Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Of Taxes and Trust

No one likes to pay taxes, but everyone knows that paying our property taxes is essential to support the public schools, the library, fire and police services, and general operation of city and county government. Most of us are willing to pay our fair share. That is what makes it particularly shameful when those who benefit most from these services don't meet their obligations, and those who are always asking for special treatment and public funding for private profit deserve a heap of scorn.

Among the delinquent deadbeats who have not paid past due personal property taxes are John C. Nock ($467.41), Nock Developments ($278.20), and Nock Investments ($679.34).

Among the delinquent deadbeats that have not paid past due real property taxes are John C and Jill Nock ($4,013.20) on that swanky home on Forest Heights, then there is a long list of delinquent properties owned by Ball Plaza Holdings LLC ($44,084.80) Nock Investments ($26,771.65), Nock Homes LLC ($5,081.80) Nock-Broyles Land Development LLC ($3,062.19), One East Center LLC ($24,882), Metro District Partners LLC, and who knows what other properties behind the invisible shield of creatively named and structured Limited Liability Corporations.

That’s well over $100,000 in delinquent property taxes that should be going to the Fayetteville Public Schools, the Fayetteville Public Library, and local government operations. And, it is one more reason that TIF Districts are a bad idea when even those benefiting from the bond proceeds won’t pay their property taxes.

From the list of criminal warrants on the Fayetteville Police Department site, it looks like John Nock has other problems besides being a tax deadbeat. And, by the way, where's that deed to the 200-acre park at Southpass?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poor Folks, Profits, Police, and Politicians

Well, well, well. The local politicians and the retail liquor cartel are at it again. This time they were flushed out by applications to sell beer and small vineyard specialty wines at three local Walmart stores. State Senator Sue Madison was, of course, right in the middle of it, and Fayetteville Police Chief Greg Tabor expressed his usual rote opposition to any and all alcohol sales. Some preachers also wrote letters against the permits. Alderman Bobby Ferrell wrote a letter supporting the permits. Mayor Lioneld Jordan and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce took no position.

The Iconoclast is no fan of Walmart, but we would have granted all three permits. The Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Board approved the permits for the Walmart Supercenter on Joyce and for the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Crossover, but they denied the permit for the Walmart Supercenter on Martin Luther King Boulevard in the low income part of town. Only the action to deny this third permit deserves much attention.

ABC Director Michael Langley offered the excuse that the board denied the MLK Walmart permit based on availability, traffic, and crime concerns. Okay, let's dissect this bullshit. Availability - the huge Crossover Liquor is just across the street from the WM Family Market, much closer than any competing outlet for the MLK Walmart. Traffic - way more cars all day long at the Joyce/Mall Avenue Supercenter, not that traffic count should have any connection to package sales because there is no demonstrated connection to DUI. Crime - they sell handguns at the MLK Supercenter for Gawdsakes, and more people are killed by bullets than being attacked with beer bottles.

The fact situation is pretty much the same for all three permit applications. The only real differences between the MLK location and the other two are social class and income levels in the neighborhoods. The ABC Board denied the permit for the location most convenient for working stiffs.

Now what was Sue Madison's dog in this hunt? In the past, she opposed retail liquor permits for Sam's Club in Springdale and Macadoodle's in Springdale, the last of which was supposed to be some insane screed about how many Benton County residents had shopped at their store just across the state line. You know, the store right there next to her colleague State Senator Kim Hendren's car lot.

The real reason is because she was doing the bidding for a certain liquor retailer that has a multi-permit monopoly on liquor stores in Springdale, not even in her district, and Madison was trying to keep him from having any price competition. This time she appears to be trying to stifle price competition in Fayetteville. Why stop with liquor sales, Senator? Every new retail business will be in competition with existing businesses, so get out there and oppose all new retail businesses in your district. That would make as much sense as your constant shilling for the liquor store owners.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Boozman Against Protecting Medicare Access

This week, Congressman John Boozman (R-Pinnacle Gated Country Club) was the only member from Arkansas to vote against the Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009, which protects seniors' access to their doctor, promotes primary care, and offers incentives for doctors to provide patients with higher quality and more efficient care. He voted NO, although it was endorsed by the AARP, the Military Officers Association of America, and the American Medical Association.

The Medicare reforms passed by 243-183. Boozman issued a press release that said he wanted to increase payments to physicians by 2% every year; however, he offered no tax increase to pay for the expenditures and claimed that he was against increasing the deficit to pay for it. That leaves only two options, cutting Medicare or increasing the charges to seniors. Boozman wasn't clear on which he favored, just that he was against whatever anyone else proposed.

John Boozman doesn't care, because he can get his health care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center or from the special clinic for Congress called Office of the Attending Physician, both heavily subsidized by the taxpayers in his district.

On the same day, Boozman cast your vote AGAINST against adding segments of the Molalla River in Oregon to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. His influence and increasing irrelevancy is made clear by the overwhelming passage of the bill by 292-133.

Razorback Recruiting

It appears that it will be a short season for the Razorback basketball team. With half the scholarship players gone or absent for academic and extracurricular reasons, the vacancies are being filled by a golfer and a redshirt football player. We need to do some serious recruiting if the Razorbacks want to be competitive in the SEC next year.

The 30-point blowout loss to Louisville on national television was painful. Having Appalachian State take us to overtime was a bad omen for winning many SEC games this season. We need to do some serious recruiting if the Razorbacks want to be competitive in the SEC next year.

I'm just saying....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dubious Distinction

It is amusing that Business Week magazine chose Springdale, home of the Traveling Cowbirds, as the Best Place to Raise Your Kids in Arkansas, then used photoshopped artwork of a young girl on Dickson Street to illustrate the article. That is the kind of embarrassing thing that happens when you rank places by some arbitrary criteria without ever visiting the location or talking with people who know.

More telling about the core values of Business Week is that Fayetteville is ranked Number Two and Rogers is ranked Number Three. It was not disclosed, but I imagine Siloam Springs, Centerton, Bentonville, Johnson, Lowell, Farmington, and Greenland round out the Top Ten. Northwest Arkansas is the home of Rich White Republicans, the kind who read Business Week and put stock in whatever it declares to be good. I mean, did you really think they would choose Pine Bluff or Little Rock, more colorful places that voted for Barack Obama?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sheriff's Shenanigans

Since we missed it in the Stephens-Hussman Media Conglomerate and Print Monopoly "serving" Northwest Arkansas, you can thank Christopher Spencer and Ozarks Unbound for the good work in providing information about the federal lawsuit filed Thursday by two female deputies against Washington County Sheriff Tim Holder, Major Rick Hoyt, and former Captain Randy Osborn for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation.

"Wife swapping parties that nearly led to a fight among deputies. Jail staff luridly watching female inmates undress. An obscene and disgusting story that circulated for years around the Washington County Detention Center. A captain who talked openly about his female subordinates’ breasts." That's the lede in the story headlined, "Good old boys gone bad? WashCo sheriff turned a blind eye to sexually hostile work place, suit alleges." if you want more, there is a link to the full complaint with lurid details.

By the way, what's the status on the sexual harassment charges allegedly filed by Elizabeth Mann against former Fayetteville Fire Chief Tony Johnson and his subordinates? Has anyone seen a copy of that complaint?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Cowbirds of Summer

Perry Webb and the Springdale Cowbirds love them some high living in the Skybox at Arvest Ballpark. You could argue that they are spending a ton of money on "catering" in an effort to make the ballpark profitable, since they led the campaign for the tax to subsidize the enterprise. Or, you could argue that they are blowing Chamber dues and Springdale "economic development" funds to have a grand time with their friends.

A quick review of the American Express bills that Perry Webb ran up for "food and beverages" in the Cowbird's Skybox during the 2008 season, courtesy of SpringdaleFOI, will give you enough of an idea that you can decide for yourself whether it was wise spending of taxpayer dollars. Let's start with the bill for $393 for "food and beverages" attributed to entertaining the First Baptist Church. It is not clear what the church has to do with economic development, but the real question is why the Cowbirds entertained only Ronnie Floyd's flock and left every other church of every denomination in town to buy their own peanuts in the cheap seats?

The largest single night catering expense was $1,425 on April 22 for entertaining guests from "WM," which rhymes with a big box retailer or a garbage company, followed closely by a $1,300 tab for Cargill snackers on July 25. Someone named Shinall made two trips to the Cowbird Skybox for a total bill of $1,762. Walker Brothers were feted guests on four different occasions that tallied a total of $2,526, and Dr. Whitaker DDS was invited three times and rang up $1,977 in expenses. Dent-a-Med made three trips around the bases for $1,344. Springdale Liquor, Hewitt, and Turnbow had a combined catering bill of over $1,000 for two games, but Waste Management was identified on two days for $1,779.

There are other big ticket expenses for entertaining the A&P Commission and City Council, public trustees who gave $177,000 in co-mingled tax dollars to the Cowbirds. The Rodeo promoters and the school board also got cut in on the catering orgy. Many of the catering expenditures don't list any business as the beneficiary of the catering, but there were no Hispanic names on the published guest list. However, six different games identify Perry Webb as the king of the skybox for a day, just another untaxed bonus for all the jobs he brought to Springdale last year as Sam's Club was heading south.

Did the Springdale City Council know this is how Perry Webb and the Cowbirds were spending the taxpayers' money for economic development? Did they even bother to ask before appropriating another round for 2009? What does Mayor Doug Sprouse have to say about all of this? That might depend on whether he got to watch a game or two with Perry this season.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Who Does Boozman Represent?

Congressman John Boozman (R-Teabagger) just figured out that the 2010 General Election is about a year away, so his staff has been flooding the media with "news" about his voting record of late. They seemed to have overlooked his position on one very important bill that was enacted last week, H.R. 2996, a major appropriation bill that passed the Senate 72-28 and passed the House 247-178. As usual, our loser Congressman, John Boozman, voted with the losing side.

This bill was the appropriation for the Department of the Interior, environment, and related agencies, and it was supported by every other Arkansas member of the House and Senate. Yet, Boozman took his orders and stood strong, voting against the Conference Report last week, just as he had against the original bill when it was passed the House 254-173 last June. In neither case has Boozman explained this bizarre vote to his constituents.

The charitable explanation is that Congressman Boozman is a values voter; that is, he votes against stuff he doesn't like. In this case, he voted against even a dime for the National Wildlife Refuge fund and wildlife conservation grants to the State of Arkansas; against state assistance from the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and against oil spill research.

Mr. Boozman also voted against funds to carry out the Compacts of Free Association for the Marshall Islands population in Springdale and against any money for the Indian Health Service. He voted against allowing proceeds of any visitor fees at Pearl Harbor to be used for constructing of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in Hawaii. He voted against any federal funding for the National Forest Service and the Arkansas Forestry Commission programs. Not a nickel, my friend.

Boozman also voted down all funding for operation of the Environmental Protection Agency, including the Hazardous Substance Superfund and the Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. For good measure he also voted to nix for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Procedurally, he vote against allowing the Agricultural Research Service to support the operation of pilot plants and facilities in bringing technologies necessary for the development and commercialization of new biobased products to the point of practical application.

That's not all, folks. Congressman Boozman voted against all funding for the Smithsonian Institution, including for carrying out activities under the Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009; the National Gallery of Art; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; the National Endowment for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Humanities; and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

As a final display of compassion, Boozman voted against authorizing the departments in awarding a federal contract to give consideration to local contractors who are from economically disadvantaged rural communities and who provide employment and training for dislocated and displaced workers. That would be us.

If you like that, then vote to re-elect the dipstick.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Don't Bank on It

We all remember the failure of Arkansas National Bank in Bentonville, and its closure in 2008 by the Comptroller of the Currency for unsafe and unsound banking practices, mostly in the real estate portfolio. Now, Metropolitan National Bank announced its fourth straight quarterly loss ($54.8 million in 2009), much of which is blamed on problem real estate lending in Northwest Arkansas, evidenced by the foreclosures on bad loans filed against Gary Combs, Bob Gaddy Trust, and Dirk Van Veen and his Risky Heights partners.

Bloggers who know far more about the banking situation that I do have expressed concerns about the future of Metropolitan National Bank, because it is "short $20 million in equity capital and also seriously short of the needed reserves to cover its growing delinquent loan portfolio. ...The bank’s problem loan-to-asset ratio is 116 percent. The benchmark for failed banks is roughly 100 percent." This is an issue of public concern, because the bank took $25 million in TARP funds in the final days of the Bush Administration, and the taxpayers have an interest in getting it back.

The Banktracker Investigative Reporting Workshop provides important information about the "troubled asset ratio" of local financial institutions that you won't read in the newly merged Stephens-Hussman Media Conglomerate and Print Monopoly "serving" Northwest Arkansas. "While [the TAR] is not an official FDIC statistic, nor is it intended as a definitive predictor of the likelihood of bank failure, the troubled asset ratio apparently is a strong indicator of severe stress inside a bank because it shows the bank's ability to withstand loan losses. Of the 92 banks that have failed so far this year, 84 had troubled asset ratios of 100 percent or greater in the final quarter they reported data before they closed."

Let's take a look at the "troubled asset ratio" of other Northwest Arkansas banks as of June 30, 2009. Keep in mind that the national average is 13.0.

Parkway Bank (Rogers) 132.5
Pinnacle Bank (Rogers) 83.7
Legacy National Bank (Springdale) 78.9
Bank of Gravette 57.7
Bank of Fayetteville 43.5
Simmons First Bank of NWA
Arvest Bank 28.9
Decatur State Bank 28.3
Signature Bank of Arkansas (Fayetteville) 25.9 *
United Bank (Springdale) 24.0
National Average for all banks 13.0
Bank of Arkansas (Fayetteville) 12.7

Signature Bank is owned in part by White River Bankshares, which received $16.8 million in TARP funds.

Bank of Rogers had a troubled asset ratio of 56.3 in June 2008, before it merger with FNB of Fort Smith, which has a 30.6 ratio in June 2009.

Current data for Chambers Bank of North Arkansas was not available. Holding company Chambers Bankshares received $19.8 million in TARP funds.

Last Friday, nine U.S. banks were officially declared insolvent by the FDIC, bringing the total this year to 115 banks. Here's hoping that the local economy improves. If not, be glad that the federal government has socialized the losses and will cover your loss due to bank failure up to $250,000 per account per bank.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Walmart: Stop Reading. Be Quiet.

No one should be surprised that Walmart brought pressure, through the respectable members of the library trustees, to squelch an author talking about her book, Boom Town, in the public libraries of Benton County. It is not even especially surprising that the local librarians in Rogers and Bentonville ignored their professional responsibility and caved in to the corporate overlords of the shire.

Likewise, the exemplary response of the Fayetteville Public Library in hosting the author and promoting the event reminds us why Fayetteville is a special place, an island of reason in a sea of ignorance and a beacon of hope for individuality in a vast wasteland of conformity. Heck, Mayor Jordan even pimped the event on his Facebook page, and Ozarks Unbound offered up a review of the book, coverage of the public event, and an audio version of author Marjorie Rosen's lecture.

While you won't find it announced on the University of Arkansas website or listed on the Daily Events Calendar, Rosen also will be discussing her book on the Fayetteville campus this afternoon at 3:30 in the student union. It is sponsored by the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the Multi-Cultural Center, two academic outposts that Walmart has no use for and has not yet bothered to buy and control to the extent that they have captured the business school and the education department.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Chicken that Laid the Golden Egg

A little more than two years ago, we told you about the "working vacation" at Mt. Magazine Lodge, a new resort with hot tubs and an indoor pool, where Chickendale Cowbird 'business leaders" told local city officials what they wanted in addition to the $177,000 slush fund from the taxpayers. In October 2007, we wrote:
The Springdale Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a three-day obedience school designed to help their city officials set appropriate goals. Springdale elected officials, school administrators, and city department heads are a captive audience for the so-called business leaders, who are holed up away from public view at beautiful Mount Magazine State Park Lodge in Logan County to get together on what the business community expects and how the city can deliver.
At that time, we said it wasn't clear who was picking up the tab for this fun get-away, but we noted that it was "sponsored by undisclosed construction companies, banks, food processors, engineers, and architects." What we didn't know then but know now is that the Chickendale Cowbirds spent $16,497.21 for a Texas outfit called 9G to "facilitate" the discussions and $23,911.64 at the resort for two nights' "lodging." This from an account co-mingled with city funds that were supposed to be for "economic development" and "promoting Springdale."

That is a sweet deal for someone, or a lot of someones, considering that the most expensive suite in peak season is only $209 a night, including, "Fireplace, River Valley View, Satellite Television, 2 balconies, living area with separate bedroom, king size bed, jacuzzi, telephone, coffee pot, microwave, in-room safe, high-speed internet, iron & ironing board, refrigerator." That doesn't include the mini-bar.

Why didn't they have this big party at the Springdale Holiday Inn & Convention Center, so the Cowbirds and their captive elected officials and city employees could sleep in their own beds, and keep the money in the local economy? Maybe because they would have been distracted by local citizens asking what was going on, listening to the discussions, and having some input from ordinary citizens who weren't on the Cowbird A-List? Yes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chickendale Cowbirds Chowdown

Thanks very much, once again, to citizen watchdog Anita Davis and SpringdaleFOI for letting the public see how Perry Webb and the Chichendale Cowbirds are blowing the cash handed over to them for "economic development" by the taxpayers of Springdale. One of the previously unaccountable slush funds worth reviewing is the bill for their dining expenses, and it ain't chickenfeed.

They have meticulously documented more than $120,000 for fine dining and adult beverages, down to and including a receipt for $1.92 at the Blimpie Cart in the Atlanta airport, but we will have to wait for the details of expenses and alleged business guests who woofed down $70,512 at the Springdale Country Club, well over half of the outlays. The individual receipts are being reviewed and will be released for public viewing soon.

Either to make it appear that they were spending money with city businesses or because they were ignorant about the city limits, the Cowbirds claimed that they spent $100 at the Venesian Inn in Springdale. but that hardly compares with the $2,204 they lavished on themselves at Luigi's in Washington DC. They also supported the local economic engine Cracker Barrel, the envy of Bill Ramsey, to the tune of $45.31 in business meals, but that was less than half of the $101.95 they sloshed down for economic development one afternoon at the Claddagh Irish Pub in Middleton, Wisconsin.

The AQ Chicken House had a collective haul of $1,291 over three years, but that was less than a single evening's tab of $1,297 at Cafe 42 in Little Rock. The Cowbirds invested $3,208 in steaks and swill at the Ruth's Chris Steak House on DuPont Circle in Washington, DC, but to show they were able to graze with the common people, they spent $3,559 at Jim's Razorback Pizza and $3,223 at McBride Distributing in Fayetteville.

I have to wonder how the average working stiff in Chickendale would feel about this if it were ever fully covered or even briefly mentioned in the Moron News. Those working on the line for the federal minimum wage would have to work 129 days to earn enough to pay the $7,495 catering bill at Mark Henry's Catering Unlimited LLC.