Saturday, October 31, 2009

Budget Tricks and Treats

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

Body Count

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

"A proud look, a lying tongue..."

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

Behind the Cowbird Curtain

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 on the Rocks?

The Fayettevillage Voice has a nice post today about where John Boozman's getting his campaign cash, scooping the local media and lazy bloggers. In an attempt to recover, I'll take a peek at the FEC report filed by Bernard Kurt "Bernie" Skoch, Boozman's opponent in the upcoming Republican Primary in May. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette mentioned his totals and that he had contributed $1,238 to his own campaign, but that's about the depth of the Mainstream Corporate Media effort to seek and share.

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

Constitutional Ignorance in West Fork

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

Whither the Double Dippers?

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

Blanche and Boozman Should Have Abstained

Last week, Blanche Lincoln was the deciding vote when the Senate Finance Committee voted 12-11 to approve an amendment to provide millions of dollars to fund abstinence-only sex education programs. The amendment, sponsored by Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT), would allocate $50 million per year for such programs through 2014. Federal bureaucrats do not conduct these no-nookie programs; the government gives the money to local non-profit groups to spend, despite documented evidence that the programs spread inaccurate information and are proven ineffective. That is, they do not work.

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.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

If Farm Subsidies Were Public Health Care Options

LITTLE ROCK - U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said today she opposes the farm subsidy program because it would be too expensive.

“For some in my caucus, when they talk about a farm subsidy program they’re talking about another entitlement program, and we can’t afford that right now as a nation,” Lincoln said in a speech to the Elder Law Task Force at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Lincoln has said previously she would support whatever farm subsidy program worked, but she indicated Tuesday that a plan including an expensive, government-funded, corporate welfare subsidy program would not get her vote.

“I’m not going to vote for a bill that’s not deficit-neutral, and I’m not going to vote for a bill that doesn’t do something about curbing the cost in the out years, because it would be pointless … I would not support a solely government-funded farm subsidy program. We can’t afford that,” Lincoln told reporters before her speech. "I have also pledged that farm subsidies will not add to our deficit over the next decade - and I mean it."

“One of our biggest concerns is that it doesn’t need to be a government plan that usurps that ability to compete in the marketplace, which I’m concerned that a totally government-run farm subsidy program would do,” she said. “The private agribusiness corporations are walking away with all the assets, and the government ends up holding all the risk.”