Thursday, December 31, 2009
The Little Rock media, both social and unsocial, have taken stock of the state of our state for 2009. Northwest Arkansas got off easy, probably because the metropolitan Punditry of Pulaski find us easy to ignore in their view of the world, but we can be thankful whatever the reason.
Longtime political observer and cultural critic Bob Lancaster's 2009 Best and Worst of Arkansas in the current issue of the Arkansas Times let's us off easy, at least as easy as one can when mentioning Chickendale. "Business Week magazine said in November that Springdale was the best town in Arkansas for raising children. Maybe so. At least Springdale police don't taser 10-year-old girls." The rest of us up here? We are not worthy.
Blake Rutherford's Think Tank offered an assessment of the Best and Worst of 2009 Politics and Blogging. In the only nod to our little corner of the state, he did give the Most Notorious Arkansas Political Figure award to Benton County's State Senator Kim Hendren. Hendren's national media attention from his unapologetic characterization of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer as "that Jew" would be hard to top.
Never fear, my friends. We will get much more attention in the Worst rankings of the 2010 retrospectives. It is an election year.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
A group called Environment America, a federation of of state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organizations, has issued its roll call analysis of U.S. Senate and House voting records on environmental issues. They think that the voters give a damn how elected officials vote, so this is part of its campaign "to pass legislation in Congress to repower our economy with clean energy and cut global warming pollution."
Our delegation got three As, two Bs, and one F. On 15 key environmental votes, detailed in the report, Environment America found that 184 of the 535 national legislators voted pro-environment 100% of the time. Three from Arkansas had perfect records: Congressman Snyder, Senator Lincoln, and Senator Pryor. Two others, Congressman Ross and Congressman Berry, scored 87%, voting right on 14 of 15 issues.
Then there was the Congressman from the Green Valley of Northwest Arkansas, John Boozman, who voted wrong on 11 of 15 roll calls. All those eco-freaks in the Sierra Club did not scare our guy, who is not the least bit ashamed that he voted against the environment. He is proud to have the worst record and is only embarrassed because his score of 27% was too high for his corporate contributors.
If you are one of those inconsequential environmentalists, you can waste some more of your time and wallow in your political impotence by reading the full report.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Fans and followers of Jim Holt are throwing a fund-raising party in Fort Smith next week. It is your chance to get in on the ground floor of the 2010 Jim Holt for U.S. Senate campaign by writing a fat check. If enough people believe in him and make a love offering, then the race is on. His handlers point out that Holt got 44% against Lincoln six years ago, before she managed to upset so many voters on the left and right.
If hard times have made tightwads of the faithful, then Jim will be looking to take back his old State Senate seat now held by Bill Pritchard of Elkins. There are more Republican primary votes in Springdale than in the rest of the district.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I have whined for years that Benton County was a target-rich environment that deserved its own blogs for commentary on the politics of that province. Fortunately, Rogers now has a very good one in Roger's Arkansas. It combines wit, insight, good writing in complete sentences, and it does not appear to be on retainer by either the Chamber or Wal-Mart.
Now, if only Siloam Springs got the blogging it deserved.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I read on the Fayetteville Flyer that T.G.I.Friday closed last week, and there is a vigorous and somewhat interesting discussion among readers in the comments section. Whatever your opinion of the restaurant, it sucks that about a hundred minimum wage and sub-minimum wage workers found themselves unemployed just before Christmas. Let us hope that they were paid the wages due, unlike what often happens to employees when some place like Osegueras closes and employees get stiffed for back wages.
I didn't ever eat at T.G.I.Friday during its four year life in Fayetteville, and I am not sure exactly where it was. I think it was somewhere over the rainbow, out in that field behind Kohl's, in that maze of restaurants that come and go. It must be close to the former Fuddruckers that closed up shop two years ago, when the manager said there were too many restaurants out there. Bill Ramsey said the business failed because the Fayetteville sign ordinance kept our city from looking more like Springdale, so T.G.I.Friday might have survived with a bigger sign that you could see all the way from the Wilson Spring Audubon Nature Center.
I don't know.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Fox News told us about The War on Christmas, but we didn't think Senator Blanche Lincoln would be a willing conscript. It is like something fron The X-mas Files. Today she used her official United States Senate email account to wish everyone Happy Holidays. "As you gather together to celebrate with your family this holiday, I encourage you to embrace the spirit of the season," she wrote cautiously, closing with the generic wish "from my family to yours, have a joyous holiday and a very happy New Year."
She hedged with a conifer and a carol in her video message, but she couldn't bring herself to say the "C-word." Is this some nefarious message, designed by a K Street Consultant, to make a play for the Arkansas swing voters among Jews, Muslims, Vegans, and Freethinkers? Is it her usual waffle on this issue as all others? Why bother abusing the taxpayer funded email system with such a dull message?
Wait until Jim Holt gets ahold of this. Her gutting health care reform and telling people to go volunteer at charity clinics during "the season" will get a pass, but not this heresy.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Jobs for Main Street Act (H.R. 2847), which appropriates $154 billion to create and save jobs. No new revenue or deficit spending required, because it’s totally paid for with leftover bank bailout funds. It actually cuts taxes for 16 million families through the Child Tax Credit.
The legislation provides funding for highway and local mass transit projects, construction and repairing schools and low-income housing, and jobs for teachers, police and firefighters. It provides job training programs and extends recovery act initiatives to help small businesses create jobs. There are also provisions for lifeline unemployment and health care and food aid to those who have lost their jobs during this recession.
The vote was 217-212. Congressman John Boozman voted against it. We are still waiting for Nero's plan to rescue the economy and put people back to work.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Congressman John Boozman (R-Stephens, Inc.) has sold us out again. Yesterday he voted against HR 4173, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009, which would place controls on the irresponsibe Wall Street financial giants that gambled on risky loans and complex financial products, seeking short-term profits and big bonuses with little regard for long-term economic consequences, and would bring new transparency and accountability to the nation's financial markets.
The legislations would also consolidate existing regulatory efforts into a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, with the authority to put an end to misleading and dishonest practices of banks and institutions that market financial products like credit and debit cards; mortgage, auto and payday loans. Boozman didn't like that either, because the special interest lobbyists told him it would stifle the banking industry. He seems to think his constituents prefer to be victimized by mysterious fees, changing terms, pages and pages of fine print, and risky schemes that threaten our entire economy.
Boozman swallowed the phony arguments of the Wall Street bankers and voted to kill financial reform, choosing to leave American consumers and our economy vulnerable to another meltdown. Fortunately, his vote was unimportant and wasn't needed for passage of the bill.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Brian Kisida of the Mid-Riffs blog has a good shot and clean kill on the waste of money on high-dollar, no-bid consulting contracts to out-of-state consultants. His immediate target was the Fayetteville School District for a $36,000 focus group experience much like an earlier one done for the Rogers School District. The strength of the piece is that it goes beyond the blog's usual carping about all things related to public education to get at the bigger picture of waste.
One wonders what those of us here in Northwest Arkansas have done to deserve so much attention from charlatans lately. …The latest sum of money the community will be parting with–$36,000 to be exact–is going to pay Phi Delta Kappa for conducting a curriculum audit of the Fayetteville School District. Like Eva Klein & Associates did for Fayetteville (for $150,000), Phi Delta Kappa came into town for a few days and held focus groups with community members to hear their ideas. ...Good questions, we think, but maybe that's because we've been saying the same thing for years. The Eva Klein deal was just the worst of the lot, but everyone knew that from the start. It frittered away more than four times the amount of the school district's contract, and the local media treated that publicly-financed campaign stunt like it was something legit.
I don’t know exactly why organizations pay money to outside consultants, like when the city paid Eva Klein & Associates to tell us that the University was one of our strengths, and that the perception that Fayetteville was anti-business was one of our weaknesses. Don’t we already elect and pay people to think about these things and have a vision for what we need to do? So why are they sub-contracting out their duties?
Quick, without peeking, can you name one single thing that the City got from Eva Klein that we didn't already know? Didn't think so. But, maybe the City learned one thing from that slick squandering, since the new administration seems to have sharply curtailed such foolishness.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
I have spent the last few days defending the Fayetteville Police Department's judgment, and then they go and do something like this. Big picture in the Northwest Arkansas Times today with Captain Kenny Yates showing off the take in a marijuana bust in Fayetteville, as if that has anything to do with protecting the public from serious crime or injury. More people have died this year from careless drivers at crosswalks in our city than from selling or smoking weed, yet who gets sent to jail?.
Fayetteville Police and the 4th Judicial District Drug Task Force seem to go for the easy picking of dope smokers while the real dangers of methamphetamine manufacturing appear to go virtually ignored and unchecked. These boys who like their toys. Helicopters, Tasers, and night goggles come to mind as what happens when agencies get too much funding and have too much time on their hands. It is like an addiction.
It is also a huge waste of tax dollars. As I have noted before, the City is set to spend $475, 562 for a Drug Enforcement Program that is expected to produce only $12,000 in fines and forfeitures. That's no way to run a city. Greenland and Johnson make far more than that on their speed trap operations. Admittedly, some of this huge inefficient budget comes from a federal grant, but we are still dumping in $233,000 in city general revenues for a failed War on Drugs started under a previous mayor. Let's take a pass on the federal funds and save our money.
Let's also get a grip on what crimes should be priorities for enforcement in a time of limited financial resources. Our constabulary should be allowed to focus on serious offenses instead of being diverted by suits taking federal money for frills.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Congressman John Boozman (R-Stepinfetch) today tried to give a big Christmas present to the billionaire Walton heirs. He was the only member of the Arkansas delegation voting to kill the estate tax on billionaires, which passed anyway today by 225-200.
HR 4154, the Permanent Estate Tax Relief for Families, Farmers, and Small Businesses Act of 2009, would exempt estates up to $3.5 million per individual and $7 million for married couples. That would exempt you and me, but it wasn't good enough for John Boozman. The four Waltons have inherited wealth of over $17 billion each, and he has consistently voted for all legislation to reduce their share of federal taxes.
I know it is too easy, but Siloam Springs keeps dishing up those softballs that beg for batting, and it has been more than a year since Fayetteville city council meetings have been so...colorful. Last night the Board of Directors got into a fuss over the budget, and Director Mark Long tried to make a motion while Mayor David Allen was still speaking in support of funding the Main Street Program. Then, called down by the City Attorney, Long made a motion to adjourn, which died for lack of a second. Director Long then stormed out of the meeting. He doesn't play well with others.
After the dust up, the Directors approved a budget with funding for a few select non-profit groups they believed most worthy, including $8,000 to the Lion's Club for "flag replacement." Found less deserving and getting no funds from the City were the Main Street Program, the Adult Development Center, Sager Creek Arts Center, and St. Francis Clinic of Siloam Springs.
That is a fair reflection of community values in Siloam Springs, a Taliban staging area for nocturnal incursions into West Siloam Springs.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The scam to get the City of Fayetteville to create a Tax Increment Finance District should not be soon forgotten, and the 2010 City Budget provides a reminder of the fleecing the taxpayers are still taking. We were told that spending $3.7 million in TIF bond funds to acquire property and demolish the Mountain Inn then selling the land to developers for a song was a great idea. They promised to build a big $24 million hotel and parking deck, and, despite pleas for caution from local citizens, former city officials pushed it on the longshot dream that increased property taxes would pay off the bonds.
It didn't work out that way. The City did its part, taking on millions in debt and handing over the deed to the developers. Because the contract signed by the City didn't require the developers to actually build anything, we now have an eyesore pay parking lot instead of a luxury hotel. The revenue from the parking fees goes to the developers, because they own the land. All of that new property tax revenue that we were told would be generated to pay off the bonds? That didn't happen either.
Part of the budget difficulties faced by the City today is a direct result of this financial folly. For 2009, the expenses of the TIF bond service exceed income by more than $5,700. For next year, the city's taxpayers are looking eating another loss on the projected deficit of $5,780 in the TIF Bond Fund (2010 Proposed Budget, p. 72).
The bitter irony that compounds the injury is that the vacant Mountain Inn generated $5,600 per year in tax revenue, and John Nock gets published as a deadbeat because he didn't pay his personal or real property taxes. And it is not just the money. Drive the newly completed College Avenue from Maple to Rock, and see the only section that has no trees, sidewalks, or decorative street lights.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Former Governor Mike Huckabee today said the focus should not be on him and lashed out at those who have criticized him for for commuting the 108-year sentence of Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in the murders of four Washington police officers last weekend. He did not say who should be blamed for making him commute the sentence in 2000 and set Clemmons free to kill. It wasn't the Prosecuting Attorney, who opposed it.
It was another colossal mistake in judgment by Huckabee, just like the 1997 release of Wayne Dumond, who went on to again rape and murder. During the 2008 campaign, Huckabee tried to downplay his role in turning Dumond loose, blaming it on his hand picked parole board and former Governor Jim Guy Tucker.
This time, Huckabee is telling us it was a failure of the criminal justice system. Yes, Clemmons would still be in prison if Governor Huckabee hadn't failed to use good judgment by letting him out. The guy never could take responsibility for his actions and own up to his mistakes.
Meanwhile, the Huckster is traveling across the south selling and signing his latest book. It is already on the New York Times best seller list.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Among the delinquent deadbeats who have not paid past due personal property taxes are John C. Nock ($467.41), Nock Developments ($278.20), and Nock Investments ($679.34).
Among the delinquent deadbeats that have not paid past due real property taxes are John C and Jill Nock ($4,013.20) on that swanky home on Forest Heights, then there is a long list of delinquent properties owned by Ball Plaza Holdings LLC ($44,084.80) Nock Investments ($26,771.65), Nock Homes LLC ($5,081.80) Nock-Broyles Land Development LLC ($3,062.19), One East Center LLC ($24,882), Metro District Partners LLC, and who knows what other properties behind the invisible shield of creatively named and structured Limited Liability Corporations.
That’s well over $100,000 in delinquent property taxes that should be going to the Fayetteville Public Schools, the Fayetteville Public Library, and local government operations. And, it is one more reason that TIF Districts are a bad idea when even those benefiting from the bond proceeds won’t pay their property taxes.
From the list of criminal warrants on the Fayetteville Police Department site, it looks like John Nock has other problems besides being a tax deadbeat. And, by the way, where's that deed to the 200-acre park at Southpass?
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Well, well, well. The local politicians and the retail liquor cartel are at it again. This time they were flushed out by applications to sell beer and small vineyard specialty wines at three local Walmart stores. State Senator Sue Madison was, of course, right in the middle of it, and Fayetteville Police Chief Greg Tabor expressed his usual rote opposition to any and all alcohol sales. Some preachers also wrote letters against the permits. Alderman Bobby Ferrell wrote a letter supporting the permits. Mayor Lioneld Jordan and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce took no position.
The Iconoclast is no fan of Walmart, but we would have granted all three permits. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board approved the permits for the Walmart Supercenter on Joyce and for the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Crossover, but they denied the permit for the Walmart Supercenter on Martin Luther King Boulevard in the low income part of town. Only the action to deny this third permit deserves much attention.
ABC Director Michael Langley offered the excuse that the board denied the MLK Walmart permit based on availability, traffic, and crime concerns. Okay, let's dissect this bullshit. Availability - the huge Crossover Liquor is just across the street from the WM Family Market, much closer than any competing outlet for the MLK Walmart. Traffic - way more cars all day long at the Joyce/Mall Avenue Supercenter, not that traffic count should have any connection to package sales because there is no demonstrated connection to DUI. Crime - they sell handguns at the MLK Supercenter for Gawdsakes, and more people are killed by bullets than being attacked with beer bottles.
The fact situation is pretty much the same for all three permit applications. The only real differences between the MLK location and the other two are social class and income levels in the neighborhoods. The ABC Board denied the permit for the location most convenient for working stiffs.
Now what was Sue Madison's dog in this hunt? In the past, she opposed retail liquor permits for Sam's Club in Springdale and Macadoodle's in Springdale, the last of which was supposed to be some insane screed about how many Benton County residents had shopped at their store just across the state line. You know, the store right there next to her colleague State Senator Kim Hendren's car lot.
The real reason is because she was doing the bidding for a certain liquor retailer that has a multi-permit monopoly on liquor stores in Springdale, not even in her district, and Madison was trying to keep him from having any price competition. This time she appears to be trying to stifle price competition in Fayetteville. Why stop with liquor sales, Senator? Every new retail business will be in competition with existing businesses, so get out there and oppose all new retail businesses in your district. That would make as much sense as your constant shilling for the liquor store owners.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
This week, Congressman John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Country Club) was the only member from Arkansas to vote against the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009, which protects seniors' access to their doctor, promotes primary care, and offers incentives for doctors to provide patients with higher quality and more efficient care. He voted NO, although it was endorsed by the AARP, the Military Officers Association of America, and the American Medical Association.
The Medicare reforms passed by 243-183. Boozman issued a press release that said he wanted to increase payments to physicians by 2% every year; however, he offered no tax increase to pay for the expenditures and claimed that he was against increasing the deficit to pay for it. That leaves only two options, cutting Medicare or increasing the charges to seniors. Boozman wasn't clear on which he favored, just that he was against whatever anyone else proposed.
John Boozman doesn't care, because he can get his health care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or from the special clinic for Congress called Office of the Attending Physician, both heavily subsidized by the taxpayers in his district.
On the same day, Boozman cast your vote AGAINST against adding segments of the Molalla River in Oregon to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. His influence and increasing irrelevancy is made clear by the overwhelming passage of the bill by 292-133.
It appears that it will be a short season for the Razorback basketball team. With half the scholarship players gone or absent for academic and extracurricular reasons, the vacancies are being filled by a golfer and a redshirt football player. We need to do some serious recruiting if the Razorbacks want to be competitive in the SEC next year.
The 30-point blowout loss to Louisville on national television was painful. Having Appalachian State take us to overtime was a bad omen for winning many SEC games this season. We need to do some serious recruiting if the Razorbacks want to be competitive in the SEC next year.
I'm just saying....
Thursday, November 19, 2009
It is amusing that Business Week magazine chose Springdale, home of the Traveling Cowbirds, as the Best Place to Raise Your Kids in Arkansas, then used photoshopped artwork of a young girl on Dickson Street to illustrate the article. That is the kind of embarrassing thing that happens when you rank places by some arbitrary criteria without ever visiting the location or talking with people who know.
More telling about the core values of Business Week is that Fayetteville is ranked Number Two and Rogers is ranked Number Three. It was not disclosed, but I imagine Siloam Springs, Centerton, Bentonville, Johnson, Lowell, Farmington, and Greenland round out the Top Ten. Northwest Arkansas is the home of Rich White Republicans, the kind who read Business Week and put stock in whatever it declares to be good. I mean, did you really think they would choose Pine Bluff or Little Rock, more colorful places that voted for Barack Obama?
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Since we missed it in the Stephens-Hussman Media Conglomerate and Print Monopoly "serving" Northwest Arkansas, you can thank Christopher Spencer and Ozarks Unbound for the good work in providing information about the federal lawsuit filed Thursday by two female deputies against Washington County Sheriff Tim Holder, Major Rick Hoyt, and former Captain Randy Osborn for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation.
"Wife swapping parties that nearly led to a fight among deputies. Jail staff luridly watching female inmates undress. An obscene and disgusting story that circulated for years around the Washington County Detention Center. A captain who talked openly about his female subordinates’ breasts." That's the lede in the story headlined, "Good old boys gone bad? WashCo sheriff turned a blind eye to sexually hostile work place, suit alleges." if you want more, there is a link to the full complaint with lurid details.
By the way, what's the status on the sexual harassment charges allegedly filed by Elizabeth Mann against former Fayetteville Fire Chief Tony Johnson and his subordinates? Has anyone seen a copy of that complaint?
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Perry Webb and the Springdale Cowbirds love them some high living in the Skybox at Arvest Ballpark. You could argue that they are spending a ton of money on "catering" in an effort to make the ballpark profitable, since they led the campaign for the tax to subsidize the enterprise. Or, you could argue that they are blowing Chamber dues and Springdale "economic development" funds to have a grand time with their friends.
A quick review of the American Express bills that Perry Webb ran up for "food and beverages" in the Cowbird's Skybox during the 2008 season, courtesy of SpringdaleFOI, will give you enough of an idea that you can decide for yourself whether it was wise spending of taxpayer dollars. Let's start with the bill for $393 for "food and beverages" attributed to entertaining the First Baptist Church. It is not clear what the church has to do with economic development, but the real question is why the Cowbirds entertained only Ronnie Floyd's flock and left every other church of every denomination in town to buy their own peanuts in the cheap seats?
The largest single night catering expense was $1,425 on April 22 for entertaining guests from "WM," which rhymes with a big box retailer or a garbage company, followed closely by a $1,300 tab for Cargill snackers on July 25. Someone named Shinall made two trips to the Cowbird Skybox for a total bill of $1,762. Walker Brothers were feted guests on four different occasions that tallied a total of $2,526, and Dr. Whitaker DDS was invited three times and rang up $1,977 in expenses. Dent-a-Med made three trips around the bases for $1,344. Springdale Liquor, Hewitt, and Turnbow had a combined catering bill of over $1,000 for two games, but Waste Management was identified on two days for $1,779.
There are other big ticket expenses for entertaining the A&P Commission and City Council, public trustees who gave $177,000 in co-mingled tax dollars to the Cowbirds. The Rodeo promoters and the school board also got cut in on the catering orgy. Many of the catering expenditures don't list any business as the beneficiary of the catering, but there were no Hispanic names on the published guest list. However, six different games identify Perry Webb as the king of the skybox for a day, just another untaxed bonus for all the jobs he brought to Springdale last year as Sam's Club was heading south.
Did the Springdale City Council know this is how Perry Webb and the Cowbirds were spending the taxpayers' money for economic development? Did they even bother to ask before appropriating another round for 2009? What does Mayor Doug Sprouse have to say about all of this? That might depend on whether he got to watch a game or two with Perry this season.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Congressman John Boozman (R-Teabagger) just figured out that the 2010 General Election is about a year away, so his staff has been flooding the media with "news" about his voting record of late. They seemed to have overlooked his position on one very important bill that was enacted last week, H.R. 2996, a major appropriation bill that passed the Senate 72-28 and passed the House 247-178. As usual, our loser Congressman, John Boozman, voted with the losing side.
This bill was the appropriation for the Department of the Interior, environment, and related agencies, and it was supported by every other Arkansas member of the House and Senate. Yet, Boozman took his orders and stood strong, voting against the Conference Report last week, just as he had against the original bill when it was passed the House 254-173 last June. In neither case has Boozman explained this bizarre vote to his constituents.
The charitable explanation is that Congressman Boozman is a values voter; that is, he votes against stuff he doesn't like. In this case, he voted against even a dime for the National Wildlife Refuge fund and wildlife conservation grants to the State of Arkansas; against state assistance from the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and against oil spill research.
Mr. Boozman also voted against funds to carry out the Compacts of Free Association for the Marshall Islands population in Springdale and against any money for the Indian Health Service. He voted against allowing proceeds of any visitor fees at Pearl Harbor to be used for constructing of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Hawaii. He voted against any federal funding for the National Forest Service and the Arkansas Forestry Commission programs. Not a nickel, my friend.
Boozman also voted down all funding for operation of the Environmental Protection Agency, including the Hazardous Substance Superfund and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. For good measure he also voted to nix for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Procedurally, he vote against allowing the Agricultural Research Service to support the operation of pilot plants and facilities in bringing technologies necessary for the development and commercialization of new biobased products to the point of practical application.
That's not all, folks. Congressman Boozman voted against all funding for the Smithsonian Institution, including for carrying out activities under the Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009; the National Gallery of Art; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
As a final display of compassion, Boozman voted against authorizing the departments in awarding a federal contract to give consideration to local contractors who are from economically disadvantaged rural communities and who provide employment and training for dislocated and displaced workers. That would be us.
If you like that, then vote to re-elect the dipstick.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
We all remember the failure of Arkansas National Bank in Bentonville, and its closure in 2008 by the Comptroller of the Currency for unsafe and unsound banking practices, mostly in the real estate portfolio. Now, Metropolitan National Bank announced its fourth straight quarterly loss ($54.8 million in 2009), much of which is blamed on problem real estate lending in Northwest Arkansas, evidenced by the foreclosures on bad loans filed against Gary Combs, Bob Gaddy Trust, and Dirk Van Veen and his Risky Heights partners.
Bloggers who know far more about the banking situation that I do have expressed concerns about the future of Metropolitan National Bank, because it is "short $20 million in equity capital and also seriously short of the needed reserves to cover its growing delinquent loan portfolio. ...The bank’s problem loan-to-asset ratio is 116 percent. The benchmark for failed banks is roughly 100 percent." This is an issue of public concern, because the bank took $25 million in TARP funds in the final days of the Bush Administration, and the taxpayers have an interest in getting it back.
The Banktracker Investigative Reporting Workshop provides important information about the "troubled asset ratio" of local financial institutions that you won't read in the newly merged Stephens-Hussman Media Conglomerate and Print Monopoly "serving" Northwest Arkansas. "While [the TAR] is not an official FDIC statistic, nor is it intended as a definitive predictor of the likelihood of bank failure, the troubled asset ratio apparently is a strong indicator of severe stress inside a bank because it shows the bank's ability to withstand loan losses. Of the 92 banks that have failed so far this year, 84 had troubled asset ratios of 100 percent or greater in the final quarter they reported data before they closed."
Let's take a look at the "troubled asset ratio" of other Northwest Arkansas banks as of June 30, 2009. Keep in mind that the national average is 13.0.
Parkway Bank (Rogers) 132.5
Pinnacle Bank (Rogers) 83.7
Legacy National Bank (Springdale) 78.9
Bank of Gravette 57.7
Bank of Fayetteville 43.5
Simmons First Bank of NWA 34.2
Arvest Bank 28.9
Decatur State Bank 28.3
Signature Bank of Arkansas (Fayetteville) 25.9 *
United Bank (Springdale) 24.0
National Average for all banks 13.0
Bank of Arkansas (Fayetteville) 12.7
Signature Bank is owned in part by White River Bankshares, which received $16.8 million in TARP funds.
Bank of Rogers had a troubled asset ratio of 56.3 in June 2008, before it merger with FNB of Fort Smith, which has a 30.6 ratio in June 2009.
Current data for Chambers Bank of North Arkansas was not available. Holding company Chambers Bankshares received $19.8 million in TARP funds.
Last Friday, nine U.S. banks were officially declared insolvent by the FDIC, bringing the total this year to 115 banks. Here's hoping that the local economy improves. If not, be glad that the federal government has socialized the losses and will cover your loss due to bank failure up to $250,000 per account per bank.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
No one should be surprised that Walmart brought pressure, through the respectable members of the library trustees, to squelch an author talking about her book, Boom Town, in the public libraries of Benton County. It is not even especially surprising that the local librarians in Rogers and Bentonville ignored their professional responsibility and caved in to the corporate overlords of the shire.
Likewise, the exemplary response of the Fayetteville Public Library in hosting the author and promoting the event reminds us why Fayetteville is a special place, an island of reason in a sea of ignorance and a beacon of hope for individuality in a vast wasteland of conformity. Heck, Mayor Jordan even pimped the event on his Facebook page, and Ozarks Unbound offered up a review of the book, coverage of the public event, and an audio version of author Marjorie Rosen's lecture.
While you won't find it announced on the University of Arkansas website or listed on the Daily Events Calendar, Rosen also will be discussing her book on the Fayetteville campus this afternoon at 3:30 in the student union. It is sponsored by the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the Multi-Cultural Center, two academic outposts that Walmart has no use for and has not yet bothered to buy and control to the extent that they have captured the business school and the education department.
Monday, November 2, 2009
A little more than two years ago, we told you about the "working vacation" at Mt. Magazine Lodge, a new resort with hot tubs and an indoor pool, where Chickendale Cowbird 'business leaders" told local city officials what they wanted in addition to the $177,000 slush fund from the taxpayers. In October 2007, we wrote:
The Springdale Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a three-day obedience school designed to help their city officials set appropriate goals. Springdale elected officials, school administrators, and city department heads are a captive audience for the so-called business leaders, who are holed up away from public view at beautiful Mount Magazine State Park Lodge in Logan County to get together on what the business community expects and how the city can deliver.At that time, we said it wasn't clear who was picking up the tab for this fun get-away, but we noted that it was "sponsored by undisclosed construction companies, banks, food processors, engineers, and architects." What we didn't know then but know now is that the Chickendale Cowbirds spent $16,497.21 for a Texas outfit called 9G to "facilitate" the discussions and $23,911.64 at the resort for two nights' "lodging." This from an account co-mingled with city funds that were supposed to be for "economic development" and "promoting Springdale."
That is a sweet deal for someone, or a lot of someones, considering that the most expensive suite in peak season is only $209 a night, including, "Fireplace, River Valley View, Satellite Television, 2 balconies, living area with separate bedroom, king size bed, jacuzzi, telephone, coffee pot, microwave, in-room safe, high-speed internet, iron & ironing board, refrigerator." That doesn't include the mini-bar.
Why didn't they have this big party at the Springdale Holiday Inn & Convention Center, so the Cowbirds and their captive elected officials and city employees could sleep in their own beds, and keep the money in the local economy? Maybe because they would have been distracted by local citizens asking what was going on, listening to the discussions, and having some input from ordinary citizens who weren't on the Cowbird A-List? Yes.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Thanks very much, once again, to citizen watchdog Anita Davis and SpringdaleFOI for letting the public see how Perry Webb and the Chichendale Cowbirds are blowing the cash handed over to them for "economic development" by the taxpayers of Springdale. One of the previously unaccountable slush funds worth reviewing is the bill for their dining expenses, and it ain't chickenfeed.
They have meticulously documented more than $120,000 for fine dining and adult beverages, down to and including a receipt for $1.92 at the Blimpie Cart in the Atlanta airport, but we will have to wait for the details of expenses and alleged business guests who woofed down $70,512 at the Springdale Country Club, well over half of the outlays. The individual receipts are being reviewed and will be released for public viewing soon.
Either to make it appear that they were spending money with city businesses or because they were ignorant about the city limits, the Cowbirds claimed that they spent $100 at the Venesian Inn in Springdale. but that hardly compares with the $2,204 they lavished on themselves at Luigi's in Washington DC. They also supported the local economic engine Cracker Barrel, the envy of Bill Ramsey, to the tune of $45.31 in business meals, but that was less than half of the $101.95 they sloshed down for economic development one afternoon at the Claddagh Irish Pub in Middleton, Wisconsin.
The AQ Chicken House had a collective haul of $1,291 over three years, but that was less than a single evening's tab of $1,297 at Cafe 42 in Little Rock. The Cowbirds invested $3,208 in steaks and swill at the Ruth's Chris Steak House on DuPont Circle in Washington, DC, but to show they were able to graze with the common people, they spent $3,559 at Jim's Razorback Pizza and $3,223 at McBride Distributing in Fayetteville.
I have to wonder how the average working stiff in Chickendale would feel about this if it were ever fully covered or even briefly mentioned in the Moron News. Those working on the line for the federal minimum wage would have to work 129 days to earn enough to pay the $7,495 catering bill at Mark Henry's Catering Unlimited LLC.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and the City Council are spending Halloween morning going over the proposed budget for 2010. According to an article in the Springdale News, it looks like they will be dipping into the reserve funds to make ends meet. That's what the city's saving account is for, maintaining services during hard economic times, after making all possible cuts in expenses.
Jordan has frozen salaries, cut 13 positions, and trimmed some other obvious fat marbled up from the previous administration, reducing the general fund expenses by more than $3 million from the 2009 budget. Somethings he can't do anything about, such as the anticipated $5,780 annual loss on the $3.7 million TIF Parking Lot that Dan Coody, John Nock, Kit Williams, Rob Sharp, and the Cowbirds promised us was going to be a fine hotel generating huge revenues, so we're stuck with that for the next 20-something years or so.
I know our city officials probably don't read this blog, but I think I have found some additional savings that should be considered. If you agree, please suggest that the mayor and your aldermen think on these things.
1. The proposed Parks and Recreation budget has a $373,000 outlay for Regional Park Development. That's what Connie Edmonston wants to spend on her SouthPark Soccer Palace next year. Since the City doesn't even have the deed to that land and is unlikely to get it anytime soon, lets nix that expense and transfer it to general revenue or parks maintenance. Connie can spend that $1 million the developers owe the city before squirreling away more tax dollars.
2. The City is set to spend $475, 562 for a Drug Enforcement Program that is expected to produce only $12,000 in fines and forfeitures. That's no way to run a city. Greenland and Johnson make far more than that on their speed trap operations. Admittedly, some of this huge inefficient budget comes from a federal grant, but we are still dumping in $233,000 in city general revenues for a failed War on Drugs started under a previous mayor. Let's take a pass on the federal funds and save our money.
3. The Executive Jetport. Forget about the utter worthlessnes of Director Ray Boudreaux for a moment and just look at the enterprise. Revenues are projected to drop $370,000 next year, and they are anticipating an operating loss of $51,200 not counting depreciation on the facility. A realistic treatment of depreciation would increase the projected annual loss by $1,531,000, which is not good. Now, facing such dismal prospects, the 2010 budget proposes to increase administrative costs by $73,000 over the current year. That's like giving bonuses to AIG executives. At least hold steady on administrative costs, and that's a paper savings of $73,000.
4. Did you know that the City is planning on giving $6,000 to the Ozarks Military Museum again next year? Did you even know that there was a military museum in Fayetteville? In hard economic times, how can Jordan and the City Council think it essential to piss away $6,000 for an obscure outfit that glamorizes war? It is not much, but that's $6,000 that could be saved or better spent on expanding the national cemetery.
5. My kids like the Boys and Girls Club, but I was surprised to learn that we are spending $57,600 from general revenues and another $147,750 from the parks budget for a total of more than $205,000 a year for a non-profit group out west of I-540. Maybe it is worth it, but what exactly is the city getting for our money? Is that an essential service? Whatever, it is more than the entire city budget for the Yvonne Richardson Center that serves a different population in a different part of town. How about cutting $20,000 from the gift to the Boys Club. That would make the two youth centers more equal, even if separate, save the taxpayers $20,000, and save the administration some white guilt.
6. Finally, we are giving $36,937 to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. What do we get for that? Not very damn much, and, remember, this is the group that voted to spend $750,000 to study a "western beltway" from West Fork to Wal-Mart and opposes spending a dime to study the feasibility of a light rail system. Let's cut our contribution to that nest of bureaucrats by $35,000 and let them get their funding where they get their orders -- the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives.
So, there is an annual savings of $740,000 without breaking a sweat or dropping any essential public services. My advice is worth what you pay for it, so you are also savings a big wad of cash that would have gone for a no-bid contract to an out of state consultant under a previous city administration.
Friday, October 30, 2009
The merger of WEHCO Media, Inc. and Stephens Media, Inc. is in full force, marking, if not the end of newspapers, the end of competing efforts to gather the news and competing ideas on the editorial page. Like most corporate mergers it is about market share and profits, not about delivering an improved product. Employees are merely costs to be controlled, not people to be nurtured and respected. Many have been fired, and you can see the names on the wall at Ozarks Unbound. Many of them are my friends, so perhaps I have difficulty in offering any objective analysis of why some were fired while others remained on the corporate payroll. My heartfelt condolences to the journalists and their families.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Some politicians are quick to proclaim their piety, "that they may be seen of men," and "that they may have glory of men." This seems particularly true the closer we get to election time, but it is starting earlier this year. It is also becoming clear that certain politicians will tell you one thing and then vote just the opposite, thinking that their public words speak louder than their hidden deeds or that you just won't know.
In 2008, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich started an online petition calling on Congress to portray “the centrality of our Creator in the founding of America” inside the visitor center. This month, Congressman John Boozman (R-Hypocrite) is telling us loudly how he has "been supportive of the correct portrayal of America’s religious history in the newly-constructed Capitol Visitor Center." That history would be about the Republican-controlled Congress adding "under God" to the pledge in 1954 and changing the national motto to "In God We Trust" in 1956.
Mr. Boozman wants us to know that he is "a member of the Congressional Prayer Caucus," and he tells us that he worked to make sure that "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance were engraved on the new Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C. Boozman goes on and on about how he signed onto a letter to the Architect of the Capitol expressing concern that the motto and pledge were not in the plans. He also says that last June he voted for a Resolution "directing the AOC to engrave the national motto and Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center."
What Mr. Boozman fails to tell his constituents, confident that the corporate media in Northwest Arkansas would not report it and that the voters are too dumb to notice, is that he voted AGAINST funding for engraving the motto and pledge, included in the appropriation bill of $22.4 million for expenses for operation of the Capitol Visitor Center. Actually, he voted against it TWICE, first on June 19 and again on September 25.
Boozman has been bearing false witness. Will it go unpunished at the ballot box?
Sunday, October 25, 2009
We have commented before about the secret spending and self-serving slush funds of the Chickendale Cowbirds. If you want to know more and examine the evidence against them, there is a new website in town making public the Chamber's internal documents that show lavish spending on domestic travel and foreign vacations totalling more than $280,500.
Springdale FOI lays it out. You can see the ten single-spaced pages of records documenting travel spending on everything from exotic cruises and Bahama getaways to a $17.50 carwash for Rhonda Hughes' personal car, although the bulk of receipts do not specify who made the purchases or benefited from them. For example, there is a payment of $1,440 to the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island, and $1,333 to the Biltmore at Coral Gables, neither of which indicated who was living large. Other receipts are more mysterious, like the $754 Hunting Lodge for Heath Ward, the $1,250 to American Airlines for "Unknown S'dale Chamber," a $144 bill at Sam's Town for Ashley Gardner, and $500 to Christian Life Cathedral's Youth Minister Joshua Foliart for "?" (Really, it says "?") the same weekend as Ashley's Sam's Town expenses.
Perry and Rebecca Webb appear to rank high among couples doing the most traveling on Chamber funds. They had important Chickendale Cowbird business that included a $1,700 bill at the Adolphus Hotel, the Ski Train in Colorado, and numerous trips to Florida. Brian and Melonie Moore hauled in an $8,600 trip to Polynesia for something that Perry Webb approved.
Randall and Sandra Mulliken appear to be the King and Queen of Cowbird Travel Couples. They got a trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, one to Oyster Bay for $3,600, and Joshua, Justin, and Kelsey Mulliken went with them on another junket. Randall got over $4,000 expenses covered for himself and an undisclosed companion to Kona, Hawaii, more than $3,350 for a Royal Caribbean cruise to Barcelona, Spain, and about $3,600 for something in Amsterdam.
There is not much there about what, if anything, Perry Webb and his Merry Band of Babbitts and Bandits have done to create new jobs or save existing ones in Springdale. That's supposedly why the City pays the Chamber $177,000 a year for economic development. You would think it would mean jobs for someone other than travel agents.
Maybe no one ever asks, when you see that Mayor Jerry van Hoose got a $1,494 vacation at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, paid for by the Cowbirds from those same funds. We did not say it was a kickback, just a paid vacation from a vendor to a public official. The distinction would be up to a prosecutor.
More to come....
Friday, October 16, 2009
Skoch received a total of $11,969 in contributions and has $8,101 cash on hand. By comparison, Boodler Boozman has raked in $195,256 from his grateful benefactors and is sitting on $305,856 in his petty cash drawer. There are other differences as well. More than half of Boozman's contributions come from corporate political action committees like Wal-mart, Arvest, Tyson's, Entergy, real estate groups, and bankers who are living large, but Bernie Skoch has not taken a dime from the PACs. Maybe they didn't offer him a swig of the addictive elixir, but still he has clean hands on that account.
Boozman contributions from individuals shows him the witting tool of rich doctors and a couple of lawyers. Skoch is more diversified. Patsy Wootton of Springdale is his sugar momma, reporting in at $2,400 so far. Other contributors include Robert Barton of Rogers ($1,000), Patricia McClintock of West Fork ($500), Springdale Lawyer William Varner ($498), Bella Vista Real Estate Saleswoman Kay Strickland ($250), Walter Van Horn of Fayetteville ($250), and Deborah Quinn of Fayetteville ($213).
It is safe to say that Boozman can outspend Skoch and will. If there is to be an upset, it will be because the retired general from Elkins can mobilize active support from veterans and Teabaggers to overcome Boozman's corporate sponsors and their obedient employees in the 12-county district. Looks like a very long shot.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Will Phillips, a 10-year-old fifth grader at West Fork Middle School, has taken a courageous stand for his beliefs, and it landed him in the principal's office after an argument with a substitute teacher over his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Young Master Will balked at saying “with liberty and justice for all,” because he didn't think there was equality for everyone. Imagine the insolence of refusing to say what you are told by the authority of the state and a substitute teacher!
The idea of compelling school children to salute the flag and repeat the Pledge of Allegiance was declared unconstitutional in 1943. You would think that, even in West Fork, a substitute teacher would have known about that and caught on after three score and six years. Instead, she told Will that his mother and grandmother would want him to stand and pledge. He replied, "With all due respect, you can go jump off a bridge." That does seem like all respect due to such a teacher, but it earned him a trip to the principal's office, an order to apologize to the teacher, and an additional research assignment on the pledge of allegiance.
If anyone is owed an apology, it is Will Phillips. He was exercising a well-established First Amendment right and was jerked around for doing so. The West Fork School Board, the middle school principal, and all of the teachers should be given an additional research assignment to read the United States Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.
It is no excuse, as principal Becky Ramsey said, "Any school where I’ve ever been in Arkansas, they say the Pledge of Allegiance first period,” but at least she admitted, "We cannot mandate that every child says the pledge." The Supreme Court said more eloquently:
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. …We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.
That's the lesson that Will Phillips was trying to teach the teacher.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
You probably remember the big scam that Lincoln School Superintendent Frank Holman pulled earlier this year. He retired on June 30th, saying that there were health issues with family members. Then in August, he was rehired by the school board at his old salary of about $100,000. Holman explained that he had "retired" to take advantage of a teacher retirement law loophole that allowed him to leave the district for 30 days and draw retirement. The loophole was tightened by the legislature this year, but not in time to stop people like Holman who arranged to get rehired and draw a big salary while also draining the state retirement fund meant for retired teachers.
There are more than 2,000 people in Arkansas who have faked retirement to start drawing benefits then went back to work at big salaries. Their friends in high places have so far prevented their names being released, and most of them are not as proud of scamming the system as Frank Holman and the Lincoln School Board members seem to be.
What we do know, however, is where the Devious Double Dippers worked when they "retired" and where they now work while drawing salaries and retirement pay. Here is what we know about local double dippers.
This is where 161 of them worked when they "retired" and started drawing retirement payments:
Rogers School District - 60
Springdale School District - 22
Bentonville School District - 14
Lincoln School District - 14
Farmington School District - 11
Boston Mountain Coop - 10
West Fork School District - 9
Siloam Springs School District - 9
Elkin School District - 4
Greenland School District - 4
Pea Ridge School District - 3
Gravette School District - 1
Here's where 140 of the "retirees" have been hired and now are drawing both salaries and retirement benefits:
University of Arkansas - 31
Northwest Technical Institute - 22
Boston Mountain Coop - 13
NWA Academy of Fine Arts - 11
Haas Hall Academy - 11
Benton County School of Arts - 10
Pea Ridge School District - 7
Decatur School District - 2
Bentonville School District - 1
Lincoln School District - 1
In addition to the sucking of assets by the double dippers, the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System's investments fell by more than $2 billion last fiscal year. Hopefully, the market will improve and the new law will limit the number of fake retirements, making sure that Arkansas school teachers who really retire will get the benefits they deserve.
Monday, October 5, 2009
One such purveyor of abstinence-only hokum is a Lowell-based outfit called Reality Check. It claims to work with John Brown University, Northwest Arkansas Community College, the Boys and Girls Club, First Tee, Youth Bridge, Springdale School District, and the Rogers School District to share its message of birth control by just saying no to sex. Despite spending millions of dollars on this message, Arkansas ranks fourth in the nation in the number of teen births per capita. It ignores the fact that contraception works. Reality Check is a subsidiary of Tree of Life Preventative Health Maintenance, Inc., a faith-based organization that, according to its website, works under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Here's one reason that Reality Check's services might not work. Tobias Patrick Lyons, a former employee of the private nonprofit, was arrested Friday for sexual indecency with a child after he admitted texting a 14-year-old girl to ask for sex and asking another minor female to send him nude photographs of herself, which she sent to his cell phone. He is facing up to six years in prison for a Class D felony.
Just two years ago, our local Congressman John Boozman (R-Dark Ages) said, “I am a strong supporter of abstinence education, and I am glad to see Reality Check taking a leadership role in providing this type of learning to our youth, This money represents an investment in the future of our children and in the ‘positive life choices’ that are part of Reality Check’s mission.”
Senator Lincoln and Congressman Boozman should think on these things whenever they go spouting off about how lucky we are that they funneled $532,509 of our tax dollars in a grant to Reality Check of Lowell for programs that not only don't work but make matters worse.