Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our Prevaricator on the Potomac

Congressman John Boozman (R-False Witness) is at it again, trying to take credit for federal funding to local projects when he voted against the funds. Today, the fabulist sent out a press release praising himself for announcing a $570,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to the University of Arkansas, providing funds for facility and equipment upgrades to increase efficiency and security including solar power, meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, build a solar energy bus wash, and make improvements allowing for use of bio-diesel.

Boozman said, “These advancements reinforce Fayetteville’s commitment to create an environmentally friendly city.” He didn't say why he voted against the stimulus funds that could help make this possible. His opposition and votes against funding could be one reason that Arkansas didn't get a penny of the $100 million in Economic Recovery Act funding released last week for 43 transit agencies that are pursuing cutting-edge environmental technologies to help reduce global warming, lessen America's dependence on oil, and create green jobs.

Does Boozman think his constituents are so stupid they don't catch on to his deceptions, or is he so stupid that he doesn't grasp the connection between appropriations and grants?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is an annual event, sponsored by the American Library Association, celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. It highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States. Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week.

The Fayetteville Public Library is celebrating the freedom to read this week by hosting a daily bag lunch discussion of several books that have been banned in the past. Today it is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The schedule for the rest of the week is Tuesday, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo; Wednesday, Ordinary People by Judith Guest; Thursday, The Giver by Lois Lowry; and Friday, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Haven't yet heard any complaints from Laurie Masterson and the Teabaggers. Back before she was leading the local outcry against a new high school and everything Obama, even before she divorced her husband and married Mike Masterson, Laurie Taylor was the queen of book censorship hereabouts. During the summer of 2005, she submitted complaints against at least 54 books in the school libraries that she found objectionable but said she had a total of 70 "lewd and lascivious" books on her list that she wanted cloistered. These nasty books, she claimed, were "raw, unadulterated sex, biased sexual rhetoric and instructional sexual pandering to children."

At first, Laurie Taylor won a small victory. A required review committee (composed of a central office administrator, a building administrator, a media specialist, two classroom teachers, and two parents) held to the 1986 school policy that "It is the duty of the schools to provide a wide range of materials on all levels of difficulty, with diversity of appeal and presentation of different points of view." Superintendent Bobby New agreed with Taylor's challenge of three books and to her delight overrode the review committee, which she called "sad and pathetic." The school board first supported then reversed New's decision by a narrow 4-3 vote. Laura Underwood, Chris Bell, and Howard Hamilton supported the position of New and Taylor that the books should be restricted.

The battle continued all summer and into the next school year. Laurie Taylor was supported by State Senator Jim Holt of Springdale and Jonesboro's Debbie Pelley of the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee. Johnny Tittle, tax dodger and right-wing radio ranter from Elkins, was there for her, and Mike Masterson wrote seven different editorial coulmns praising Laurie as "selfless and noble" and applauding her various positions to restrict library books. Lots of heat but very little light.

The matter was resolved when Judge Rudy Moore, the School Board attorney, told the Fayetteville board that Federal Judge Jimm Hendren -- who had recently ruled that the Cedarville School District violated the First Amendment and ordered the return of banned Harry Potter books to the shelf -- would likely decide any case involving Fayetteville. With the precedent firmly established, the screwy idea of putting school library books on restricted access would be legally indefensible.

Don't get too smug. Mike and Laurie Masterson are still around. The book banners will always be with us.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Outlaw Terry Hayes

I have been following the case of Terry Hayes for months, and it just gets curiouser and curiouser. Hayes has never been popular, because of the unacceptable ways that he operated Terry's Towing, a predatory towing operation in Fayetteville, but many private parking lot owners continued to use his services. Hayes was a repeat felon with convictions for sexual abuse, failing to register as a sex offender, theft and multiple assault and battery convictions, but that didn't seem to matter to the lot owners who employed him. The state regulatory board is pretty much a joke, almost always taking the side of the operators and following the towing association members on the board.

Despite a ton of evidence that Hayes was a flight risk, he has been out of jail on $15,000 bond since his arrest in January for holding a gun to his son's head and threatening to kill him while the boy's stepmother listened on the telephone. Hayes was convicted this week for aggravated assault on a family member, terroristic threatening, first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was sentenced to 55 years and $45,000 in fines, but after his conviction he had strolled away from the courthouse unmolested by the bailiff, Sheriff's Deputies, or his attorney Jim Rose III.

Washington County Circuit Judge William Storey first set Hayes’ bond at $7,500 last January, before Hayes was accused of violating the conditions of his bond by calling and threatening his son and trying to run. After he was captured by U.S. Marshalls in Van Buren, his bail was set by Washington County Detention Center Judicial Officer Ray Reynolds at $1 million. At a bond hearing requested by Hayes' attorney, Judge Storey lowered the bond to only $15,000, over the objection of Washington County Deputy Prosecutor Bill Jones who wanted to keep Hayes behind bars. Finally, after his escape this week, Hayes bond now has been set at $500,000, but it doesn't do much good after the cow is out of the barn.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder said, “I believe the only way this could have been avoided would have been if he’d been remanded to custody." I think it might have been avoided if Helder's deputies had kept a close eye on Hayes at the courthouse, but they are not known for paying attention to defendants, even those locked in a holding room for four days without food or toilet facilities. Judge Storey, who set the laughably low bond, invoked an artful dodge and refused to discuss the Hayes case, citing some unidentified ethics laws as a reason not to explain his actions.

Now it's up to Sam Gerard.

UPDATE (10/13): Yes, they caught Tow Truck Terry hiding out in Gravette, of all places. Today, he got 40 years in the state slammer and a fine of $45,000. Whether he is allowed to take flight for a third time, we shall see.

Friday, September 25, 2009

UA Hall of Famous Rich White Guys

The Wal-Mart College of Business invites you to drive to Little Rock, put on a tux, and pay $150 to attend a dinner honoring four rich white guys, two of whom are the former jocks Jim Lindsey and Jerry Jones. These fellows will be inducted into something called the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame that is actually a bunch of plaques in the lobby of the Donrey Center for Enterprise Development at the Wal-Mart College in Fayetteville. They are being honored for making a lot of money, with the hope that they will give some of it to Walton University,

Honoring four rich white guys has become a tradition at Wal-Mart College, as all four honorees for the Hall of Fame have been rich white guys in 10 of the 12 years it has been in existence. That's fitting, considering that being a rich white guy seems to be a qualification for serving on the University's Board of Trustees. Not among those being honored this year, since they are unlikely to be making large donations to the Walton University, are previously wealthy white guys Ben Israel, Tom Terminella, Tracy Hoskins, Gary Combs, John Nock, Brandon Barber, or Jeff Collins.

I guess it is alright for the University to continue to honor the rich white guys in their little Arkansas Business Hall of Fame plaque collection and an annual black tie banquet. However, to set an example and give more than lip service to the institution's supposed commitment to diversity, they should consider establishing separate but equal halls of fame for outstanding women, minorities, and exploited employees.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boozman Bot

Congress finally completed action on the bill to fund the legislative branch for next year and avoid shutting down Congress next Thursday. H.R. 2918 passed the House back on June 19 by a vote of 232-178. Congressman John Boozman (R-Robot) voted against it then, and he opposed it again yesterday when the House ordered the previous question and defeated the Republican motion to instruct conferees.

Why would Boozman vote against the appropriation for the legislative branch? What was so awful in the bill that caused him to oppose it? Why did he vote against Section 101 that required any unspent money from a Member's office account to be used for federal deficit reduction? Why did he vote against operational expenses for the Capitol Police, the Congressional Budget Office, and the Library of Congress? Why did he vote against the "Books for the Blind and Physically Handicapped" program? Why did he vote against Section 1202 to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the National Motto of "In God We Trust" in the Capitol Visitor Center?

Now we will see if John Boozman really has the courage of his convictions and his vote. If so, he will surely refuse all salary and staff expenses after September 30th.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cowbird Cabana Commissioners

Every year for several years now, the Springdale City Council pays the Springdale Chamber of Cowbirds $100,000 from the general fund, $60,000 from the advertising and promotion fund, and $17,000 from the industrial development account. The Cowbirds are supposed to be doing economic development for the city, but they take this government handout and co-mingle it with other funds, then spend the money however they want with no strings attached.

Alderman Kathy Jaycox proposed that the Cowbirds would have to have submit quarterly reports on the services they were providing to the city and include an itemized list of expenditures, then the city would reimburse them for eligible expenses. That idea went nowhere with the captive Springdale City Council, a majority of whom are members of the Chamber of Commerce.

After that, Anita Davis filed a Freedom of Information Act request and discovered a rather curious pattern. During the last three years, the City has given the Cowbirds $531,000 to build their local economy. During that same period, the Cowbirds spent $306,175 on travel and $144,388 on dining, for a total of $450,563. Other than travel agencies, it doesn't appear that local business are getting much benefit from the city's investment, but others certainly are.

Cowbird Executive Board Chairman Brian Moore got a honeymoon trip to Tahiti in 2006, and another excursion to Istanbul, Turkey, in 2007. He said these gifts were "commissions" for his volunteer work for the Cowbirds. Other exotic adventures paid by the Cowbirds included trips to Spain, Mexico, Hawaii, New York, California, Miami, and the Bahamas.

Perry Webb, who had previous been caught avoiding property taxes on the Chamber offices, said, "We're not doing anything wrong." John Lea, a former chairman of the Chamber's executive board, said, “We have nothing to hide and not a damned thing to apologize for. When [Anita Davis] challenged the integrity of the chamber, she challenged the integrity of a lot of people.”

Yep, he got that right.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

David Whitaker's Next Move?

I didn't think much about it when I saw on the City of Fayetteville's website last week that it was advertising for a new Assistant City Attorney. I mused to someone that maybe David Whitaker was frustrated working for Kit Williams, but I was sure that Robin Mero would catch on in a week or two and maybe file a stack of Freedom of Information requests to have the city's clerks do her research for her. Sure enough, today we get a Page One story that Whitaker has resigned, and it was played bigger by the Northwest Arkansas Times than the hiring yesterday of Shawna Thorup as Director of the Fayetteville Public Library.

Mero's story is one of those surface attempts at journalism that throws in a few facts but never gets to the important stuff. We do learn that Mr. Whitaker has been Assistant City Attorney for just over eight years, that he is a University of Arkansas law school grad, that he is an U.S. Air Force veteran, and that he was Director of the Washington County Domestic Violence Taskforce under Prosecutor Terry Jones. It is a nice resume, but why is this a story?

The article also mentions that Mr. Whitaker is Chairman of the Washington County Democratic Committee and state chair of the Democratic Veterans Caucus. That information, along with his comment that he wants to seek a new opportunity in public service, should be an obvious clue to a cub reporter that the game is afoot. He wouldn't resign from a good job to run for city or county office, not even one of the open judgeships.

Something big is about to happen here. Either David Whitaker is in line for a federal appointment or a major state position, or he is getting ready to make a run for the Democratic nomination for Congress or U.S. Senate. That's the story that the Times reporter missed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Good News for UA Students!

The House of Representatives last week passed H. R. 3221, a student loan reform bill that would simplify the federally guaranteed student loan system, save an estimated $87 billion over 10 years and use that money saved to increase financial aid to low-income students, improve community colleges, and raise standards for early childhood education. There's already another recent law that forgives part or all of the debt for college graduates who go into careers in public service.

The new legislation is rather simple and makes lots of sense, even though the bankers and their loyal stooges in Congress don't like it. If this becomes law, no longer will the federal government be doling out the funds to private banks holding toxic assets and giving big bonuses to executives who made bad decisions. The new Stafford and Perkins Direct Loans cut out the middleman and the guaranteed profits to banks and, instead, get the money directly to students at 5% interest. The bill also expands and authorizes full funding for direct Pell Grants to students.

The bill passed by a vote of 253-171. Congressman John Boozman (R-Arvest) voted against it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Jet Set Says "Thanks, Suckers"

I have long been of the opinion that the Fayetteville Corporate Executive Jetport in Greenland is a shameless boondoggle and have said so here. Those who disagree always say that Airport Director Ray Boudreaux is a good songster at Rotary and that he is good at getting grants from the Federal Aviation Administration to fancy up the place around those empty hangers for the convenience of private jet owners and a couple of corporations that are behind on the rent. The Fayettevillage Voice recently noted that Ray wants another $23 million from you for his playpen.

It is very nice for the handful of corporate executives who use the publicly financed facility. Theirs is "a world of ease and tranquility unknown to airline passengers who endure long trips to airports, costly parking, slow security screening, packed airplanes and delayed flights." Think about the last time you had to fly somewhere and how much fun that was. You could avoid all that if you owned your own jet and had the taxpayers building you a convenient jetport.

What I never knew until last week is that I have been wedging my tired body into cramped economy class and suffering the other indignities of flying out of XNA -- and paying for Ray's jetport for the rich and famous. The $15 billion in grants that have been handed out to general-aviation airports from the federal Airport Improvement Program -- more than $2.1 billion this year -- is financed by federal taxes on every commercial airplane ticket sold in the United States. These can add as much as 15% to the cost of your flight to see your sick granny, maybe $60 on a roundtrip ticket, to keep $90K Ray's jetset buddies happy at Drake Field and thousands of other dinky airports like it as far away as Springdale and Rogers.

They appreciate your generosity and toast you with champagne.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Phenotypical Political Profiling

Congressman John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Community) has a colorful moral compass that spins with the situation, giving a new meaning to the term political race. Nowhere has this been more evident than in his righteous enforcement of morals and manners among his colleagues in the House of Representatives.

Last year, the Republicans bypassed the House Ethics Committee to bring a Resolution of Censure against Congressman Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York, who just happens to be black. One of the nefarious actions that offended the sensibilities of the GOP moralists was the fact, which Rangel readily confessed, that he had written letters on his legislative stationery to various corporations and foundations asking for contributions to the City College of New York, an inner city educational institution in his district. The Republicans said this "dishonored himself and brought discredit to the House."
The House tabled Resolution 1396 by an overwhelming vote of 254-138, but John Boozman was among the strident minority wanting to sanction Rangel for such a breach of honor.

Last week, Boozman's fellow Southern Republican Joe Wilson (R-Ft. Sumpter) yelled out during the President's Health Care Address to a Join Session of Congress, "You lie!!!" Wilson happens to be white, and the President happens to be black. The House leadership brought forward Resolution 744 that found Wilson's outburst to be "a breach of decorum" that "degraded the proceedings," and expressed disapproval of the behavior. Although the Resolution passed by 240-179, our John Boozman disagreed and voted NO.

Interesting, it is, that a black colleague's fundraising letter for a college would demand censure from John Boy, but a white colleague's televised tantrum against a black President gets a pass from the Third District's moral arbiter. Some might think that Boozman has a double standard, and others might conclude that he is a racist. We are still waiting for an explanation from Boozman to explicate his fine syntactic analysis of his mysterious moral code.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


The proposed millage to build the new high school in Fayetteville will be defeated. In a special election, turnout is generated by passion or fear. It seems to us that those peddling fear are more passionate, which will trump the organizational and educational efforts of those willing to take a chance on the future.

For what it's worth, the Iconoclast staff is supporting the millage by 5-2, but we think those who agree with us are less likely to turn out for the vote. If it is another of those One-Vote elections like the road impact fees, we will take a look at the records and post up a list of prominent non-voters to blame.

Friday, September 11, 2009

New Axegrinder on the Block

The forces of ignorance and reaction fighting against building a new high school in Fayetteville, and funding public education generally, are pimping a new blog called Mid-Riffs that says it is a broad view from mid-America. However, it seems to take a rather narrow view of a single topic, that being opposition to the millage for the new high school. Book-banner Laurie Taylor Masterson and the Teabaggers are swapping arguments freely between blog posts and using them for copy in their online flyer against the millage. I would guess the blog is getting far more readers than Masterson's anemic Washington Co. TEA Party (6 members) and Tom Sawyer's Reboot Fayetteville High School (11 members) groups on Facebook.

Today, Laurie Taylor Masterson was recommending the latest Mid-Riffs blog post by Josh McGee to her 1,150 facebook friends. "Friends, I encourage you to read this blog post the read the other 'Castles in the sand' and get the word out before the citizens of Fayetteville are dooped!" Yes, you know, a public school education that might teach their children how to spell duped and not get flim-flammed by the raging hysteria of a ranting Teabagger.

This new blog tips its ideological hand with links to Jay P. Greene's Blog and the website of the $20 million Walton Department of School Vouchers. There are other political blogs listed, too, but it appears that most hang to the right. The principal blogger is Joshua McGee, one of Greene's Research Associates and no friend of public education. McGee boasts that he was the former headmaster at Haas Hall Academy, the charter school out at Farmington, where he was always arguing with the Arkansas Department of Education about certification of the curriculum and the shaky financial condition of the school. He is now a graduate student in the Wal-Mart College of Business. where he says he has a steady reading diet of Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek, neither of whom would be mistaken for supporters of public schools.

One of the regular posters is Brian Kisida, another Research Associate in Greene's Klavern, who co-authored a report with Greene for the right-wing Manhattan Institure and later republished in a journal, claiming that civic education in public schools went to hell in a handbasket sometime after the Brown decision and the Civil Rights Act when multi-cultutalism resulted in more schools named after King and Chavez than Truman. The real shame came when schools started getting named for natural features like Happy Hollow, Owl Creek, Woodland, Hillcrest, or Butterfield Trail instead of dead white guys like Washington, Jefferson, and Leverett. "If we can’t agree on a school name less innocuous than a creek," they asked, "what are the odds that schools will teach... or take a stand on the virtues of liberty?" Eco-sissies, indeed.

The blog is well-written and uses the attractive WordPress format. Whether it is just the mouthpiece for Mrs. Masterson and Dr. Greene to bash public schools or can present an independent mind and broader perspective on other topics from mid-America, we will soon see, assuming it lasts longer than next Tuesday's election.

NWA Light Rail Gaining Speed

Something is happening here, and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission and the Regional Mobility Authority had better start paying attention. These relics of status quo thinking and devotees of more concrete slabs for the trucking industry and SUV crowd have been funneling tax dollars only to road contractors and resisting even a feasibility study for a light rail system to serve Northwest Arkansas, but there is clear indication that local citizens don't think that stunted thinking will serve us well in the future.

Last night, the Washington County Quorum Court unanimously adopted a resolution brought forward by Justice of the Peace Gary Carnahan asking for a feasibility study of a light rail public transit system. The City of Fayetteville and the City of Springdale have already adopted similar resolutions. These three governments provide a considerable portion of the budget for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, and they have made a request that should be honored.

The only public opposition to a feasibility study of light rail has come from Laurie Taylor Masterson and the Teabaggers, althought other economic interests might be working against light rail and demanding of more of the same slavish obedience to the status quo to which they are addicted and expect to be supplied. After all, the NWA Regional Planning Commission got the idea somewhere to spend $750,000 in tax money to study a "western beltway," and it didn't come from resolutions adopted by Fayetteville, Springdale, or Washington County governing bodies that have membership on their Board.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A Choice, Not an Echo

The Arkansas Times reports today that John Gray will seek the Green Party nomination for United States Senator next year. This is especially good news for those of us having trouble distinguishing between Blanche Lincoln and the other right wing Republicans seeking the office.

John Gray is a retired Ford Motor Company executive with a wide range of experience, including serving as Mayor of Greenland. He has proven his political courage and independence in the past, and we expect a vigorous campaign that includes an intelligent discussion of the issues and the dismal voting record of the incumbent.

Pay attention.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Falsely Shouting Fire

The Morning News staff seems to understand the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, but WEHCO newspaper writers are in a lather. A radio announcer contributed a guest column warning that personnel records including an investigation of former city employees must be made public, because "what could topple our democratic way of life is secret government." Really? Our way of life might perish from the earth if the media don't get to read the tawdry details of a personnel investigation involving two employees of the fire department? I doubt that.

Yet, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette says, "Whatever the facts, the people of Fayetteville are entitled to know them." Not necessarily. Do the people have a right to the dental insurance records of a firefighter, just because the person is a city employee and the city pays part of the premiums? What about the income tax records of the fire chief to see if he claimed the $5,000 car allowance as taxable income? No, some records are exempt from the FOIA, and to pretend otherwise, whether through ignorance or guile, cheapens the importance of the law and clouds public understanding by the readers.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is one of the best in the nation. The underlying premise is that "it is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that the electors shall be advised of the performance of public officials and of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in making public policy." Open meetings and open records that deal with public policy are covered and should be vigorously pursued. Records that are related to private matters, even by public employees during work hours, are only covered by the FOIA "if there is a compelling public interest in their disclosure." Mere voyeurism or prurient curiosity does not get it, concluded both Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and City Human Resources Director Missy Leflar.

"People wonder sometimes why newspapers press for information when cities fire employees," says the Northwest Arkansas Times. People also might wonder why the newspaper didn't just ask Fire Chief Tony Johnson why he fired the two employees or why he resigned, instead of whining about not getting the dirt in raw files of unsworn testimony in an internal investigation and pretending that there is some big cover-up to resist providing any documents.

Although neither the Northwest Arkansas Times nor the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has bothered to report the facts, the City issued a press release to reporters, editors, and bloggers indicating that the following documents were released upon FOIA request without charge to the local media:

1. Personnel files of each terminated employee. (Per legal requirements, they were released in full to the employees who requested copies of their own files but were released in redacted form to other third party requestors, including two newspapers. Social security numbers and other private items were blacked out, whited out, or otherwise omitted).
2. Job performance records (including investigation records) were released to the terminated employees, to the extent the documents pertained to those individual employees and were not other employees' personnel or job performance records.
3. Employee e-mails were released to the press.
4. Knox Box records for all of 2008 and 2009 were released to the press, accompanied by an explanation of how to interpret the reports.
5. A list of person/buildings/business/entities in Fayetteville which have Knox Boxes that allow access by the Fayetteville Fire Department were released to the press.
6. A list of Fire Department employees who are authorized to access properties via Knox Boxes was released to the press.
7. The employment status of employees, as well as their start dates, end dates, and job titles were released to the press.
8. Copies of other requestors' FOI requests were released to the press.
9. A copy of the letter to the Attorney General's office was released to the press, accompanied by an explanation of when the Attorney General's office said a response could be expected.
10. A copy of the first Attorney General's resulting Opinion was released to the press within an hour of the City receiving it.
11. Civil Service rules were released to the press, accompanied by an explanation of where to locate the particular rule the reporter was interested in.
12. City policies were released to the press.
13. Information pertaining to a Civil Service appeal was released to the press.
14. A copy of the second Attorney General's resulting Opinion was released to the press within an hour of the City receiving it.

That doesn't look like a "smokescreen" to us. It looks like plenty of relevant documentation for a good reporter to write a story, assuming that the editors think the issue is important to anyone other than themselves and the town scolds.

Sorry that we can't provide links to any of the Northwest Arkansas Times or Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columns referenced above. WEHCO Media doesn't think the public has a right to know unless they buy a subscription.