Sunday, November 2, 2008

Conventions and Convictions

We earlier noted that Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody and North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays had much in common, especially their penchant for frequent out-of-state junkets, paid for by someone else. Sometimes the taxpayers picked up the tab without their knowledge, and sometimes it was a special interest group that knew full well what they were buying.

One of the trips that Mayor Coody and Mayor Hays enjoyed was when they hopped a jet flight to Alaska in 2006, where they listened to speakers talk by satellite videoconference about global warming and perhaps mentioning that burning a gallon of jet fuel to attend a conference produces 21.1 lbs of CO2. The conference was held at the Alyeska Prince Hotel in Girdwood, rated in the top 25 ski resorts in North America by Skiing Magazine America.

When asked by the Fayetteville Flyer about his love of travel on “city business,” Mayor Coody was quick to dodge the charge that he was milking the taxpayers for his exotic vacations. “Almost all of the trips have been paid for by those who do the inviting. My favorite was the trip to Alaska (paid for by the mayor of Anchorage, Mark Begich (D), who is challenging Ted Stevens (R) for his Senate seat) with about 20 other mayors to see the effects of global warming first hand. That gathering was filmed by and is shown on the Sundance Channel.” Whether it was Dan’s favorite because of the wonderful spa experience or because it was shown on television, he did not say.

The meeting at the ski resort was actually funded by private foundations, corporate sponsors, and tax dollars from the citizens of Anchorage, not “paid for by the mayor of Anchorage.” Additional funding was provided by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which gets a portion of its budget from the considerable membership dues of more than $5,000 a year paid by Fayetteville taxpayers. You can understand why Dan Coody wants to keep such a good thing going for himself.

Mayor Coody does have one thing in common with Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. They are both running against convicted felons this year. Begich is running against Republican Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted on seven felony counts last week for violating federal ethics laws by failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in gifts he received. If Stevens wins, which we think unlikely, he would be the first convicted felon ever elected to the Senate. Coody is running against Steve Clark, who could be the first convicted felon ever elected mayor of Fayetteville. Clark was convicted of felony fraud for false expense claims and resigned from office, but he was pardoned by Governor Mike Huckabee and his record was expunged. Unlike former State Rep. Dwayne Dobbins, who resigned after his plea bargained conviction for fondling a teenager, Clark is not barred from seeking or holding the Mayor's office.

One big difference between Mayor Coody and Mayor Begich is that Begich is willing to admit when he makes mistakes. In a recent debate, Begich said, "The issue ... is, not only is it important that you acknowledge mistakes that you make, but it's what you do with it, and what you learn from it." Specifically, pointing up another difference with Coody, Begich said he learned from his mistakes that "not only is it important to hear and listen to constituencies, but also to get out there with these ideas ... and get as much input as possible from both sides of the equation." Coody thinks getting citizen input at Ward Meetings shows a lack of decisive leadership and that Public Comment period at Council meetings is a waste of time that tries his patience.

Nor is Mayor Begich meddling in the political campaigns of other candidates running for county or municipal office in the local city-borough.

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