Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mystery Solved

An editorial in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette cuts to the chase. They point out that it remains a mystery who was behind the alleged $60 million option offer-of-sorts to buy the Fayetteville High School, presented as a surprise by Bobby New for the secret group he had been meeting with for weeks. They also point out that it is irrelevant, which sounds right, unless one could see it as a reflection on the character of those involved in bartering away public property behind closed doors and a corporate veil.

Then the editorial makes a solid deduction. "Now the only remaining offer for the fire sale of the campus is from the University of Arkansas, a bid of $50 million. No doubt to be paid for by higher tuition from future students at the university. And if the high school is sold, especially for a low $50 million, residents of Fayettteville will be asked to make up the higher cost of a new, relocated campus with a millage increase. Things are getting more expensive for everybody involved."

Next, they solve the problem -- and the real mystery, which is why Bobby New and the majority of the Fayetteville School Board have not been able to understand the best solution. "Here’s a suggestion that isn’t mysterious at all," the editor says. "Find a way to re-do the high school where it stands, which is on one of the finest pieces of real estate in Northwest Arkansas. That way the cost—for all—will be lower and the kids get to stay at the school’s traditional location. It’s a simple, straightforward solution. "

Elementary, my dear Percival.

Dumb as a Rock but Hardly as Honest

Alderman Mike Overton, 62, is running for Mayor of Springdale. He has served for six years on the City Council, and he owns Overton Realty, a storage business, a commercial building company, and a property management company. He claims to have a BSBA from the University of Arkansas and an MBA from Missouri. When he announced last January, according to a press release someone must have written for him, he had himself say, "As a result of my education, business experience and experience on the City Council, I believe I have the required skills and ability necessary to help move us forward in a positive manner."

Now Mr. Overton, one of the reactionary throwbacks who has driven the
Springdale economy and city finances into the ground, has gone and bought himself a website. The pathetic thing about it, in addition to being about Overton, is that he is a sneakthief who stole the copy verbatim from the campaign website of Josh Jenkins, 29, a fine young man who is running for the Springdale City Council and a former blogger who has had an online campaign presence for months.

Take a look at the Jenkins link for Support Josh, then compare with Alderman Overton's identical link for Support Mike. In case Overton can actually read, realizes that he has been busted, and has someone change the copy, I have saved the screen shots for the record. Here's a sample of the plagiarist's handiwork.

Josh Jenkins says, "Even if you find that you can’t formally volunteer, I’d ask that you consider talking about my candidacy at every opportunity and sending out emails to your friends in
Springdale, pointing them to this web site. It’s going to take a team approach to be able to bring a new day to Springdale. Will you join me?"

Mike Overton echoes, "Even if you find that you can’t formally volunteer, I’d ask that you consider talking about my candidacy at every opportunity and sending out emails to your friends in
Springdale, pointing them to this web site. It’s going to take a team approach to be able to bring a new day to Springdale. Will you join me?"

Josh Jenkins does say some things that Overton would not steal. For example, Josh says, "The political machine, the same old thing, isn’t working," but you'd be unlikely to catch Mike Overton conceding that, or Josh's unique idea that "Council members are elected to represent the citizens." Nor would Overton admit, as Jenkins charges, "The policies of yesterday brought decreasing sales tax revenue, loss of major retailers, shrinking economic base, and increased graffiti & gang activity. It’s time for a new day in
Springdale." Oh, wait, Overton did steal the slogan about a new day in Springdale, even though he has been one of the main problems on the Council for the last six years.

Alderman Mike Overton not only has no new ideas, he can't even make up new sentences.

And the sad thing is, Overton's not the worst candidate running for Mayor of Springdale.

UPDATE: Overton's website was revised Thursday evening to replace much of the lifted text. Click on image above to see the original political purloining.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another Mass Transit Option Eliminated

The politicians can talk all day about the benefits of mass transit as a component of a sustainable community, but unless they are prepared to spend their political capital and actually fund a dependable transit system, it is obvious that all the talk and press conferences are just so much hot air. If they can't or won't support funding for an adequate and convenient bus system, they shouldn't waste our time talking about light rail. They aren't, they can't, they won't, and they shouldn't.

The politicians have known this crisis in public transportation was coming for some time. Last year, George Bush cut $220,000 in federal funding for local mass transit, and John Boozman did nothing to restore it. Despite an increase in both fares and ridership this year, the Board of Ozark Regional Transit met at 10 o'clock this morning and voted to can six employees and cut bus service in Springdale and Fayetteville to compensate for rising fuel prices and loss of charter revenue. Fayetteville's Route 47 is one of those the Board voted to eliminate on October 1st, and they will cancel half of another route in each city unless they contribute more money. Most of us won't notice the loss of one and a half bus routes, because we seldom ride the bus, but that is not the case for everyone.

Route 47
serves North Fayetteville and the Zion Rd, Joyce Blvd, Wal-Mart, and NWA Mall areas, as well as frequent service to North Hills Medical Center, the Social Security Office, the Joyce Boulevard Post Office, the Department of Human Services, Washington Regional Medical Center, and the Washington County Health Department. These are all essential destinations for the low income elderly and disabled citizens who have no other means of transportation, but they just don't make campaign contributions or vote often enough to matter to some elected officials.

The Ozark Regional Transit Board, which made the decision to abolish the routes and terminate the employees, is composed of the four county judges in Northwest Arkansas, and the Mayor of his designee from the four largest cities. Washington County is represented by Judge Jerry Hunton, who said that the county would not increase its mass transit budget contribution for next year.

Mayor Dan Coody designated Dr. Susan Thomas, Ph.D., his public relations adviser, to be Fayetteville's voting member on the Board. Fayetteville budgeted $186, 666 for ORT this year. There is no indication that Coody is prepared to support the necessary funding increase to save Route 47, but he said that Fayetteville might come up with another $20,000 for the transit system to prevent losing another half a route. That's less than he spent on furnishing the westside sewer plant with those comfortable new chairs.

Mystery of the Cosmos

The report on Fayetteville's May HMR tax collections are in. The amounts below reflect the 1% tax on gross sales that is deposited with the Advertising and Promotion Commission. An additional 1% is collected for the Fayetteville Parks and Recreation Department.

The Top Fourteen hotels and motels in Fayetteville, based on reported 1% of gross sales, were:

1. Courtyard by Marriott - $3,063
2. Hampton Inn - $2,953
3. Clarion Inn - $2,511
4. Inn at Carnall Hall - $2,176
5. Holiday Inn Express - $2,004
6. Staybridge Suites - $1,284
7. Fairfield Inn - $1,134
8. Comfort Inn - $1,117
9. Best Western Windsor Suites - $959
10. Days Inn - $909
11. Country Inn Suites - $819
12. Red Roof Inn - $744
13. Sleep Inn - $691
14. Candlewood Suites - $661

All other Fayetteville hotels and motels apparently had gross sales below $66,100 in May or did not pay the HMR tax.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Internal Affairs

Siloam Springs is back in the news again. Public officials there have acted with alacrity to ban strip clubs and adult novelty stores to protect local civilians from succumbing to their natural instincts and fulfilling their consumer needs. Now we know why. They had their own amusement for free.

Siloam has given a new meaning to rectitude. According to a lawsuit filed in federal court, Siloam Springs Police officers may have subjected more than a thousand people arrested on minor offenses to illegal strip and body cavity searches -- without consent, without a warrant, and in violation of the constitutional right against illegal search. Allegedly, it was the policy of the city, under the authority of Police Chief Joe Garrett and former Chief Jerry Toler, to strip and body-cavity search any person arrested for any offense before they had a trial. Nine "John Doe" and "Jane Doe" city employees are also defendants.

Siloam Springs City Attorney Jay C. Williams said, "We're definitely going to investigate and look into things, and if there are any changes that need to be made, we're certainly going to take those into account and do what needs to be done to make sure the jail's run properly." Right. Mayor Moose Van Poucke could sell copies of the jail security cam tapes to raise a defense fund for the cops in the dock. Or if the Sidewalk Soul Market is still open there, they could sell the city's twisted one to pay off the likely damages on judgment day.

Siloam Springs is just plain weird.

La Grande Evasion

Under the Dome, a valuable political blog written by State Representative Steve Harrelson (D-Texarkana), says today that Laura Kellams, Fayetteville's long-time political reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette NW, has resigned.

"The Arkansas news industry is losing a good one today," Harrelson says. "Laura was tough in negotiating details out of her interviewees, yet she was fair. I can't think of two better characteristics of a good journalist." Tough and fair, yes, we would like to see more of both from our local newspaper reporters.

Kellams seemed to maintain her personal integrity and a sense perspective on political actors and events. And after 11 years, she knew when it as time to quit and move on to another challenge. We wish her the best in whatever endeavor she decides to pursue, and we hope she stays in Fayetteville to play the role of informed citizen.

We await the announcement of Kellams' replacement at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette with anticipation that it will be someone tough and fair who already knows the political scene in Northwest Arkansas. This fall's political season is too close for readers to have to suffer through some political reporter's on the job training and search for the office washroom.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Coody at Chamber of Commerce Forum

Dan Coody was in Washington today on a trip paid for by the Chamber of Commerce. According to David Chavern, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce "The basic message was that there is a crises brewing and unless we want to go back to the days of dropping buckets down wells for water, we better mobilize every possible public and private investment source we have and deeply reinvest in our local water systems."

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a large organization with a lot of issues on its plate," he explained. "We are fighting back against the trial lawyers, making the case for free trade and the protection of intellectual property and working hard to improve our capital markets (just to name a very few issues). But we view infrastructure issues generally, and water issues in particular, as some of the very largest challenges we face as a nation."

No one bothered to note that water usage is down about 1.3 million gallons per day for Beaver Water District (which provides water to Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville) so far this year compared with 2007, and the revenue is down about $318,600 for the same period.

Nor was there any mention of which taxes should be raised by how much or the total cost of the investment the Coody and the Chamber want the taxpayers to pay for operations,construction, and cost overruns.

Fool Me Twice

Today's editorial in the Northwest Arkansas Times succinctly captures the general feeling of hope and disappointment regarding the broken promises and the resulting eyesore that mars the spirit and scars the townscape of downtown Fayetteville. As much as we all wanted the Renaissance project to succeed, everyone now knows that the developers over-promised, that the city taxpayers are out $3.5 million spent to acquire and clear the land, and that it has been a huge, visible, and embarrassing failure.

This afternoon, the Planning Commission is being asked to consider yet another project by developers
Nock and Alexander (using a different Limited Liability Corporation shell that includes Hank Broyles), and again they are asking for special favors. Chutzpah, it is called. They want the city to annex an additional 831 acres for them out west of I-540 beyond the city limits in the troubled Greenland School District, then approve the entire 910 acres as a residential planned zoning district. They are hinting that it could take a minimum of 25 years to finish this sprawl site called SouthPass, but in the meantime they want the city taxpayers to assume all liability for a closed landfill and to spend about $20 million to develop a park that would further enhance the marketability for this fantastic dream. How many time extensions do you think will they request on this deal?

When asked about the huge mud hole they had given the city in exchange for the multi-million dollar TIF subsidy, Richard Alexander boasted last week that in his opinion, "
our obligations to the city are over. We own that land fee simple absolute. The city has been paid the full benefit of its bargain." It is a poor bargain for the city when it spends $3.5 million and then sell it to non-performing developers for $300,000. This is especially galling, because the city accommodated the developers by paying more for the property than it would have under a protracted condemnation process and waived the requirements for selling city property, being told that such compliance "would cause such delays as to render this adopted Project Plan unfeasible."

Section 15 of the March 2005 contract with the developers provided that the city could opt to take back the property for $10,000 if the developers failed to meet project dates for engineering, architect, and construction contracts. The unanswered questions remain as to whether the city can exercise the same action when the developers fail to do anything after signing the contracts and receiving extensions and whether it has the political will to find out?

Given the experience with these developers, who have failed to deliver on their promises and who have admitted they are having legal and financing woes on their unfinished Cosmopolitan hotel remodeling project, why would city officials approve their even more ambitious and costly SouthPass plans for which they now want city approval? They shouldn't.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Columnist Quote of the Day

"Let's take a brief cruise around Northwest Arkansas aboard the USS Stupid and see what some of our local news makers have been up to lately….

"'Dapper' Dan Coody has changed his mind and decided to run for mayor of Fayetteville. Thank God, we'll still have Dan Coody to kick around some more. The potential for columnists just took a sharp upturn with his announcement. But, Coody said, his decision to run, after his decision not to run, had nothing to do with the fact that he learned that it takes 10 years of public service to qualify for retirement benefits.

"Coody has 10 years, but two years were on the City Council. Every two years on the City Council counts as one year toward retirement. Coody said that didn't factor into his decision.

"This just in to the newsroom, 'Nixon denies knowing about Watergate break-in.'"

--Bob Caudle, “Notes of Interest for the News Impaired, “ The Morning News

Boozman's Roll Call Votes of Past Week

Another week on Capitol Hill, and another weak Congressman's votes for his patrons and against the people. Northwest Arkansas residents are facing two serious economic consequences of George Bush's misadministration of our nation -- a record number of home foreclosures and record prices for gasoline at the pump. Last week, John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Community) voted against two key measures that could have given them some relief.

On Wednesday, the House passed the
Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, to slow the record surge in mortgage foreclosures, provide $3.9 billion for communities to buy and fix up abandoned properties, establish a permanent affordable-housing fund financed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, provide tax credits for first-time buyers, and allow the Federal Housing Administration to back new loans so an estimated 400,000 homeowners, who cannot afford their current house payments, can avoid foreclosure by refinancing into more affordable mortgages. The bill, HR 3221, also requires regulatory approval over the fat pay packages of executives at the mortgage companies. It passed by 272-152, with the support of Arkansas Congressmen Snyder, Berry, and Ross. Our Congressman John Boozman voted NO

On Thursday, the House voted
268-157 to pass HR 6578, the Consumer Energy Supply Act, but it failed, needing a 2/3 majority under rules to assure quick passage and avoid a Republican filibuster. The bill was intended to help lower skyrocketing gasoline prices by requiring the Energy Department to release 70 million barrels of oil stored in the nation's 700 million barrel Strategic Petroleum Reserve and produce immediate relief at the pump, as happened with similar releases in 1991, 2000 and 2005. Arkansas Congressmen Snyder, Berry, and Ross voted for the bill. Our Congressman John Boozman voted NO

After the Consumer Energy Supply Act failed to pass,
oil prices immediately moved higher as light sweet crude for September delivery spiked $1.05 dollars to close at $125.49 a barrel, and oil speculators gains and company profits continued at record levels. The result of all the political maneuvering against the bill by Republicans is that Congress will adjourn for a five-week vacation without having passed any response to high gas prices.

Thanks, John. We hope you enjoy your vacation.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Coody, Cowbirds, and Credibility

Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody must be desperate. Late yesterday and timed for the larger circulation Sunday papers, Dr. Susan B. Thomas, Ph.D., his tax-paid publicity coordinator, sent out a press release praising the mayor for taking another out-of-state trip. The local news scribes will likely give it good coverage, but there is far less than meets the eye, and they should check the "facts."

Coody says he will be a "featured speaker" at some Chamber meeting up in DC and "will represent the City of Fayetteville and the US Conference of Mayors Water Council at this forum which [sic] will bring together members of Congress and their staffs, water works officials, economic consultants and the media." In that one sentence, there are many questions and inaccuracies, not to say deliberate deceptions.

1. Is this oh-so-important Chamber "forum" being kept secret? Coody's press release hypes his importance but gives no information about when or where this alleged Chamber forum will be held in Washington. There is no mention of it on the U.S. Conference of Mayors website this morning. When you enter the alleged title of the alleged forum, "
Water Infrastructure: Why Congressional Action is Urgently Needed," in a Google search you get no results, absolutely nothing.

2. If this is really a legitimate and necessary trip, it should be covered by city taxpayers or the Conference of Mayors that he claims to be representing, instead of some special interest group. Coody admits that all of his travel and other expenses are actually being picked up by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Why would they do that?

3. The U.S. Chamber must not think this little "forum" of theirs is very important. Their website has July press releases supporting off-shore drilling, slamming the EPA "regulatory beast" for trying to deal with greenhouse gases, opposing expansion of whistleblower protections and actions against contractors who submit fraudulent claims to the government, protecting Wall Street bond daddies from legal action by concerned minority stockholders, and blocking employees from organizing for
workplace safety regulations and paid family leave. Strangely, there is nothing about this important Chamber "forum" they are paying all expenses for Coody to attend.

4. Coody says the Chamber "forum" will include Members of Congress. Not so. The attendance list does not include a single Senator or Member of Congress. Not one. Not even John Boozman. There will be some Hill staff people attending, for example, Rep. Zoe Lofgren is sending an intern to attend the forum.

5. Coody says the "forum" will include "water works officials [and] economic consultants." The attendance list is packed with Washington lobbyists from vendors and special interests including U.S. Pipe, Mueller Water Products, Inc.,
the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association, the National Association of [Private] Water Companies, the American Council of Engineering Companies, and the Valve Manufacturers Association. Not a single one of them lists their title as economist or "economic consultant," although there is a whole den of corporate lawyers.

6. Coody says the "forum" will include "the media." The editorial staff of Valve Magazine, a trade publication of the Valve Manufacturers Association of America, are the only media representatives on the attendance list. No one from the networks or the major papers will be there to hear and report on Dan's important featured presentation to the Chamber.

7. Then it occurs to me, we are already pay a big Washington lobbying firm $84,000 a year plus expenses on a no-bid contract that Coody said would make sure that we get fat federal funding for our infrastructure projects. I thought they might have been able to pass the word that we need more money for local water and sewer projects without having Coody trot up there to spend a weekend at watering holes and hob nob with a bunch of lobbyists. What is it exactly that this lobbying firm has been doing for us, and why can't they get John Boozman to deliver the federal funding we need?

At this particular time, it is understandable why Coody would want to take
"the opportunity to once again bring attention to the City of Fayetteville and the serious infrastructure needs of the community." But why is this publicity stunt and travel junket being paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce instead of his campaign account?

n his defense, Mayor Coody is definitely an expert on the rising cost of constructing water and sewer infrastructure projects. He can give his explanations about how Fayetteville citizens had to raise the sales tax and float bonded debt to pay for his $63 million cost over run on the sewer plant debacle. That's one reason we do urgently need increased Congressional funding. Or closer attention to details and better management oversight from the Mayor.

Friday, July 25, 2008

No Stinking Tree Huggers Need Apply

Mark Curtis of Rogers has a background in planning, experience in public and private finance, and a habit of attending almost every county planning board meeting, but he is also a member of the Association for Beaver Lake Environment, a local nonprofit group that seeks to maintain the water quality of Beaver Lake. That is why the Benton County Quorum Court voted 6-5 against confirming his appointment to the Benton County Planning Board.

Don Day, President of Northwest Arkansas Property Rights Association, complained that Curtis, who had opposed New York developers' scheme for the controversial Grandview Heights condominium project on the lake, also had strongly supported a watershed management ordinance two years ago to create a buffer around Beaver Lake and protect the region's water supply. Taking a public position on those issues made him "a polarizing figure,” said Bob Cossey of Rogers.

Curtis said he believes that "Benton County will require some regulation to allow for orderly growth and protection of its natural resources," but he supports development that fits into the environment. "There are plenty of places [around the lake] that can be developed that won't hurt the environment," he said.

Not good enough, said the adamant majority of Benton County's ideological Republican JPs. "As a Justice of the Peace, I'm obligated to vote for someone more conservative," said Justice of the Peace Bobby Hubbard. He was joined in killing the appointment by Justices of the Peace Craig Brown, Chris Glass, David Hill, Frank Winscott, and Debbie Hobbs, who will represent Rogers in the Arkansas House of Representatives next year.

We all live downstream.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Et Tu, Brute?

Dan Coody must be feeling betrayed that his reliable editorial cheerleaders at the Northwest Arkansas Times are not buying his familiar line about bringing in the Westside Wastewater Treatment Plant "on time and under budget." The press conference and staged ribbon-cutting ceremony organized by his tax-paid publicist last month was one of those orchestrated "Mission Accomplished" moments that fooled no one. Everyone knows it was a $63 million debacle on his watch, no matter how glibly he tried to shift the blame or explain it away as a hiccup.

"Not too long ago," wrote the editors, "the then-final term mayor of Fayetteville confidentially strode into our offices to discuss all the reasons the city’s $186.5 million expansion and upgrade to the sewer system deserves to go down in history as a first-rate effort, not a project that spiraled uncontrolled into $60 million-plus more than anticipated and completion three years behind schedule." Clearly unconvinced, they concluded that no matter how he tries to spin it, "only Coody and his supporters can so easily flush away the pungent realities this community had to emerge from after the project was discovered to be in shambles."

Last week in San Francisco, it was made official that the Presidential Memorial Commission has placed on the November ballot a proposal to rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. Since Mayor Coody remains so proud of his own management success, Fayetteville taxpayers should have an opportunity to honor him by renaming the high-priced and long-delayed Westside sewer facility as the Dan Coody Sewage Plant.

Citizen Quote of the Day

"Our community has engaged in months of discourse with the Fayetteville School Board concerning the future of Fayetteville High School. This process was tiring, stressful and mostly futile. Now comes this paper’s July 16 editorial chiding the citizenry for not attending the board’s roundtable discussion at Woodland Junior High and implying either public indifference or else approval of the board’s decisions. How wrong! I, for one, am alarmed over the board’s decision to sell the existing school. Just thinking about it makes me want to talk to the walls, or even bang my head against one. But it’s not worth driving over to Woodland to do so."

--Patty Besom, "Discourse Not Worth the Effort," Letter to the Editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times.

New Rules

Fayetteville Superintendent Bobby New is a lame duck, but he is still strutting. Tonight's School Board agenda is all about him and his rather transparent ambitions, with little that addresses assuring or improving the quality of education for our students. Tune in to the Educational Channel 14 at 5:00 for a big helping of comedy and tragedy.

Withdrawn from the agenda late yesterday was the bizzare $60 million option offer for the high school from
Campus Building Group LLC, the mysterious and anonymous Gang of Four that would not reveal its principals. New pulled that surprise offer out of his hat during last month's board meeting and thrust it onto the agenda in mid-meeting with no advance notice to the public. Turns out that he had been keeping this secret even from some of the School Board members after six weeks of informal discussions.

Some think it was only Bobbynu's idea of a bluff to get the University of Arkansas to raise its previous offer of $50 million. If so, it didn't work, and he has folded. Not so, New said.
“The people who would conceive a conspiracy or a manipulation of the university’s offer give me far more credit for being divisive than I deserve.” That would be difficult to do.

Still to be considered and certain to pass is Bobbynu's proposal to buy an additional 9.6 acres of land adjoining his beloved site on Deane Solomon Road, roundly rejected by almost everyone else as a suitable location for a new mega-high school. He wants to spend $600,000 of our school tax revenues for the unimproved property owned by distressed developer Brandon Barber to expand the even larger parcel
unloaded on the school district several years ago by TIF developer Tracy Hoskins.

There is no immediate need to purchase the additional land out in sprawlville beyond I-540, but New prefers to spend the district's reserves for that purpose instead of things like expanding the band and performing arts facilities at the high school. It now appears to rank above increased student access to educational technology and raising teachers' salaries, the pressing needs he identified and requested during the disastrous campaign for a school millage increase that was defeated in 2005.

Also on the agenda is a proposal to hire a headhunter firm to find someone to replace Bobbynu when he retires next June. Board President Steve Percival personally conducted an earlier unsuccessful search, even going to a convention of educational bureaucrats in Florida, that drew only a dozen applicants and none who would agree to
work for a year under New before taking the helm. So, we start again and pay someone else to look this time.

That's about it. Nothing about quality education.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bipolar Disorder of Chickendale Cowbirds

Some people fondly remember the heart of downtown Springdale before the West Sunset Mega-Billboard Menagerie and the World's Largest Strip Mall on Thompson, but Perry Webb, Chief Cowbird, says forget it, because the effort to keep downtown Springdale economically viable is a waste of time. "Emma's not going to be like it was in the 1940s on a Saturday afternoon where it's jam-packed full of people. The modern economy won't allow it to be the thriving economic center it once was."

The Chamber is reluctant to spend too much of the City's funds on redevelopment and has decided to scrap any plan for helping downtown and its small independent local businesses. "We can't just throw money in a hole," Webb said, "because the economy is in a slump." Gene Austin, a 56-year employee of Spencer Printing on
Emma Avenue, said that's not the only thing killing existing businesses on Emma. "I don't think there's anything that could happen in downtown because everything's moving west," he added, referring to big businesses and attractions moving out near I-540 and the new Arvest Bank Ballpark.

There is a reason for that, Gene, and it’s not the economy. Last week, Webb and the Cowbirds
announced that they had hired Pizzuti Solutions, the Danter Company and Hodges and Associates to develop a Master Plan for the largely undeveloped 1,100 acre section of the city out west of I-540 around the ballpark. The cost of this plan and studies for research is about $250,000 and will be paid by funds from the Cowbird's Springdale Tomorrow program, Webb said. They can't throw money down a hole on downtown, but they have a quarter million dollars to do a study to encourage sprawl on land owned by someone other than the City of Springdale or existing small businesses.

Brian Parker, one of the out of state consultants from Pizzuti Solutions, said no new taxes are being considered at this time to fund the development, but seeking tax incentives from the state are a possibility. Sounds like the Cowbirds are planning to get
Springdale to go for a TIF District that would take money from the public schools to develop that "blighted" area out around I-540 and Arvest Bank Ballpark.

Rogers Ready for Real Recycling

Some public officials take lots of trips to out-of-state conventions and talk a good game about sustainable cities, but some actually do it. The city of Rogers has taken action to become the leader in Northwest Arkansas, and the Rogers Recycling Center, expected to be operational early next year, will be able to take all types of plastics, as well as glass, cardboard and just about anything else.

Significantly, the new recycling center will include a densifier to
recycle polystyrene cups and a glass crusher. The City of Prairie Grove is considering a glass crushing operation that will recycle the crushed cullet as underlay bedding for paving new sidewalks or streets and save the taxpayers money, but Rogers will be the only city in Arkansas with the capability to recycle polystyrene.

Congratulations to Mayor
Steve Womack and the Rogers City Council, who worked together to purchase the 22-acre site, contract for large scale development plans and landscaping, and acquire all of the necessary equipment for less than $2 million. Money generated by the recycling center will go to the Parks and Recreation Department budget to help fund the planned expansion of their parks system.

Such an innovative recycling program is one of many things -- including parks expansion, sidewalk and trails development, the arts festival, expansion of fire and police protection, green public buildings, serious economic development, and living wages for city employees -- that the City of Fayetteville might have considered and funded were it not for a $63 million cost overrun on the sewer plant.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Developers Praise City's Policies

Real Estate Developer
Rob Merry-Ship says he "is one of the owners of that building, which was previously the Bank of America building, and am also a partner of the Campbell Bell building, situated on the opposite side of the Square." He adds that he is "happy that the mayor and the city have taken on the tedious task of pulling out the old, unlevel, cracked sidewalks around the Square," to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money to benefit "groups having a stake in the Square," including building owners selling high-dollar condos and whose property values have increased.

John Nock and Richard Alexander are also owners of the buildings on the Square, as well as
the once promised 22-story mixed-use hotel, convention center and condominium project at Mountain and College. It is too bad that the sidewalks around the former Mountain Inn site cannot be used and enjoyed by community stakeholders as well. The city created a TIF tax subsidy district just for their benefit and spent millions on acquiring and clearing that site for the developers. Alderman Kyle Cook calls the project "an eyesore and a joke," and City Attorney Kit Williams says it "looks like an abandoned construction site. I don’t think that’s what the City Council ever assumed would happen." Alderman Lioneld Jordan suggests the possibility of fencing and removing barricades around the unsightly mud pit so residents at least can use the streets and sidewalks again.

Dan Coody has been strangely silent about the failed TIF project he advocated for Nock and Alexander in 2004. Alderman Bobby Ferrell
says he is "hopeful that our administration, which are the ones that kind of led us into this project, will be advising us. They need to come to us before (the last payment ) and give us the ups and downs of the situation. We don’t need any surprises." Alexander contends that East Square Development LLC owes no further damages to the city for the eyesore or what they have failed to do. “In my opinion, at that point our obligations to the city are over. We own that land fee simple absolute. The city has been paid the full benefit of its bargain,” he said.

Nock and Alexander are also the owners of
South-Pass Development Co. LLC, along with Hank Broyles, who was previously involved with the failed Aspen Ridge project. Their proposed SouthPass development out southwest of I-540 could go before the Planning Commission at its July 28 meeting. Steve Aust, project manager, said the owners have generously given the city land for a park. “In return for that,” he explained, “there will be some compromise on who builds the road through the middle of the park. Obviously the parks are going to build their own roads." And Connie Edmonston, the mayor's Parks and Recreation director, has estimated that it could cost taxpayers another $20 million to build the park in the development.

Developer Merry-Ship channeled John Lewis and said,
"I’m certain that John Lewis would have given kudos to Mayor Coody for his persistence, forward thinking and stewardship in preserving our Square." I wonder what John Lewis would have to say about the Renaissance Eyesore and the $20 million price tag for a park in a development miles from the center of town.

Home Sweet Homes

The real estate bubble is still in big trouble, and there certainly will be additional foreclosure actions against improvident developers. Yet, not all the local housing news is depressing. During the second week of July, commercial and residential building permits issued in Fayetteville totaled $4,242,137. That compares with only $1,252,648 in Rogers and $1,218,062 in Springdale. So much for that constant "business unfriendly" refrain from the local Cowbirds.

Additional good news for Fayetteville is the type of innovative housing and construction options that are happening. Last week the Fayetteville Planning Commission
unanimously recommended City Council approval of the Habitat for Humanity Porchescapes project of 43 attached and detached homes, described as "a potential jewel for the city with truly attainable housing that can be afforded by the service work force." Thanks to the work of Aaron Gabriel and his students from the UA Community Design Center, the project is also an example of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — Neighborhood Development and a demonstration project for Low Impact Development for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Then there was the inspirational example set by
Jonathan Story, who has a long personal history of renovating old homes and supporting preservation projects. He moved and restored the 1906 Mary Clancy House to save it from the bulldozers of Central United Methodist Church, and he has contributed to the ongoing fund-raising effort to restore the historic St. James United Methodist Church on Willow Avenue.

These economically, environmentally, socially, and historically significant projects reflect the spirit of Fayetteville and provide a unique vision that bridges its past and future. Other developers and their financial institutions might consider that in the present.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Signs of the Times

About the same time that Dan Coody was floating a trial balloon about trying to stay in office for another few years to save us from extremists, his public relations assistant was dispatched to take control of the Government Channel 16. The cable administrator was fired, issue forums requested by citizens and an alderman were jerked, and policies were drafted to abolish all such forums in the future. The Government Channel became secure for All-Coody all the time, and we were treated to repeated replays of his press conference against bottled water and his ribbon-cutting of the finest sewer plant an additional $63 million our taxes could buy. Yet Coody claims, "I do not tell anyone what to play, or when."

Now, the day after Coody went back on his word and announced that he would run again, his administrative functionaries at City Hall
claimed that they had
"received numerous complaints from citizens regarding the proliferation of election campaign signs being placed throughout the city" in support of his opponents. Coody has no campaign signs, but they are adamant that Fayetteville’s sign regulations allow only one small political sign, of the “real estate sign” size, on private property at any time, and larger signs cannot be displayed anywhere until September. Beginning today, the Mayor will dispatch Community Resource Officers to remove any unapproved political signs, even if they are on private property.

Coody's new administrative restrictions on the Government Channel will keep
Alderman Lioneld Jordan from requesting any issue forums or allowing them to be aired there, and the administration's new determination to zealously enforce the sign ordinance will get rid of all those Steve Clark signs you have seen around town.

Dan Coody will say he had nothing to do with and no responsibility for either action. Just like the $63 million sewer plant debacle.

Regional Railroading

The Benton County Daily Record is taking the lead in "educating" the public about the coming battles to be fought over our transportation infrastructure, and its news staff appears to be ignoring citizen opinion and accepting and advancing the plans of the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives. Newspapers do that far too often.

"Three years ago, members of the public attended input sessions to determine how they wanted their transportation tax dollars spent on the Northwest Arkansas 2030 Long-Range Transportation Plan," writes Eleanor Evans. "Commuter rail transit seemed to be a popular idea, as did improvents to Interstate 540 and the development of a regional arterial network." She then goes on to transcribe the continuing opposition to light rail from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, which discounts any mass transit system because of the experience with the unsuccessful and underfunded bus system operated by Ozark Regional Transit. She quotes no advocate of alternative transportation nor members of the public, basing the story entirely on uncontested assertions by Jeff Hawkins, director of NWARPC, and Phil Pumphrey, director of ORT.

Even more revealing is the companion story by Randy Moll about the recent pitch to the Gentry City Council by Mike Malone, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives, and Scott VanLaningham, purported to be "vice president of the Regional Mobility Authority." This is telling, because the proposed Regional Mobility Authority, composed only of mayors and county judges, has not ever met to elect officers. At least not in public.

According to Moll's account, and he is usually accurate, VanLaningham made no mention of mass transit and said the Regional Mobility Authority was formed to help fund highway construction in Benton and Washington counties. Then, reported Moll, he declared that the highway projects which the RMA hopes to move forward are the Bella Vista bypass, which has a current $139 million funding shortfall; the Springdale northern bypass, which is estimated to cost $300 million, but is not fully funded through 2030; improvements to Interstate 540, with identified improvement needs of $380 million, but not fully funded through 2030; and a western beltway. Not a nickel for public transportation, according to "RMA Vice President" VanLaningham.

The Gentry City Council will consider whether to join at its August meeting in a couple of weeks. Be looking for another editorial from the Northwest Arkansas Times insisting that they should have taken action immediately after VanLaningham's initial sales pitch and berating them for taking the time to listen to the views of their constituents who would be paying the taxes to support this billion dollar construction bonanza.

What we need is a sensible transportation plan that integrates traditional highways, mass transit, bike lanes, trails, and other means of mobility that will serve all of our citizens, not just the truckers, contractors, and corporate interests. Let your mayor and county judge know what you think.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Reflections on Retirement Plans

Not everyone in Northwest Arkansas is behind John McCain's efforts to implement George Bush's plan to privatize Social Security or to starve social support for senior services such as Meals on Wheels. But, then again, not everyone is counting on Social Security for subsistence living during their retirement years. They know how to retire in style at the expense of their employers, public and private.

Tom Coughlin, 58, retired a few years ago from Wal-Mart and received lavish praise "after a 27-year career in which he distinguished himself as a motivational leader and difference-maker to whom the company often turned to get things done." Now this former business leader, who "had an ability to inspire others and was a powerful motivator capable of imparting the values and operating philosophies" of the corporation, faces a court hearing set for August 22 over whether he entitled to his retirement package valued at up to $15 million. He thinks he deserves it for past service, even though he admitted stealing nearly $400,000 from the corporation, but fellow Wal-Mart executives don't think he should be supported in such style by the shareholders.

Dan Coody, 55, announced last year that he would not run for reelection and received lavish self-praise about "
a list of accomplishments made during his terms of office, citing changes, accomplishments and awards in most of the city's divisions." Now he has reconsidered whether he wants to keep his word and that $107,039 salary, suggesting that no one else could do the job as well as he has and finish all the projects that he wasn't able to complete in eight years. Also, as pointed out in today's Northwest Arkansas Times, Coody could be eligible for a public pension of at least $53,500 a year from the city's general fund if he can get reelected, even though his sewer plan debacle cost the taxpayers an extra $63 million above estimates. Coody said the generous retirement benefit from the taxpayers was not a factor in his seeking to hold office for another term.

Party Down in Party Town

Fayetteville keeps getting honored by America in Bloom and mentioned as a great place to live in national publications, but it often fails to receive recognition as a Party Town outside Northwest Arkansas. Admittedly, the competition around here is pretty pitiful. Springdale can sell beer at the rodeo and the ballpark, but it cannot match the noise levels, alcohol consumption, and trash festivities of Bikes, Blues, and BBQ. Even with two colleges and a university, Benton County student merrymakers cannot touch the decadence and debaucheries of UA fraternity Row Week.

Public officials are taking steps to promote the city as one of the nation's top party spots.
Bob Davis, Mayor Dan Coody's sewer improvement project director, gained headlines when he was arrested for public intoxication after he was found lying on the sidewalk and unable to sit up near the intersection of Dickson Street and Gregg Avenue at 12:44 a.m. This month, Fayetteville Police Officer Jared Cypert was issued a summons for public intoxication at 7:30 a.m., showing that we start early and stay late.

Don't think that these are isolated incidents staged by city officials just to enhance Fayetteville's reputation.
“We get a large number of these kind of cases where people are drunk and end up in someone else’s house,” said Fayetteville Prosecuting Attorney Casey Jones after the alleged home invasion by Officer Cypert.

Maxim's Magazine
recently ranked Miami as the Number One Party City in the nation. We are pleased that Mayor Coody was partying on South Beach last month, getting ideas on how to improve our community's ranking in the hedonism hierarchy, on one of his many out-of-state trips on "official business."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

School Board Elections

In Rogers, no one filed for the open seat on the school board. In Fayetteville, six people filed for the open seat, and the incumbent drew a challenger for the other position. You can draw your own conclusions regarding what that says about the districts and their patrons' concerns about and commitment to public education.

There are only three contested races in Benton County, two in Bentonville and one in Pea Ridge. Incumbents are running unopposed in Siloam Springs, Gentry, Gravette, and Decatur. And then there is Rogers.

Washington County is different. The entire Greenland School Board has been expelled, and there will be no elections. Incumbents are uncontested in Elkins and Farmington. Springdale, Lincoln, Prairie Grove, and West Fork each have a contested race for an open seat in the September 16th School Board election.

Fayetteville will have two races. James McGinty and Susan Heil filed for At Large Position One. Seeking the At Large Position Two are Stacy Furlow, Jim Halsell, Jeanie Hill, Joe Lee, Mike Malony, and Conrad Odom. A likely run-off between Halsell and Odom would be held on October 7th.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Point of No Redemption

Devious Dwayne Dobbins has become a problem for the Democrats. It didn't bother the legislative leadership or party officials when he used his position as a State Representative to introduce bills giving multi-million dollar tax breaks to his corporate employer, because that self-help philosophy was business as usual.

Dobbins resigned from the legislature on August 9, 2005, after admitting in court that he fondled a 17-year-old girl and pleading guilty to misdemeanor harassment. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to receive counseling. A part of the plea agreement required him to resign from the House of Representatives. He did, but now he is running as a Democratic candidate for the same position.

Party Chairman Bill Gwatney said the Democratic Party of Arkansas will consider a proposed rule concerning elegibility of candidates during the party's convention tomorrow in Little Rock. "There's a rule we have proposed that says that no person having resigned from public office as part of a felony plea bargain shall be a Democratic candidate and/or nominee," Gwatney said. If it is approved, the party will not certify Dobbins for the November general election ballot.

In addition, House Speaker Benny Petrus (D-Stuttgart) said he will gauge support among House members for a rule change that would deny membership in the House to anyone who has resigned from public office as part of a plea bargain.

Maybe Mr. Dobbins should run for Mayor of North Little Rock. Candidates for non-partisan municipal office would not be prohibited from holding office by either proposed rule.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Max Brantley Brings Sunshine to Benton County

Two weeks ago we whined about Judge Xollie Duncan sealing an entire court case in Benton County. Max Brantley of the Arkansas Times did what all good journalists in these parts should have done. He filed a motion to unseal the record, and yesterday Judge Duncan agreed that the public had some rights to know what their judges and officers of the court were doing on our dime.

Well done, Max! Thanks for showing our local press corps how it is done. Now, if they'll grow a pair . . ..

Misfeasance or Media Manipulation?

The Fayetteville City Council this week abdicated any role in the Government Channel operations. In identical 4-3 votes, Adella Gray, Brenda Thiel, Robert Rhoads, and Bobby Ferrell voted against a resolution asking the Coody administration to follow the existing ordinance setting city policy and against enforcing that policy that allows an alderman to request production of a forum on issues of public concern. They cared not that one of Coody's assistants vetoed the alderman's legitimate request nor that the Telecommunications Board objected to that arbitrary action.

Dan Coody now has unfettered control to decide what appears on the Government Channel 16 -- as well as the power to prevent programs from being on the regular cablecast. While the Mayor kept questioning who would pay for production of a public forum requested by an alderman, he didn't have any problems with or explanations of who paid for producing his numerous press conferences and ribbon-cutting publicity stunts. Coody also complained that producing a forum would put a strain on the reduced staff of the Government Channel -- caused by his firing the professional Cable Administrator and replacing him with his public relations advisor -- that is somehow greater than or different from taping and showing the mayor talking about whatever he did yesterday.

Events last weekend provide a good example of what to expect. Coody's Government Channel programmers scheduled replays of the regular monthly Ward 4 Meeting for just after midnight on Saturday night and again at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, not exactly Prime Time even on the Government Channel. Then, mysteriously, the Government Channel went off the air from about 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night until sometime Sunday afternoon. This "accidental glitch" did not affect the showing of any of Coody's press conferences or ribbon-cuttings. It did prevent two showings of the most recent Ward 4 Meeting of citizens with their Aldermen, Shirley Lucas and Lioneld Jordan, to discuss the benefits of joining the Regional Mobility Authority, proposals by developers, and other issues of concern to local residents.

Probably just a coincidence.

Dealing with Duplicitous Developers

The Benton County Planning Board this week unanimously denied a time extension request for a controversial condominium development known as Grandview Heights on Beaver Lake. E&S Development of New York had asked for a two-year extension for the multi-story project the board approved back in November 2005. Their lawyer claimed that E&S had spent nearly $2 million on preliminary dirt work but said the economic recession, cautious banks, and legal actions against the company stalled construction work, leaving the project with unfinished roads and little progress during the past year.

In denying the extension for the project,
Planning Board members said developers had not worked to meet the original stipulations for approval. They were concerned that the developers had not secured state environmental approval of their wastewater system, that they had not secured a storm water permit, that roads leading to the site had not been improved, that they had not provided a completion bond, and that a lawsuit is pending to decide who has clear title to the property. Sound familiar?

E&S Development's lawyer, Courtney Little, complained that
the Board's action send the message that environmentalist opponents of controversial developments can stall projects until they are denied and said the rules should be more supportive of development and developers. Heard that one before?

The developers will decide in the next two weeks whether to
appeal the decision or resubmit plans to the Planning Office. They could just shuffle some paper and rename it Hill Place or something like that. It should fly right through. That worked in Fayetteville.

Woody Bell: Cable Guy and Political Guru

Woody Bell, prolific local writer of letters to the editor, is fearless in supporting and opposing political candidates from City Hall to the White House. His most recent contribution was a letter to the Northwest Arkansas Times about the Fayetteville mayor's race, endorsing Dan Coody while attacking Steve Clark and the local media for being critical or raising questions about Coody's aversion to keeping his word or his poor management skills that resulted in a $63 million debacle on the sewer project.

Last month, Mr. Bell was advising on national politics with the sly acumen of a Karl Rove or Lee Atwater in trying to undermine the Democratic nominee for president. In a letter to the editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he offered his insight on what Barack Obama would have to do to "dispel false rumors regarding him ... being a Muslim" and other personal attacks on his character, as well as making suggestions for additions to Obama's website.

I suggest," said Mr. Bell so boldly, "that an excellent way to use this site to end many such rumors would be for Obama to place a video of himself on the site wearing an American flag lapel pin, singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' and saying the Pledge of Allegiance with the words, 'one Nation under God,' while covering his heart." Performing such a public patriotic ritual might go a long way toward disciplining the uppity Obama and satisfying Mr. Bell and other right-wing critics who have been engaging in political smears about character, religion, and politically-correct displays of patriotism and piety. Probably not, but that's what Bell recommended.

It looks like Senator Obama
took the advice of Woody Bell, our own local political genius and kingmaker.