Sunday, January 25, 2009

NWA Mall Owners Face Foreclosure

Macerich Co. of Santa Monica, California, purchased the Northwest Arkansas Mall from Tri State Joint Venture of Maryland in December 1998 for $94 million. Macerich sold it two years ago as part of a three mall package to Midwest Mall Properties, a partnership among Doyle Rogers and John Flake of Little Rock and Sam Mathias of Springdale. It was hailed by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal as the Best Investment of the year in 2007.

Now, Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City, the largest of the three malls owned by Midwest Mall Properties, is in foreclosure by
Maiden Lane Commercial Mortgage Backed Securities Trust, and it could go on the block within 60 days. The closing of the Dillard's anchor and nine other stores in December was the fatal blow, following the exit of Penney's and Macy's since Midwest bought the property.

Why is this of concern to us here in Northwest Arkansas? Well, the company that is now operating the Crossroads Mall would not comment to Arkansas Business, and John Flake was "out of the country" and unavailable for comment. Neither of the three daily newspapers nor the bi-weekly Northwest Arkansas Business Journal have mentioned the foreclosure, and there is no indication they have asked partner Sam Mathias of Springdale what's up.

Dillard's, Inc. closed 13 stores in 2008, and retail analysts and investment bankers are questioning whether it can survive another five years. Dillard's Store Closings even has its own Yahoo Group discussion, and the corporation continues to lose money even after announcing 21 store closings. Will the Dillard's Store in Fayetteville survive the next round of closings? Will the Northwest Arkansas Mall join Crossroads in foreclosure? What impact would this have on local employment and city revenues?

Why are we the only ones asking these silly questions? I mean, we wouldn't be losing Dillard's advertising revenue, but someone might care enough to check it out. Oh, I forgot, the Northwest Arkansas Times says there is no connection between advertising revenue and the news coverage or editorial commentary. The Times also says that The Morning News is a Springdale newspaper, but, even if that were true, TMN should cover local businessman Mathias and the NWA Mall that pays property taxes in the Springdale School District.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Here's to Our Health

Governor Mike Beebe has proposed in his State of the State address an $88 million-a-year health plan that includes the Fayetteville Satellite Campus of the UAMS Medical School train health care professional, a system of regional Trauma Centers to deal quickly with major injuries, funding for Community Health Clinics like St. Francis House, home health care, ARKids First, and other important health-related funding with leveraged matching federal funds. Mayor Lioneld Jordan said in his State of the City Address that securing the UAMS Satellite Campus was his number one priority for local economic development. Chamber President Steve Clark says health care is a key to our economic development.

Yesterday, State Senator Sue Madison (D-Fayetteville), State Rep. Jim House (D-Fayetteville), and State Rep. Uvalde Lindsey (D-Fayetteville) indicated that they would support the health care package. Only State Senator Bill Pritchard (R-Elkins) told the local Cowbirds that he was not committed to supporting the tobacco taxes to fund the programs, because he didn't get what he wanted for drug courts. And even if he did, he added, he would rather tax booze than smokes.

WTF? What's wrong with Prickard? Does he need attention? Is it a mental health issue? Does he think we don't need the med center and the community health clinics? Does he think he has more political moxie than Beebe? Smarter than the local advisory board? Is he flipping the bird to the local donors who provided the $3 million match for the satellite med school? Is he a tool for the out of state lobbyists for Big Tobacco?

Give him a call this weekend and check on him. 442-8611. You can also send Pritchard an email at, although we hear he brags that he is not influenced by messages from constituents.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hard Times in the Promised Land

Springdale bit the big one in November. The latest sales tax collection reports show the city revenue down 20.2%, taking in only $689,356 compared with $863,970 last November. Part of that is because Jesus Jim Holt, Jim Bob Diddler, and the local liquor cartel ran Sam's Club out of town, part of it is the crash in the housing and construction market, and part of it is because Springdale sucks in general.

But times is tough all over. November sales tax collections were down 12.5% in Bentonville, and today came word that they might not get to have a new golf course in a city park. Fayetteville was down less than $5,000 (.004%) but still below projections. The city will make that up from Mayor Jordan turning back the $5,000 car allowance that Coody took last year. Only Rogers saw an increase in sales tax collections, up more than $70,000 (7.5%).

We can only hope that the embarassing Northwest Arkansas voting results in the last election and the neutered Congressman John Boozman have not screwed the pooch on our getting some public works projects from that jobs bill being proposed by President Obama and the Democratic Congress. It cannot come too soon.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

FDP and the Fuzzy Math Festival

We have contacted two different former board members of the now defunct Fayetteville Downtown Partners, Inc., and neither of them can or will tell us what happened to the $20,000 that was supposed to be reserved for supporting the 2009 Fayetteville Arts Festival. It is high time that the City demand an accounting of the money unanimously appropriated for the 2008 contract with FDP to organize and promote the festival. Was that Kit Williams-drafted contract just another no strings gift to nonperforming partners?

This may all be moot, if the Internal Revenue Service comes asking about unpaid taxes. The latest IRS Form 990, filed by the FDP in August 2008, lists Daniel Keeley as President and custodian of the corporate records. It is also interesting that FDP reported net assets of -$23,962 at the end of 2007, then Mr. Keeley was quoted in the newspaper in September as saying that FDP had banked $20,000. We still have no clue where this money went, and no one is talking.

What we do know is that the Arkansas Secretary of State reports that the Fayetteville Downtown Partners, Inc. has been dissolved. We also know that the FDP website still claims that the group is a nonprofit organization (we assume they mean legally as well as in obvious fact), and they are still soliciting online donations.

We are not accusing anyone of fraud, but we think Mr. Keeley and his former board owe the public answers and an accounting of the public funds. If there is a legitimate explanation, let's have it. We don't have subpoena powers to get the answers, but we know who does.

Mayor Jordan Having Another Good Week

Lioneld Jordan, Fayetteville's new Mayor, started out the month by reorganizing his staff, getting rid of the deadwood, and saving on salaries. Last week, he represented the city at the Arkansas Municipal League meeting in Little Rock, networking with mayors and legislators from around the state, and received the rather impressive final report from his Transition Team.

Mayor Jordan began this week marching to remember Martin Luther King, Jr., and on Tuesday he delivered his first State of the City Address. Today, the Fayetteville Free Weekly named him Person of the Year. It must be disappointing for those who last fall predicted the end of the city and civilization if Lioneld Jordan were elected, but most people seem to be giving him the benefit of the doubt or to be downright pleased. So far.

Lest anyone think that we're going to give him a free ride, we'll take the hide off of him as soon as he gives us good reason. For now, the comments section is open to both fans and foes. What's your reaction to his big speech? Anything you think good or bad in the plans he has proposed? What about the accolades from the Free Weekly? Is Jordan "the real deal" as they suggest, or a real hayseed bumpkin as portrayed by the editorial crowd at the Northwest Arkansas Times?

Take your best shot.

Soul-Saving School Superintendent Search

Fayetteville School District's born again national search for a new superintendent has drawn 42 applications this time around. One of them is Dr. Paul Dee Human, Ed.D., who lists his occupation as a consultant and his residence as Greer's Ferry. One insight to his educational priorities might be found in his 1994 doctoral dissertation that studied the causes of stress for school superintendents, which he found to be related to funding issues and following laws and regulations. It was completed only a few years after he violated the constitution, blowing two years and thousands of dollars in school funds unsuccessfully defending himself for having church volunteers teach Bible lessons during school hours when he was Superintendent at Gravette. Doe v. Human, 725 F.Supp. 1523 (1989); cert. denied, Human v. Doe, 499 U.S. 922 (1991).

More recently, Paul Human was Superintendent at Texarkana. There he instituted a Bible class based on the curriculum pushed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, and tried unsuccessfully to set up a Charter School in partnership with the Mount Grove Baptist Church of Texarkana. Last year the Texarkana School Board forced his resignation amid allegations of mismanagement and ethical conflict of interest related to the school system’s technology network plan, causing it to miss out on $500,000 in federal funds. The District asked the Prosecuting Attorney to investigate and bought out Human's contract for $150,000.

We pray that the Fayetteville School Board will save us from such an experience here.

Terry the Tow Truck Bandit Busted - UPDATE

Prominent local businessman Terry Hays was arrested yet again this week. The owner of Terry's Towing was booked on criminal charges of aggravated assault on a family member, terroristic threatening, first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor, and possession of a firearm by certain persons, then immediately released from the Washington County Detention Center after posting a $7,500 bail bond. Before this arrest, Terry previously has been charged at various times with terroristic threatening, aggravated assault, kidnapping, theft by receiving, first degree sexual abuse, failure to register as a convicted sex offender, second-degree assault, and criminal mischief, and he has a criminal history dating back to 1991 that includes seven felonies.

As far as we can determine, Terry has never been arrested for predatory towing, something he is well-known for in Fayetteville. One former victim said, "Deal with anyone else if you possibly can.: I have had to work with this schiesty company on several occasions, and I cannot be more displeased with them. I wish I could put zero stars, because "awful" does not even begin to describe my disgust. Here is why:

"I believe that Terry's Towing operates on a cash-only basis to intentionally bypass their tax obligations. In addition, every individual in their organization that I've dealt with has been a piss-poor representation of a human being. I would rather be stripped naked and beaten with a thorn bush than deal with the horrible, ungodly, Cro-Magnon rednecks at Terry's Towing. Other long-time residents of the NWA area have verified that my experience is not an isolated event, but typical behavior of the scummy, low-life, lying cheats that comprise this God-forsaken company. Even my insurance agent said he was surprised that, to date, no one has SHOT Terry (a man who apparently has had numerous legal troubles for "inappropriately" disciplining his children). Try them, and you'll hate them too."

The city was able to get state statutes amended to put additional regulations on non-consensual tow truck operations a few years ago. It looks like they need to seek additional legislation to prohibit assholes and felons from being licensed to operate tow truck businesses.

UPDATE: Terry the Towing Bandit's bond was revoked Thursday after he immediately tried to contact the alleged victim of his assault, a direct violation of the conditions of his bail. A warrant has been issued for his arrest, but he had not been seen or taken into custody as of 6 p.m. Anyone with information regarding Hayes' whereabouts can contact the Washington County Sheriff's Office at (479) 444-5700. You might consider him armed and dangerous, despite the comments his friends posted on this thread to tell us what a swell fellow he is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Two-Tons of Dirty Laundry

The Benton/Washington County Regional Public Water Authority (Two-Ton) supplies water to 17 cities and water districts, including Siloam Springs, Bella Vista, Lincoln, and Prairie Grove. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality issued a consent administrative order in December, 2008, fining the Authority $13,100 for illegal discharge of sediment and sludge and for altering lagoons without proper authorization. In 2007, the agency cited the Authority for improper sediment storage and not reporting treated water flows as required.

Scott Borman, Director of the Authority, says he's not sure whether his Board will agree to pay the fine, even after it was negotiated down to $9,100. Larry Oelrich of Prairie Grove, Chairman of the Board, is hopping mad and thinks the solution is to remove Dr. Walter Kreeger, one of the Board members who communicated with an AEDQ enforcement officer regarding the violations that resulted in the fine. Oelrich has been after Kreeger since last summer, shortly after the AEDQ inspection that documented the violations last May.

Kreeger had sent several emails to AEDQ, in one saying that he could provide a former Two-Ton employee who could verify violations occurred and that sludge material was put under piles of dirt on the authority's property. Oelrich didn't like that one bit and said, "He's working in the worst interest of the authority." He contends that Kreeger has the unpleasant knack for disagreeing with the majority of the board and "makes a habit of seeking out disgruntled ex-employees to try to get dirt on Mr. Borman."

Like many of these regional boards in Northwest Arkansas, the Benton/Washington County Regional Public Water Authority is packed with good ol' boys who don't like to be questioned. Instead of trying to fix the environmental problems or firing the paid director, their solution is to can the board member who squealed on them and get back to business as usual. Where the sun don't shine.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Getting to Know You

Fayetteville has a new mayor and two new members of the city council, all of whom will be making decisions that affect local residents. Perhaps you have heard their names, maybe you even visited their self-created campaign websites last fall, or you could have had a brief opportunity to talk personally with them about their plans when elected. For those of us who don't know them personally and well, there's now a chance to find out more about the new faces filling those chairs in the Council Chamber at City Hall on the first and third Tuesday evenings.

The Fayetteville Flyer has continued the fine public service provided during the mayoral campaign by recently posting of interviews with our new Aldermen, Matthew Petty representing Ward Two and Sarah Lewis elected from Ward Four. Both profiles are interesting and should be helpful to anyone wanting a program to know the players in the game of local politics.

You'll also find an insightful interview with our new mayor, Lioneld Jordan, in the current issue of Cityscapes Metro Monthly, the slick local magazine for those who live in the upscale neighborhoods of Ward One and Ward Three. The four-page spread is not linked from their site, but you can read page-by-page on another enterprising local blog.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

High Bidder Blues

We wondered when it would start. It has. The editors at the Northwest Arkansas Times have begun their pitch to justify getting the city contract for publishing public notices while submitting the high bid, and the bidding has not yet been announced. No doubt they need the money, but submitting the low bid is a better way to get the contract, not whining because the competition offers a better deal. Where's all that free market malarkey they are always spouting?

They say it's not about the money, and you know what that always means. It's about the money. The lame argument they trot out is that the NWA Times is a Fayetteville paper and that The Morning News is a Springdale paper. Right. The corporate owners of both newspapers live in Little Rock. Both newspapers have offices, editors, and reporters in Fayetteville, and neither paper is printed in Fayetteville.

Then the editors try to shame the aldermen and claim that giving the contract to any other newspaper would mean they are cheap and care not a whit about informing the public. Following this logic, our City Council would be duty bound to pay whatever price the Times wanted to charge. Fifty bucks a column inch? A hundred? Sure, why not, when the alternative is to be attacked by the newspaper for going with a lower responsible bidder, and it's just taxpayers' money, anyway, so screw them. Fortunately, that profligate attitude is changing at City Hall.

Running public notices in the Northwest Arkansas Times might not be the best way for the city to communicate with the majority of its residents, and even that paper's managing editor says there are more ubiquitous and less expensive channels, but it is certainly the most expensive. "Oh, but we have more readers," say the editors of the newspaper one cannot unsubscribe from if you want to read state and national news in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

If the Times wants to keep the printing monopoly contract and thinks that is really in the public interest, let them submit the low bid and stop demanding to milk the city cash cow by right. A lower amount of advertising revenue is better than none at all. Boo Hussman knows that well.

Crime Wave in Cooper's Compound

U.S. News & World Report named Bella Vista one of the Best Healthy Places to Retire in 2008, but it is rather obvious that the magazine overlooked the series of crimes that constantly plague local residents. A look at the the frightening incidents reported to the Bella Vista Police Department on any day would cause potential retirees to be as fearful and apprehensive as local residents. Here is an example of the mayhem on a single day last Thursday.

· At 8:32 a.m.Thursday, a dog was reported killing cats in the Bascombe Lane neighborhood.

· At 11:09 a.m.Thursday, a caller reported a road-rage incident in which a driver had gotten out and hit the caller's car window.

· At 7:06 p.m.Thursday, a caller reported a man in his 60s screaming and cursing at a 7-year-old girl near the All In One convenience store.

· At 8:21 p.m.Thursday, a caller on Leeds Lane reported footsteps in the snow went around the house to the back porch and over the fence.

We report; you decide.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Sage of Elkins Speaks

Milt Frantz, the revisionist historian and intestine inspector of the White River valley, has again emerged from thoughtful seclusion to share his wisdom on contemporary political events. This time Milt is calling Governor Mike Beebe a gutless politician for proposing a tax on tobacco to fund the regional trauma centers (and other things including the NWA satellite campus of the UA Medical Center). He says he has documents proving that the current tax on cigarettes already covers all the cost of health-related deaths and illnesses, from lung cancer to heart disease, with money left over. Instead, he wants the State "to start raising taxes on the big companies that are poisoning the food, water and homes you live in as well as the air you breathe."

And speaking of Communists, something else Frantz professes to be an expert on, not long ago he claimed to have documented that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a "stooge" for Josef Stalin, had ignored the peace initiatives from the German military in 1943, and was responsible for the death camps and genocide of both Stalin and Hitler. So, he said, "Enough already! Enough whining about the Holocaust, and more than enough about the unending guilttrip pushed on the German people on this issue."

We are blessed to have such experts as Milt Frantz and Jay Cole the Junior in our midst and doubly so because they are more than willing to share their boundless knowledge through letters to the editor that inform the world.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Uncommon Sense and Sensibility

UA Chancellor David Gearhart made it clear today that he's putting Students First by putting the kibosh on a $50,000 investiture ceremony to honor himself and using the funds to establish $1,000 scholarships for freshmen students. “This administration has been driving home the message of putting students first, and this provides us with an opportunity to practice what we are preaching,” he said. “Difficult financial times require difficult decisions on how to use the limited resources we have available. This, however, was an easy decision," Gearhart added, because "we have the opportunity to provide tangible benefit to 50 students – students who otherwise might miss out on an opportunity to earn a college degree."

The same good sense and unselfish approach can be seen at City Hall. On the City Council agenda for next week are several ordinances brought forward by Mayor Lioneld Jordan setting the tone for his administration. One allows him "to be treated as an ordinary city employee for vacation and sick leave purposes." Having watched a previous mayor campaigning for six weeks during office hours and having unlimited vacation time, this is a welcomed change to stop that abuse. Two other ordinances will roll back the salary of the Mayor and City Attorney to last year's levels and freeze the salaries of elected officials making more than $80,000. We are glad to see Jordan keeping his word on a campaign promise and setting an admirable example, especially recalling the huge raises in executive salaries in recent years.

Dr. David Gearhart and Mayor Lioneld Jordan have much in common, and both are proving to be better public servants and more frugal managers than their predecessors. Their bold examples serve as their own inaugural ceremonies, and we can keep the change.

Silent Partners

For the second year in a row, Fayetteville Downtown Partners, Inc. failed to request funds for the Fayetteville Arts Festival. I just assumed that was a consequence of the demonstrated incompetence of Daniel Keeley, who last year failed to request funds then argued against funding when offered by the city. While that remains a possibility, one of the postings on another thread says that Fayetteville Downtown Partners has been dissolved.

Sure enough, Pardner, the Arkansas Secretary of State confirms that Fayetteville Downtown Partners, Inc. has been dissolved. We saw no notice of this and can find nothing about it in the local snoozepapers. Nothing about it on the FDP website, either, and their slogan's middle name is communicate. That explains why no one submitted a request to the A&P Commission to fund the arts festival, but it doesn't explain why they didn't bother to tell anyone and allow someone more responsible to make a timely application and sponsor the festival. Thanks, Daniel.

Now, here's our question, and we can't get a response from either of the people we contacted. What happened to the $20,000 that was supposed to be seed money for the 2009 Fayetteville Arts Festival? Oh, yeah, they banked $20,000 from last year. That appears to include the $12,500 from the city and $2,500 from the A&P Commission that wasn't spent as contracted for advertising and promotion of the festival.

Where's our money? As one commenter asked, did Daniel Keeley get a fat severance package? Either give it back, or cough it up and let the Fayetteville Arts Council use it for this year's arts festival. Damnedest thing I've ever heard.

Tales of the Trails

The Fayetteville Sidewalk and Trails Task Force met last night and approved the city's trail construction plan for this year and a proposed budget of $1.3 million. Trails Coordinator Matt Mihalevich said, realistically, he expected to complete about half of the 11 proposed projects that would add 7.5 miles to the existing system. He also indicated a change in philosophy this year to increase connectivity among existing trails, an idea consistent with the new administration's focus on trails as alternative transportation as well as recreation.

Two of the proposed projects will require new thinking for Mihalevich. Extending the Lake Fayetteville Trail from Crossover Road south to the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks and extending Town Branch Creek Trail from School Avenue west to Greathouse Park must be done with much greater environmental sensitivity and concern for riparian zones than previous trail construction projects. Since there is no election this year, attention can be given to doing it right instead of carelessly rushing construction for ribbon cuttings and photo opportunities.

I was again reminded of the magical quality of our trail system when reading a column by Lynn Atkins in the Rogers Hometown News about her bike ride with her daughters on that balmy Saturday earlier this month. Driving south, she said, "Somewhere between Rogers and Fayetteville we must have crossed into a different dimension. It just didn't feel like Arkansas."

Once on the Scull Creek Trail, she said, "The very first person we encountered after we aired up our tires was a college kid on a unicycle. A unicycle. We passed him carefully and I couldn't help but notice that most of the bicycle riders coming toward us had little dogs in their front baskets. We dodged walkers and joggers and kids on roller blades and headed through a little tunnel that got us safely under a busy street. That's where we saw a couple riding bikes that each had an extra bike attached to the back. Both the man and the woman had a child peddling a half bike attached to the parents full bike. I turned around to look at them and almost ran into a skate boarder. ...On the way back we saw the recumbent bikes. None of us were really sure what we were seeing. They looked and moved like little go carts, but the people were pedaling with their legs stretched straight out in front of them."

"Looking back," Atkins reflected and recalled, "I can only compare the bike trail in Fayetteville to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. There were dozens of people peacefully coexisting while each did their own thing. The trail is long enough for serious exercisers but accessible for people who don't want to go that far. And being able to prop up the bike and get a drink was something I wouldn't want to miss."

That's Fayetteville and one of the things we love about it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tattoo You

Julie McQuade
is an important person in Fayetteville, and she is very powerful. She recently sent out an email announcing that Mayor Jordan "has asked me to handle PR for the new administration," but "I will still be Neighborhood Coordinator, assigned to Long Range Planning and the Council of Neighborhoods will still be my highest priority. " We have recently seen her skillful melding of public relations talent and her job of whatever a neighborhood coordinator does.

Low Life Tattoo and Piercing applied for a conditional use permit to operate its business in an area that was not zoned for tattoo parlors. Alan Ostner, a former Planning Commission Chairman and currently President of the Jennings Plus Neighborhood Association, testified that the use is not appropriate for a residential neighborhood but should be located in another area with appropriate zoning.

Julie McQuade was mightily upset and fired off an email to the Planning Commission. How dare some Neighborhood Association ask for enforcement of the zoning laws! "I was shocked by some of the comments at the Planning Commission regarding Lowlife Tattoo. The implication that only undesirables and criminals get tattoos was extremely small-minded and offensive," she fumed then confessed, "I happen to have 2 tattoos and 1 body piercing and I think I’m considered a fairly respectable Fayetteville citizen."

That will teach those pesky neighborhood association officers to take a position on an issue and offend Julie McQuade, respectable Fayetteville citizen. They should fear that they would be punished by the withholding of that good coordinating that Julie gives them, so they will keep their opinions to themselves in the future rather than suffer the public rebuke by Julie McQuade, the mayors PR flack and Neighborhood Coordinator.

We asked Ms McQuade whether this censuring of citizens who expressed their opinions reflected Mayor Jordan's idea of Open Government we had been hearing about. "I cannot speak to Mayor Jordan's idea of Open Government - personally or professionally," she replied. Pretty coy response for a hired Public Relations flack.

We also asked McQuade whether she thought that kind of attack might make people less likely to attend her open house tomorrow night "to build community [and] encourage participation in
the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods." Oh no, she said, "I voiced my personal opinion on the matter, just as those with differing opinions were allowed to do. My personal opinions have absolutely nothing to do with the Council of Neighborhoods, the Planning Division, the Mayor, or the position of Neighborhood Coordinator." We see.

It turns out that Julie McQuade sent this email before Mayor Jordan took office, but it was just made public this week in an article in The Morning News. It was sent during city office hours on Monday, December 22, at 9:48 a.m. We have also been informed that the email was sent from a city computer in City Hall during a time when Ms McQuade was being paid by the taxpayers to be coordinating neighborhoods. It also seems that she confused the reasonable citizen comments with apocryphal reactions in a newspaper editorial printed the day before her searing email.

McQuade's argument must have been effective, getting the Planning Commission to disregard the comments from the neighborhood association and grant a variance for a conditional use permit by a 6-1 vote. Only James Graves resisted.

Let this be a warning. Don't go around expressing your opinion on issues of public concern, or you could be chastised and publicly humiliated as "extremely small-minded and offensive" by city bureaucrats like Julie McQuade, acting as "respectable" private citizens during office hours. It might be worth it, however, if she would show us those two tattoos and that piercing she proudly mentioned in her persuasive personal email to the Planning Commission.

Sarah Lewis Gets It Right

Ward 4 Alderman Sarah Lewis said last night that she is worried the proposed cost share for the Park West development out northwest of town benefits developer Tracy Hoskins more than it does the city, and she wonders why the city should deviate from the Master Street Plan staff had worked hard to develop just to accommodate the developer. Not to worry or wonder, Sarah, because you got it right.

We have previously mentioned this proposed road to nowhere, and there was some rather spirited commentary, including a good articulation of his position by Tracy Hoskins. Not even the editorial writers at the Northwest Arkansas Times think this is a good idea, but it was favored by the previous mayor and was unanimously adopted by the city council's Street Committee this week.

Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Ferrell chairs the Street Committee and loves the idea, because he doesn't mind spending $2.1 million of the city bond money to build a big driveway to the commercial development that Hoskins promises to build within 15 years. Ward 1 Alderman Brenda Thiel and Ward 4 Alderman Shirley Lucas went along without a whimper.

Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty was the unpleasant surprise vote, and he will have some explaining to do to his constituents. He campaigned on a commitment to infill development and alternative transportation, then his first important vote is to ignore the Master Street Plan, ignore the will of the voters who supported the street bond issue, take away funds from the Garland Avenue boulevard with bike lanes in his ward, and spend the money to build infrastructure for a speculative commercial development out past I-540.

The Hoskins subsidy will be on the City Council agenda next Tuesday. There is still time for reason to prevail. Heck, there is even time for a groundswell of citizen support for the developer. Whatever your position, let your aldermen hear from you about this proposed boondoggle.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A&P Spending Decisions a Mixed Bag

The Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission voted yesterday to dole out funding of $143,250 for 19 proposals from among more than $292,250 in requests. The commissioners are to be commended for supporting the Dickson Street Music Festival to the tune of $20,000 this year and for declining to fork over $38,000 for a New Year's Eve party at the mall.

Neither newspaper report mentions whether the Fayetteville Downtown Partners bothered to make a request this year for funding the Fayetteville Arts Festival, but it is clear that they got not a nickel. No problem for the commissioners to give $1,500 for a militray shrine to glorify war, $6,000 for a coaching clinic, $30,000 for a golf tournament, or $5,000 for a water-ski contest (just where in Fayetteville would that be held?).

The only other things that might be called a cultural contribution was $10,000 to the Walton Arts Center Broadway Series and a pidling $2,000 to TheatreSquared. Total up the categories, and you have $32,000 for the arts (22.3%). The bulk of the funds went to sports events and the UA athletic foundation. There goes the flimsy Hog University Inc. claim not to use our tax dollars for their athletic spectacles.

Here's the rub. The HMR Tax funds are supposed to "be used for the promotion and encouragement of tourism," which the A&P Commission, dominated by hotel and restaurant representatives, has narrowly defined as getting "more people to stay at hotels and eat at restaurants in Fayetteville." That short-sighed and self-interested approach ignores the larger effort to deserve and promote the claim to be the Athens of the Ozarks. Many local events could confirm and enhance our cultural significance and make our community more intellectually vibrant as well as a cultural tourism destination integral to our economic development dreams.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Alderman Robert Rhoads need to provide better leadership for a change in thinking. The public needs to be represented by someone other than Bob Davis, who has his own conflicts of interest. The "hospitality" interests -- Chairman Pat Gazzola, Neal Crawford, Maudie Schmitt, and Tim Freeman -- need to have a broader vision of their mission than personal financial gain only for their businesses. For starters, they could read the Walton Arts Center commissioned study Arts & Economic Prosperity III.

Two Good Moves

It looks like our new mayor can make a decision, after all, and he made two very good ones yesterday. After only a week in office, Lioneld Jordan is already making changes. So far they involve organizational structure and staffing, so we will have to wait to see if those produce results in addition to the cost savings.

Don Marr was named the mayor's chief of staff, and that is great news for Fayetteville. His background in business and local government is an excellent fit for the position, and he already has a good working relationship with Jordan. More importantly, he has the trust of the mayor. As an added bonus for the city budget, Marr's salary will be several thousand dollars less than that of Gary Dumas, the tired bureaucrat who had fewer responsibilities and was running his own policy operation without consulting the mayor and city council, the paid parking lot scheme being just the latest example among many.

Jordan also moved to make Greg Tabor the Acting Police Chief, an executive action that assures the continued attention to public safety and does so without the special contract that a former mayor had signed without City Council approval or even notice. The Chief has the full support of the new mayor, and apparently the issue was resolved to everyone's satisfaction without having to spend an additional $105,000 to fill the position with an outside candidate.

The opposition during the recent campaign said there would be a change in direction at City Hall if Jordan were elected. It looks like they were right.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Bush Vindicated in Benton County

This could be the day's breaking international news story. At the very least, it will have Lucas Roebuck and Bradley Gitz all atwitter. The Benton County Daily Record breaks the story with the headline, "Former Saddam Advisor Says Iraq Had WMDs." This we know, because the BCDR tells us so.

Georges Sada, described as a "former advisor to Saddam Hussein" and "the retired general officer of the Iraqi Air Force", yesterday told the congregation of the Rogers First Church of the Nazarene that weapons of mass destruction not only existed, but they were all transported to Syria in 2002. Refuting the Duelfer Report by the Iraq Survey Group and echoing Dick Cheney, he said, "There was a time when Saddam possessed chemical weapons. I am so sorry that Americans and many in authority said there were never weapons of mass destruction."

This is not really "breaking" news. Sada has been on the Church Circuit for a couple of years now selling his story, and he published a book in 2006 called Saddam's Secrets. The wingnuts on Free Republic found it inspirational, but others were somewhat more skeptical. In an appearance on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart asked him how you fly a WMD to Syria. Sada said, "They are raw materials; some of them are like barrels, yellow barrels, of course, with skulls and cross bones on them." Steward replied, "You think if you’re going to hide that stuff you think you might paint something like, you know, Spam?"

In his Benton County version of reality, "Iraq in 2003 was liberated [and] ...freedom was given to the Iraqis on a gold platter," General Sada said. He believes the ongoing six-year occupation of Iraq was the right thing to do, regardless of the cost in lives, the profits to Halliburton, the outrages of Blackwater, and the multi-trillion dollar wrecking of the U.S. budget. His audience probably agreed, since the county just voted 67.2% for McCain-Palin and 82.4% for John Boozman.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Commerce and a Culture of Creativity

We recommend Bruce Vaughan's op-ed piece in The Morning News to all community leaders and concerned citizens in Northwest Arkansas. Recalling a conversation with an economics professor, he acknowledges that declining city revenues usually demand reduced spending. "Unfortunately," he argues, "most cities cut such things as art centers, museums, libraries and even schools. Those are the very things that attract new retail stores and manufacturing firms. It is a Catch 22 situation. On the surface it appears that anything to do with the arts, culture and education is not absolutely essential. Yet, cutting the budget of any of these facilities is a sure guarantee of less revenue in the future."

"How do you finance the growing needs of the community with shrinking tax revenue? I will admit that I do not have an answer," says Vaughan. "I do have faith in the city council to work through this difficult time. I believe the council members have the good of the city in mind when they cast a vote. As might be expected, some of the council members have different ideas of what is good for the city. They have a demanding and often thankless job." He could be talking about Fayetteville, which recently went through a budget-balancing act, or any city facing the future.

With regard to Springdale, which is Vaughan's concern, he says, "It is imperative that we, as a city, do not let new demands cut our funds for education. Our city schools, the Shiloh Museum, arts center and library must be supported. These four educational services are all that stands between Springdale, the city, becoming Springdale, a bedroom community. I sincerely hope that the needs of our city can be met through the cooperation of every department by trimming their budget in places where it will do the least harm."

Mayor Sprouse and the Springdale City Council should take that advice to heart. Same goes for Mayor Jordan and the Fayetteville City Council as they seek to cut waste in order to protect funding for the heart and soul programs of our community and revive its reputation as the fabulous and funky Athens of the Ozarks.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

North Country Blues

The United Way of Benton County fell $500,000 short of its fundraising goal in 2006, following another failure of $50,000 in 2005. The proposed solution for the problem was to merge with the United Way of Washington County, which had exceeded its goals, and to include Madison County and McDonald County, Missouri, within the grasp of the United Way of Northwest Arkansas. No sooner had the acquisition and merger been sealed than the new group closed the Washington County office and moved it to Lowell to "establish a new identity."

We learned this week that this new United Way of Northwest Arkansas up in Lowell will not meet its fundraising goal for 2008. Just how much they failed to raise, they won't say until later this month. "In September and October, when the economic downturn started to become more prevalent, we started to see the donations slow down," said Brooke Benoit, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the United Way of Northwest Arkansas. Two years ago, when she was Brooke Benoit, Vice President for United Way of Benton County, she blamed the shortfall on a changing economy, specifically a shift from manufacturing jobs to more retail- and service-based industries, "where payroll deductions aren’t as inviting to employees." The year before that the excuse was Hurricane Katrina.

Times is hard all over, for givers and receivers. Charity begins at home. If you can help, please consider making a contribution directly to the many local groups that serve the needs of the less fortunate in our community. If you still have money left, you can send a check to help with the deficit at the United Way of Lowell.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Soul of Springdale

Hard times require hard choices, and those decisions will reflect the more important values of a business, a government, or an individual. Seeking divine inspiration for solutions to Springdale's dire financial straits, Mayor Doug Sprouse and Alderman Jim Reed have been reading from the Gospel According to John [White]. They have proposed to save money by cutting funding to the things they find least valuable -- employees and a museum.

Mayor Sprouse says that denying raises to the city's 400 plus employees will save $1.2 million in these tough economic times. Alderman Reed suggests cutting all funding to the outstanding Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. "I think spending $570,000 for the museum is not a priority," he said.

Cost of living raises for loyal public employees, not important. Funding an institution that preserves and celebrates our heritage, not important. Continued cash subsidies for the local Cowbirds and a money-losing baseball venture at Arvest Park, not a problem.

Another Arrogant Asshat

Dave Smith, former Superintendent of the Decatur School District, is our Asshat of the Week. The 27-page financial audit report on the Decatur School District in 2008 was released last week by the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, revealing a gross inattention and lack of management oversight that included failure to provide adequate control of assets. Just after being awarded a 3-year contract and just before school payroll checks started bouncing last May, Smith had reported to the school board that there was more than $2 million in the district’s operating fund.

In July, State Education Commissioner Ken James called the district a “gross, gross mismanagement situation,” and the Arkansas Board of Education took over the 579-student school district, dissolving its board before appointing LeRoy Ortman the new superintendent to clean up the financial mess left by Smith. Through budget cuts and careful management, Ortman has turned the 2009 projected shortfall of $600,000 into a projected positive balance of more than $300,000.

Now Dave Smith is suing the Decatur School District, demanding to be paid more than $300,000 for the three-year contract that was cancelled for what appears to be pretty good cause. What is it with these asshats like Dave Smith and former Greenland Superintendent Ron Brawner, suing to be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for nothing after screwing up the job?