uniforms, camp registration fees, recreational program fees, monthly instructional classes, and Razorback game tickets for families. No one seems to think it is a blatant conflict of interest that CVB Director Allyson Twiggs is also on the board of Pagnozzi Charities.

Mayor Dan Coody, who appointed himself to the A&P Commission, said he had planned to ask for about $250,000 from the commision for remodeling the Square Gardens last year, but Commissioner Bob Davis made the motion to give him $460,000 from the commission's reserves. According to the city's website, A&P tax revenues cannot "be utilized for expenditures that are normally paid from general revenues of the City," but Coody said he would find city funds to match the money.

Executive Director
Marilyn Heifner says the Advertising and Promotion Commission has no funds in its budget this year to support the Fayetteville Arts Festival that brings in thousands of visitors and boosts the city's reputation as the regional center of arts and culture.

There are also problems with businesses not paying what they owe. "Patrons to restaurants in Fayetteville pay a built-in tip to the city, but in some cases the restaurants never pay their tab," according to the
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Thousands of dollars a year paid by customers in the form of a hospitality tax never make it out of the business’ coffers and into the city treasury. ...Nonpayment of HMR tax is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor but a violation of city ordinance."

Pat Gazzola said businesses that do not turn in HMR taxes are pocketing the money that other businesses are being forced to pay, and he proposed shutting off city water service to hotels and restaurants that do not pay what they owe. Gazzola owns the Catfish Hole, which ranked No. 13 and paid $1,852 for March.

Other restaurant owners serving on the Commission are Neal Crawford, owner of Jose's, and Maudie Schmitt, chef and co-owner of
Café Rue Orleans. Neither of them were among the Top 60 local restaurants in terms of self-reported sales and HMR tax, that included Hooters (29),Starbuck's (43), Razorback Cinema (50), and Slim Chicken's (58).

Maybe it's time for an audit?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Junket John Votes for Foreign Corporations

Congressman John Boozman left town this weekend for a 10-day taxpayer-funded trip to Germany and Turkey with his wife, Cathy. "We can tell you more about the trip when he gets back," said Boozman spokeswoman Sara Lasure. It is supposed to be official business. Boozman is ranked No. 95 in the Golf Digest’s Top 200 most powerful golfers in Washington.

Before leaving the Capitol this weekend, John Boozman voted against HR 6049, the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act. Even though our Third District Republican Representative cast our vote against the measure, it passed 263-160. The three Democratic Congressmen from Arkansas -- Marion Berry, Mike Ross, and Vic Snyder -- thought it would help their constituents, and they voted for it.

Here are some of the legislative provisions in the bill that John Boozman voted against on your behalf: (1) delaying a tax break for multinational corporations operating overseas; (2) closing a loophole allowing hedge fund managers and others working for offshore corporations to defer taxes; (3) extending deductions for the out-of-pocket classroom expenses of school teachers; (4) providing new tax relief by expanding the child tax credit available to lower income families; (5) renewing a deduction for tuition and other education costs that would benefit 4.5 million families; (6) creating tax incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, carbon capture and sequestration projects, plug-in cars and technology for green buildings; (7) extending current income tax deductions for state and local sales taxes you pay; and (8) creating a new category of tax credit bonds to finance state and local government initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

When John Boozman and his wife get back from their 10-day foreign junket, send him a note thanking him for casting your vote for tax breaks for multinational corporations, against tax deductions for middle class working families, and against supporting renewable energy alternatives.

Bilkoed by Bunko Artists

Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. It has since become a day to remember and honor the men and women of our armed forces who died in all of the wars started by politicians who did not possess the intelligence to resolve conflicts through reason and negotiation. Most of us do that, even as we hope against experience that fewer will die in the present and future military misadventures.

The Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz called war an extension of politics, but he also
compared it "to business competition, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is still more like State policy, which again, on its part, may be looked upon as a kind of business competition on a great scale." Sadly, some local veterans appear to have soiled their honor and the better motives of patriotism by engaging in the commerce of political endorsements on a petty scale.

A recently registered political action committee, calling itself the
Northwest Arkansas Veterans Association, endorsed candidates for the May 20 Republican primary election and sponsored direct mail pieces and pre-recorded telephone messages to voters in Benton County. It now turns out that endorsements might have cost the candidates between $600 and $1,000, not as a direct purchase but as a suggestion that a contribution to the group would be appropriate from endorsed candidates. Wink.

Among the Republican candidates
endorsed by the Northwest Arkansas Veterans Association, the alleged peddler of endorsements, were Ronald Williams for Judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, Kelly Cradduck for Sheriff, Jim Johnson for Circuit Judge, Steve Geigle for District Judge, and Vickey Boozman for State Representative. All losers.

State Senator
David Bisbee, who led in the balloting for County Judge, was joined at a press conference by Greg Hines, Chris Glass, and Kevin Harrison, the three judge candidates knocked out in the primary. They claimed that the Association is a phony front group to endorse Bill Adams, who finished second and is in a runoff with Bisbee, and that Adams was soliciting donations from candidates endorsed by the Association. Adams denied it.

Who knows for sure? Guy Parker of Bentonville, president of the veterans' association,
would not answer questions about who decided which candidates to endorse. Johnny Dillard of Lowell, treasurer of the group, would not return phone calls to a reporter. Richard McCall of Rogers, listed as Vice President, said he’d never heard of the group and is angry to be associated with it.

On this Memorial Day, let us remember those honorable veterans who have served in our nation's armed forces.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

New Kidding on the Block

It was only a matter of time. Superintendent Bobby New has recommended selling Fayetteville High School and the surrounding 40 acres to the University of Arkansas. Hardly anyone who has been following local events can be surprised about that, and everyone knows that the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees will approve an agreement in principle to buy the property at its meeting on June 6th.

This all started last May when the Cowbirds decided that they wanted a new high school built to support their vision of economic development. On June 1, Jeff Koeng signed a letter for the Fayetteville Economic Development Council asserting that the existing campus was detrimental to recruitment of business. On June 5, Bill Ramsey told the school board that the Cowbirds wanted a new school at a new location. On August 29, Bobby New met with John White about selling the campus, preparatory to a UA Board meting last September. In November, Laura Underwood, Reed Greenwood, and six other former school board members held a press conference urging sale of the campus to the UA and stressing that the idea was backed by the Cowbirds.

In January of this year, UA Trustees Jim Lindsey and John Tyson and UA Chancellor John White suggested paying a "pemium" for the high school property; Bobby New called that "an exciting option." To demonstrate their new commitment to better listening and communication, the school board appointed a big committee that staged a series of hearings looking at options. Greg Harton and the Northwest Arkansas Times provided a steady flow of ink in support of dumping the current high school. An organization called BuildSmart presented the best case for building a new school on the current campus, then last month, as expected, the Select Committee II recommended unloading the high school property and building elsewhere.

A guy from Wheeler named Joel Nunneley bought a poll that purported to show that likely voters are giddy about the chances to raise their property taxes significantly to build a new high school somewhere besides the current location in central Fayetteville. I doubt that a majority of actual voters support Bobby New's scheme to sell off the high school, but it will most assuredly be endorsed by a majority of the Fayetteville School Board and the UA Board of Trustees.

Then we will vote.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Through the Looking Glass Darkly

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master— that’s all.”

-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Richard Drake, Chairman of the Fayetteville Telecommunications Board, appeared to be upset during last night's meeting about partisan political agendas influencing informational programming on the city's Government Channel 16. In the past, the channel has carried balanced programs with citizens discussing public policy issues such as Road Impact Fees and the Freedom of Information Act. Nevermore, it now seems.

Mr. Drake and others expressed concern that Dr. Susan Thomas, Ph.D., Mayor Dan Coody's Public Relations and Policy Advisor, had ignored existing city policy regarding the Government Channel and had canceled two citizen-initiated issue forums
about the location of Fayetteville High School and the future of the Walton Arts Center.

“So we’ve actually canceled these without waiting for any sort of policy decision from the Telecom Board?” Drake asked Thomas.

No, Dr. Thomas replied, the administration had not canceled the programs, it had only suspended planning them, and any future consideration of such illegal issue forums had also been stopped immediately.


No Country for Old Men

Poor Vernon Holland, 69, of Summers. He was standing on the front porch of his home on Highway 62 one morning in April 2007, when Patricia Hampton of Prairie Grove called police at 7:34 a.m., and Vern was arrested for indecent exposure.

Ms Hampton has had her eye on Vern for quite some time. According to one news report, she said she's lost count of the times she's seen Holland naked outside his home. She's seen Holland in various stages of dress before but said she quit calling the police when he was outside wearing women's lingerie.

Two sheriff ’s deputies testified that the only way a person could see the porch was by looking through a gate in front of the house. Ms Hampton insisted that she could see Mr. Holland over the fence and around the shrub in front of the porch, because a red porch light makes it easier to see him.

Vern testified that it was too cold that day to have been outside naked on his porch, and he said he was not fondling himself but was on the telephone. A jury found Vern guilty of indecent exposure, and Judge William Storey sentenced him to six months in jail and fined him $1,000.

That's a stiff sentence, compared to what State Trooper Larry Norman got for shooting and killing Erin Hamley, an innocent unarmed young man with mental disability. Trooper Norman was sentenced to 90 days but served only 54 days. Ole Vern is looking at 180 days of hard time in the Washington County Detention Center.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Like a Frog in Boiling Water

Mayor Dan Coody said last week that there is no way to estimate how much money might be needed for an expansion project necessary to keep the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville. Yesterday, we found out. The Arts Consulting Group says it will be $180 million. The consultants also recommended three acres of land for the 106,000 square feet of buildings and 10 acres for parking.

The next phase of the consulting study will recommend the best location, but everyone at yesterday's meeting and not smoking crack knew what is coming. They've already hinted that a location near the Crystal Bridges Art Museum in Bentonville would be nifty. They will keep the Fayetteville facility open as a substation as long as it isn't too expensive and can pay its own way selling tickets for the table scraps from the larger main facility.

It is about the money. A bond salesman told the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission last week that they could try to refinance the debt on the Town Center for another 25 years and get maybe $5.8 million to spend on the Walton Arts Center. The
Northwest Arkansas Times praised Mayor Coody for inviting the bond salesman to the meeting. That leaves only another $175 million left to raise, assuming that there are no "hiccups" or surprise cost overruns, but Executive Director Marilyn Heifner says bond payments and staff salaries are already so high that the A&P Commission doesn't have even $35,000 to support the Fayetteville Arts Festival.

The University of Arkansas is also a founding partner and a principal beneficiary of having the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, but UA Vice Chancellor
Don Pederson said he was unsure what the university would choose to do should the center's board opt to move out of Fayetteville. For some reason, the UA seems much more interested in raising student tuition and spending $60 million to buy the Fayetteville High School campus than in addressing the immediate needs for funds to keep the Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street.

Private money, as always, is what is driving the decision to move the main facility to Benton County. While most people attending performances at the WAC are from Washington County, the business community in Benton County contributes three times the amount of corporate contributions to support the center's operations as received from Washington County. The local
Cowbirds have not been of much help to anyone except themselves on this public-private partnership.

So, we did nothing and lost the United Way offices to Benton County. It now looks like the main facilities for the Walton Arts Center will be going north. And tomorrow is the deadline for proposals to the Site Selection Committee of the Northwest Arkansas Science Center
for the proposed museum.

Regardless of what happens, don't blame Mayor Coody or the Cowbirds for a failure of community leadership. They might dismiss you as an "extremist" trying "to set the city heading backwards in its development." So just keep quiet and don't even think about requesting a citizen forum to explore possible solutions on the Government Channel. The PTB don't want the opinions or help of ordinary citizens. They know what is best and will take care of it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Have Confidence Man

Why was I not excited when I read in this morning's local newspaper that developers "hope to turn dirt by the end of the year for SouthPass, a city-sized development of more than 3,600 homes, a commercial core, public school, churches and a 200-acre community park?" Partly because there are still some serious questions about the whole project, and partly because we are suffering Promise Fatigue from the developers involved.

The article was quoting the ever-optimistic John Nock. He is the same developer that in 2005 sold the city on creating a Tax Increment Finance district to issue millions of dollars worth of bonds, acquire prime real estate, tear down the old Mountain Inn, and give him the land for a mere song. He told everyone that he was going to build a fancy hotel there, but it never happened. Some think he's just making payments for liquidated damages until the real estate market recovers so he can flip the property and walk away with millions. The only thing I know is we now have a big hole uglier and more blighted than the old Mountain Inn.

Now, to make matters worse, Mr. Nock tells us that Hank Broyles is now part of the SouthPass group of developers. That would be the same Hank Broyles who in 2005 was telling us how great his Aspen Ridge project would be. He had this big party where Mayor Dan Coody stood up and bragged about how wonderful it was. The only thing I know is we now have a big treeless red dirt mud hole and serious problems that did not exist before.

So, excuse me for not being overjoyed by this news that Nock and Broyles will soon be turning dirt out west of I-540. If the city approves this scheme, I damn sure hope they get a performance bond on these two promising developers this time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grand Theft Answer Sheet Key

I really believe that at least half of the law enforcement personnel in Northwest Arkansas, excluding the Rogers Police Department, are honorable and try to do a good job. They don't taser cows for fun, or kill unarmed people with development disabilities, or engage in conscious racial profiling, or intentionally violate the constitutional rights of citizens.

Hardly a week goes by that one or more of our local cops don't cause me to recalculate that percentage and lean toward the "rotten barrel" hypothesis. The outrage of the week is that four local cadets were expelled from the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy
for cheating. They stole the answer sheet because they were too damn dumb to pass the weekly examination over such basic topics as auto theft, hate crimes, and weapons of mass destruction. I doubt that they could pass the MMPI either.

Captain Mike Jones with the Benton County Sheriff's Office said,
"We work hard to put the best people with this organization." The sad thing is that's probably true, so you can imagine the integrity of those who weren't chosen for the training academy.

Benton County Deputy Sheriff Wade Porter was fired for his part in the cheating scheme, and the
Farmington police officer was fired, but Chief Brian Hubbard refused to identify him. A Washington County Sheriff's Deputy and a Bella Vista Policeman were also involved in the theft, but their agencies would not even identify them by name, and neither have been disciplined beyond getting paid leave. Double standard for white cops and minority civilians?

I say throw all four of them in a dark holding cell for four days without food, water, or toilet facilities, then release them without filing charges.

UPDATE: Thursday's ADG lists the names of the Police Academy IV. The cheaters are
Scott Vanatta of the Bella Vista PD, WCSO Deputy John Staats, Farmington police officer A. J. Jefferson, and BCSO Deputy Wade Porter, who filched the multiple choice answers. I doubt that any of them would ever do well as reliable prosecution witnesses, but they can get jobs as private security at Bikes, Blues, and Barbecue.

Hiring Freeze Essential for Accountability

We all remember last fall when Dan Coody failed to control spending as sales tax revenues were declining, leaving the city with a budget deficit of more than a million dollars. That might pale by comparison with his $63 million cost overrun, but it is still irresponsible. Instead of being accountable and managing the cost of government, the Mayor’s only suggestion was to raise our property taxes by $2.4 million.

The City Council rejected that idea until they could work to reduce the explosive growth in spending and administrative salaries since Coody became mayor in 2001. When it came time to review the budget, which was delivered late, Mayor Coody left the country and flew to Paris to hobnob with some Frenchman dressed up like Lafayette. The hard work was left to Vice Mayor Lioneld Jordan and six other Aldermen who worked through the holidays and made the hard decisions to keep the city afloat without a tax increase. They did it, and one of the management tools they chose to assure a balanced budget was a hiring freeze to make sure that every position filled was justified and necessary.

Now the Coody administration wants to repeal the hiring freeze and review process. Alderman Robert Rhodes, who like Coody skipped the budget session in December, is bringing a resolution to the City Council that will let Mayor Coody and 21 department heads hire whomever they want without getting Council approval. Alderman Adella Gray thinks it is a swell idea. They say the Mayor will keep the Aldermen informed by telling them after the fact -- when it is too late to do anything about it or hold down spending.

This resolution should be defeated. It is one of the few means by which the City Council can prevent this irresponsible spending spree and hold this administration accountable. If Coody is given a blanket exemption from the hiring freeze, why not just let him raise taxes, add positions, and hire more out-of-state consultants without prior approval? It would be much more convenient for Mayor Coody and his well-paid bureaucrats than having to make the case to our elected Aldermen.

Sustainability is a concept every bit as applicable to our city services and a balanced budget as it is to jetting off on a 7,500 mile round trip to Alaska for a conference on the subject of global warming.

Get Up and Go Vote!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Behold Boozman's Brain -- and Heart

John Boozman must be among the leaders of members of Congress who vote most often against the interests and wishes of their constituents. Three votes last week demonstrate that Boozman is a partisan hack who betrays his Arkansas constituents to please George Bush and his Republican Party Bosses in Washington.

Last Thursday Boozman voted against the
new GI Bill that would guarantee a full scholarship at any in-state public university, along with a monthly housing stipend, for anyone who serves in the military for at least three years. It is aimed at replicating the benefits awarded veterans of World War II. To pay for it, the Democratic plan would impose a surtax on individuals with incomes above $500,000 a year or couples with income exceeding $1 million annually. The bill passed the House by 256-166, but John Boozman voted against our veterans and for the millionaires. Our three Democratic Congressmen voted for it.

Then came the House vote on a
$163 billion appropriation to support U.S. troops overseas, and extend unemployment benefits for workers laid off by the Bush recession, which failed to pass by 149-141. Boozman didn't vote to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did he have the courage to vote against it. He voted Present. Present!! We don't send folks to Congress to vote present and collect their salary; we elect them to take a stand and do the right thing. John Boozman was AWOL. Our three Democratic Congressmen voted for it.

Then the Democrats offered
a non-binding plan seeking an exit of military forces from Iraq by December, 2009. The proposal passed the House by 227-196, but John Boozman voted against it. Why? We'll never know, because he didn't speak on the floor. Our three Democratic Congressmen voted for it.

We do know that Boozman has no plan to end the war, that he voted against funding the troops, and that he voted against the GI Bill modeled on the WWII measure that educated a generation of veterans, grew our economy, and built a strong middle class. We also know that he doesn't represent the people of this district.

Old School Ties

Newsweek magazine has released its annual ranking of the Best High Schools in the United States, basing those rankings on the number of students taking Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2007 divided by the number of graduating seniors. Of more than 28,000 high schools in the nation, they ranked the top 1,358 -- or the top 5%.

Seven of those schools were in Arkansas, and three were in Northwest Arkansas.
Bentonville was ranked 486, Fayetteville came in at 536, and Rogers was listed at 1,243. Last year, Bentonville High ranked 566th on the list of the best high schools. Fayetteville High ranked 628th, and Rogers came in at 892.

Other Arkansas schools ranked this year were the
Arkansas High School for Math and Science at Hot Springs which placed 1,355, Fort Smith Southside qualified at 625, and Mills University Studies at Little Rock ranked 111.

The highest ranked high school in Arkansas and 36th best in the nation was
Little Rock Central High School. This must confound the Cowbirds and other local advocates who vigorously claim that Fayetteville must sell off the current 40-acre campus because it is too small and the 50-year old building is too old for our children to receive the quality of education they deserve. Central High was opened in 1927; it is 81 years old and has a campus of only 21 acres. Try again.

They Talk, You Listen. No Questions.

Richard Drake said it first on his Street Jazz blog, but it deserves repeating. The Northwest Arkansas Times had an excellent editorial yesterday about our Government Channel and the moves going on to make sure that the city administration has control of all content by excluding citizen-initiated forums on issues related to local government.

The editors said, and we agree, "Fayetteville’s Government Channel (Cox Channel 16 in Fayetteville ) brings democracy into viewers’ homes in a way that few Arkansas communities can match. Besides regularly televising City Council meetings, the channel also gives gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Fayetteville Planning Commission and the Washington County Quorum Court, as well as a host of other committee meetings. The channel has been home to good programming about city services and informative forums that bring knowledgeable people together to talk over subjects deserving of a civil discussion....

"In the wake of the unexplained and unceremonious firing of longtime cable administrator
Marvin Hilton, who oversaw the Government Channel, decision-makers in Mayor Dan Coody’s administration now say they want a wholesale revamp of the policies of the Government Channel. Susan Thomas, a policy advisor to Coody, told the City Council she expected significant changes in the nature of the programming produced and broadcast by the Government Channel. Of course, in doing so, they’re proving what folks have long suspected: Government can’t leave something that works well alone."

What Mayor Coody and his administration want to squelch are those pesky "informative forums that bring knowledgeable people together to talk over subjects deserving of a civil discussion." Citizens might have something to contribute to the discussion of public policies in our community, but the PTB want them to be shuffled over to Community Access Television, something the editors said was "
like moving discussion forums off C-SPAN and putting them on MTV."

The real concern here is that Mayor Coody and his hirelings want to use the Government Channel not to inform but to advance their political agenda. Remember when Dan Coody wanted to raise taxes to pay for, among other things, cost overruns at the sewer plant? He ran a free political advertising campaign under the guise of an "educational effort." When he opposed the road impact fees and declared he would not be a cheerleader, there was no such educational effort. Fortunately, there was a citizen-initiated forum on the issue that included a spirited discussion and debate of the issue by Aldermen and concerned citizens on both sides.

If the City Council adopts a policy to abolish citizen-initiated issue forums, the public will be the real loser. I mean, how would you like to settle for policy discussions like this one starring Mayor Coody? That's what we would have, and we deserve better.

Citizen Quote of the Day

"Northwest Arkansas is an affluent area; we are blessed with wealth, prosperity, jobs and many amenities lacking in other parts of the state. Unfortunately, we forget that there are many people in our area who need help. Sometimes, it's difficult to be poor, sick, disabled, old or just 'down on your luck' in an affluent area. The less fortunate become the forgotten minority....

There are many generous people in Fayetteville who contribute their time and money. Furthermore, the Fayetteville Senior Center is an excellent facility offering a variety of activities including meals, entertainment, painting classes, dances, etc. for the elderly. The bottom line is that having elderly people in Fayetteville who cannot afford their meals being put on a waiting list because of lack of funding is not acceptable. ...

Fayetteville is a community that cares for all groups of people from the youngest of children to the oldest of citizens. Let's make sure all citizens can have a hot meal."

--Connie Crisp, "The Forgotten Minority," Letter to the Northwest Arkansas Times

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cowbirds Love Them Some Billboards

Billboard Bill Ramsey, President of the local Cowbirds, must have been sharing his secrets for economic development with Perry Webb, the President of the Springdale Chamber. Except for Ramsey's signature quote about any city regulation being a "job killer," Webb was reading from Ramsey's playbook in opposing an ordinance restricting billboards in beautiful Signdale.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial today says it well. "Not surprisingly, Mr. Webb saw the proposed ban on billboards as a sign of the apocalypse, if not the end of Springdale’s pro-business environment. To quote the catastrophe-expecting Perry Webb: 'I think we are practicing bad government when we start banning legitimate businesses.' Uh-oh.

"If Springdale bans billboards, can a full-blown, communistic takeover of the city of chickens and 18-wheelers be far behind? Apparently not. Billboards have long been a part of Springdale’s identity. They are unmistakable evidence that Springdale is open for bid-ness; all players eligible. The welcoming attitude has made Springdale what it is....

"Of course, the 'bring it on' approach has also been responsible for the look of Springdale’s commercial districts. The look might be described as post-industrial dinge. Springdale’s appearance has long been a source of amusement for its neighbors, especially the one just to the south that likes to think of itself as more cultured and less red-necked than Springdale. You know, the one that lost the Cracker Barrel to Springdale because of the size of the restaurant’s sign. The one whose initials are Fayetteville."

That is vintage Bill Ramsey and the Cowbird Mantra that Fayetteville is unfriendly to business because we have a sign ordinance that prevents us from prospering like Springdale. We are fortunate that a majority of our citizens and a majority of the City Council disagree with that nonsense.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

No Mas

I'm going to try to swear off writing about the mayor's race in Fayetteville until August 26. I don't know who will actually run and who just likes to stroke their ego by seeing their name in the paper. I don't know who is serious, who will come to realize they have no real chance to win, or who will have the good sense not to file. Jeff Koenig was in, and now he's out. Others announce they are out, and then they want to be in. Feckless phonies or selfless servants?

I'd much prefer a serious discussion about serious candidates who have the courage of their convictions (no pun intended). Until then, it is mostly idle gossip about someone's attention deprivation disorder. I'm taking the pledge. You junkies can have it. Unless I backslide.

Friday, May 16, 2008

For Funding the Fayetteville Arts Festival

Last year, the Fayetteville Arts Festival drew about 9,000 visitors to our city to explore and enjoy the wonders of local artists -- poets, painters, performers, and many more talents. Most of us enjoy the arts and the festival for the experience and because they are an essential part of what makes Fayetteville unique. That should be enough, but it is not. Despite the tremendous volunteer effort to produce and promote the Fayetteville Arts Festival, it is in danger of dying because of a lack of funding.

Last year, the
Advertising and Promotion Commission awarded $35,000 for the arts festival; this year they gave it nothing. This seems like exactly the type of project the A&P Commission should be supporting. It builds on our image that they are charged with marketing, and it brings in visitors and their dollars for the local economy. It is more important than buying a building, expanding the size of the staff, or hording millions in reserve.

Lioneld Jordan is sponsoring a Resolution requesting that the A&P Commission contribute to funding the Fayetteville Arts Festival at the same $35,000 level as last year. It is on the agenda for the City Council meeting on May 20th. If you have an opinion about continued funding for the arts festival, you can contact your Aldermen or show up at City Hall next Tuesday to speak to the resolution.

Regardless of the vote of the City Council on Jordan's Resolution,
Marilyn Heifner, executive director of the A&P Commission, said it will be up to the commission whether any funding is granted for the festival. The seven commission members who will make the final decision are Dan Coody, Bob Davis, Robert Rhodes, Neal Crawford, Tim Freeman, Maudie Schmitt, and Pat Gazzola. Here is their contact information (except the city website still lists former commissioner McGeady) if you wish to talk with them and let them know your views about supporting the arts in our community.

If the City Council and the Advertising and Promotion Commission will not support spending $35,000 to help the Fayetteville Arts Festival survive, that will be an indication of how serious they are about doing anything to support expansion of the
Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville.

It's Only Perjury If You Lie Under Oath

Politicians are not held to the same standards as common citizens, so they sometimes get used to playing loose with the facts to fool the people. It looks like Ronald Williams, the former Wal-Mart lawyer, has a running start on whoppers even before he gets elected to anything. Now he has been found out by a good newspaper reporter and called out on it by a sitting judge.

Lawyer Williams, trying to make people believe he had some experience, said during a candidate forum last month that he tried an average of three felony cases a month when he was a deputy prosecutor. Circuit Judge David Burnett, who was the Prosecuting Attorney at that time, said that Bob Thompson was actually the Deputy Prosecutor and he did not recall Williams prosecuting any felony cases for his office. None. "I don't want to get involved in a political race in Northwest Arkansas," said Judge Burnett, "I'm just telling you the facts. He never tried a criminal case while I was prosecutor."

Lawyer Williams told a reporter that he and Judge Burnett have "different recollections" of his service at this point in time. I guess it depends on what the definition of "trying three felony cases a month for three years" is.