Sunday, March 7, 2010

Arrogance and Plunder Commission

The Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission meets tomorrow, in case you didn't know, and you probably didn't. I am sure that you have no idea what is on the agenda, even if you were somehow able to find a copy of it. Here's why I am certain of that.

Back in November, just before the A&P Commission funded two more biker events in Fayetteville and a bunch of UA sporting events that were going to happen even without funding from the limited A&P tax dollars, I tried to inform myself about what was going on. I wrote to the City Clerk, who informed me that the City did not have access to A&P Commission records, budgets, or agendas. I spent hours online trying to find the November agenda and the budget that was going to be approved at the meeting. Nada.

Then I heard from Chairman Tim Freeman, who told me, "We don't put our agenda on our website, which is, because it is primarily geared toward tourists and folks from out of town." If I wanted to see the agenda, he said, “Just go up to the office and get it on your lunch break or something.”

Finally, I did get a copy of the Agenda from Marilyn Heifner, the Executive Director. I had a false hope that this was the beginning of something new in the way of public access and accountability, because she promised, "We are currently working on our website to be able to include agendas, HMR statistics, etc. " Well, that was four months ago, and there is still no A&P Commission agenda, no minutes, and no budget information online. I wonder who is "currently working on" their website, how much they are being paid by the hour, who they are related to, and when we might expect them to be finished.

Not that it really matters, because the Agenda offers very little information to the public, certainly not enough to decide whether it is worth burning vacation time to attend the A&P Commission meetings that are inconveniently scheduled during weekday work hours. For example, at the November meeting, the A&P Commissioners approved all of the grants for the next year. The agenda I was provided gave no hint about who had applied, how much they requested, or what staff was recommending for funding. It merely said, “III. Special project requests – funding distribution.”

Only that night did I learn by reading Ozarks Unbound who were the Lucky Chosen Ones who were on "a laundry list of recipients who were awarded $182,850 today by the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Committee." If I had known these were on the agenda, I would have shown up and squawked, and I don't think I would have been alone.

The entire enterprise stinks. It is rife with nepotism and self-dealing. The budget and the agendas are squirreled away in some filing cabinet and not available online in the second decade of the 21st Century. Even more troublesome is the poor advertising of grant availability and deadlines. This allows the Commission and its staff to then hide behind the excuse that no one applied except their friends and organizations that certain staff members sit on their boards.

It is called insider trading, but none of it is illegal in Fayetteville. If the City Council would get serious about conflict of interest ordinances that hold the A&P Commissioners and staff to the same standards as City officials and staff, that would be welcome, and it would be far more effective than me whining on this blog or a three-hour public bitchfest after the fact.


  1. The city has its mayor and one council-member on that commission. Couldn't one of them make the agenda public? Maybe Coody never thought of doing this while he was serving on the A&P, but Jordan's open-government approach suggests that he would do it if someone points out to him that it isn't available to the public. A&P meetings are on Government Channel. I have seen them. That means they are considered a function or contractor or something of importance to city residents or they would not be shown on Government Channel. So that means that the freedom of info act would allow you to demand their information BEFORE meetings.

  2. EXCELLENT Jonah(s)~
    Keep on keepin' on 'em.

  3. I'd say that since you tried in a number of ways to address the issue, reporting your lack of success does not constitute whining.

  4. I've talked at length with Kit Williams about a conflict of interest ordinance that would govern the A&P Commission, and have been told that the City simply can't do that because state law governs them and nothing the City can do would alter that.


  5. Please MPetty finish your thought: if I am not mistaken you will find that such public / private animals as (State) Boards & Commissions are specifically exempted from such, er, petty stuff as conflicts of interest under AR so-called Ethics law.
    But appreciate your inquiring of Mr. Williams.

    Thanks Jonah for another fine piece on the Advert & Pork commission.

  6. Does state law mandate the existence of Ad&Pork in every city?

    The Law has its reasons that Reason cannot comprehend? Why would Ad&Pork be exempt from ethics laws?

  7. .

    If I were one of you-ins I would get an opinion separate from Williams. His legal advice in the past has not been the best. Can't you folks elect a better city attorney?


  8. An A&P Commission is required in every city that collects HMR Taxes, but only those cities.

    If you want to see results on this you need to let the Mayor know. He's on the Commission and has the political capital to make sure the Commission starts being more transparent.

  9. Although two separate governments are involved, I see a dysfunctional set of relationships here. First, the County Election Commission can't see fit to approve an early-voting location on the U of A campus, then decide to allow one but the U prices it out of existence. Between these two events, the A & P Commission, on behalf of a whole bunch of citizens of the county, throws a bunch of money at several University-sponsored events that have other sources of funding. This is perverse, particularly when the citizens whose money and access to voting are at stake cannot find out who asks for funding, or when or how funding is awarded until it's too late. This only heightens the public's perception that A & P funding is a game that favors insiders and professional mendicants.

    So far, the A & P Commission has done nothing to correct this perception, beyond trying to assure us that it is simply not the case.

  10. The Mayor can see the secrecy problem without pressure from the peasantry. And seeing the problem should mean acting to correct it.

    Getting rid of the HMR tax is another issue. Probably worthwhile. It might help the restaurant business a little. It might also cut down on bike festervals.

  11. If we get rid of the HMR tax what happens?

    Well first off, no funding for Fayetteville Parks and Recreation, because that's where their funding comes from. Close Wilson, Gulley, and all our other smaller parks in town along with soccer, softball fields, bike trails, etc.

    Second off, tear down the Town Center, close the Clinton House Museum, the Visitors Center, and cut off vital funding to Theatre Squared, First Night, Lights of the Ozarks, the Walton Arts Center, get rid of all advertising funding for Fayetteville, etc.

    All to save 2% on eating out?

    Hmmmmm.....maybe "Anonymous" needs to think about what they say first.

    I will tell you that we have made strides since I became chair to invite the public to apply for funding for their event via widely-available newspaper advertisements. And tonight we will be putting the funding applications on the website--we approved it at today's meeting.

    And again, everything we do is available under the Freedom of Information Act. All you have to do is ask for it.

    If anybody who is negative concerning the A&P Commission really wants to be proactive instead of having a self-described "whining" blog online, please send me an email ( with your ideas and I will be happy to share them with the rest of the commission at our next meeting.

    Tim Freeman, Chair, Fayetteville A&P Commission

  12. The issue shouldn't be spun as whether or not the community wants certain amenities. The issue is whether choice of amenities and funding for them should be in the hands of an extra-governmental, non-elected group of people who (if the City Attorney is correctly quoted and correct) aren't subject to ethics laws and who, some believe, have conflicts of interest.

  13. I love seeing Matthew Petty trying to lay the problem on Mayor Jordan.

  14. Really? Because you said it was "probably worthwhile" to get "rid of the HMR tax".

    And that's not spinning. We absolutely would not have the revenue for those things without the tax--Fayetteville Parks and Recreation (much of their funding, but not all), Clinton Museum, Town Center, the various arts programs we help to fund, etc. (everything listed above and much, much more). No spinning involoved. Fact. You do NOT want to get rid of the HMR unless you want to look like Springdale--they only have a hotel tax and it barely funds a little advertising and visitor guides.

  15. Mr. Freeman, do you have any advice on how to get better applications, like perhaps an Arts Festival, instead of another Bikes and Boobs festival. Yes, I know, the last Arts Festival grant got looted by the head of FDP, but I mean to a legitimate group with strict financial controls.

  16. Well, you have to have a dedicated group of folks in the community who want to put on an arts festival. Putting on a festival is a lot of hard, time-consuming work, and to do it right you have to have a group to folks who want to dedicate about a year of their lives, blood, sweat, and tears to doing it. And then it's not cheap. Even is somebody wanted to do it, A&P can only provide a very small percentage of funding that would be necessary to put on a decent festival. They would have to gather corporate sponsors among other things. So there's not a whole lot of motivation there.

    One idea might be to get a festival manager like they have (had?) in Eureka Springs. But that would require a salary, and you'd still have to find additional funding and enlist more folks to help. Also, you would have to enlist the support of a majority of commissioners. Then there's the issue of funding in-house events as opposed to events that are brought from the community--which would create controversy I am sure.

    So you see the complications. We can ask people to put on an arts festival all day long, but it's asking a lot. It is much akin to starting their own business, along with all the risks (eg. we do not pay salaries or operational expenses for anybody--so what is their financial incentive? Unless it is completely altruistic on their part). Then they will get criticized by people like Matthew Petty and the masked "Jonah", who can't seem to find anything positive to say about anything the commission does. So the payoff is really quite small.

    Do you have any ideas?

  17. Tim Freeman said: "One idea might be to get a festival manager like they have (had?) in Eureka Springs. But that would require a salary"

    Why doesn't the Visitors Bureau do this? They have full time staff people assigned to dealing with tour buses fer chrisakes, and that cannot be a fulltime job. How many tour buses have you seen in Fayetteville in the last year? How much revenue does a tour bus generate when it passes through town?

  18. Why should the public have to make a FOIA request in order to get agendas in advance of A & P Commission meetings, or minutes after the meetings? There is no excuse for not putting that information In the documents section of Or is there an excuse?

    The suggestion that members of the public should make a FOIA request is particularly grating to those who are familiar with the stonewalling and punitive expenses accompanying many such requests.

  19. Oh, and Mr. Freeman--

    Jonah described his post as "whining" in a self-deprecating manner, probably to prevent you from responding and using the word first. But you failed to address the issue he raised: after doing everything he could have to get the information he wanted, the information was incomplete and inadequate. Would filing a FOIA request have resulted in his receiving a "special" agenda that would have told him what he needed to know?

    Per your request, here's my first idea: Respond to the issues raised in this blog post and the subsequent thread. All you've done so far is rather insultingly tell us what you can't do. What CAN you do?

  20. In the future, I'll try to make available the full agenda package online at Ozarks Unbound on the Friday before the Monday meeting.

    Hope that helps. You'll find the latest copy of the agenda at the end of this story.

  21. Thank you. Not that you should have to do this for them.

  22. 5 states have no sales tax at all. There are ways to fund the arts and other public benefits without being tied to an unelected unrepresentative untransparent A&P commission. (In a pinch, there's always progressive income tax.) Most important, let our elected representatives, listening to public input, make decisions about the big public events that determine what direction the community's taking.

  23. David,

    I take back my whining comment about Jonah. Most of the whining is clearly emanating from you. I guess I missed your email with positive ideas. I'll look for that.


  24. And Anonymous said:

    "Why doesn't the Visitors Bureau do this?" (hire a full-time festival director)

    Well I think this is something we should look at doing. I have outlined some complications above, but I think it may be a direction we need to head toward in the future.


  25. Mr. Freeman:
    methinks you need to lighten up on Springdale.
    Check out & you'll find that "World leaders in business call Springdale home."
    No mention, no image is given about what seems obvious (I hadn't been downtown on Emma in a number of years). Yes, there are empty storefronts--across from the Chamber, eg.
    But I also see a vibrant & colorful burgeoning of small restaurants and stores aimed at the Hispanic community.
    What? Chopped liver for the Chamber? Road kill? Or just marginalized statistical blips on the global business radar?
    Small business are responsible for MOST of the job creation in this country.
    If someone was serious about making financing business for the little folks more available, all of us would be much better off.
    Btw, the new Ayala Bakery going in: el edificio es muy guapo !

  26. Tim Freeman said: "And that's not spinning. We absolutely would not have the revenue for those things without the tax--Fayetteville Parks and Recreation (much of their funding, but not all), Clinton Museum, Town Center, the various arts programs we help to fund, etc. (everything listed above and much, much more). No spinning involoved."

    Parks&Rec has several million dollars stashed. They obviously don't *need* much more. And anyway, why can't the 'rec' part include arts recreation?

    Clinton Museum--who really cares?

    Town Center-I seem to recall that this was promised to be a revenue-generating project. Does it ever operate in the black?

    In reality about all the A&P is good at is bringing us ever more biker festivals, which certainly have nothing to do with altruism. On the contrary, several A&P members profit directly. And now bike festival promoters have deviously contrived to bring us a third annual bike fest in May, under the pretense that only the music venue part of it will be held at the NWAMall. Oh yeah--several thousand bikers are going to stay in dry Benton County and not congregate on Dickson St.

    Big Question is how much will this cost Fayetteville taxpayers to once again subsidize biker festival street closures, policing and clean-up so that a select group of businesses can profit--again several of them represented on the A&P Commission. All the while sneering at the rest of the community from the editorial page to get out of town if we don't like it.

  27. To finish on the idea of hiring a full time festival promoter via the Visitors will only be used to bring in more bike festivals.
    Get it? Cuz this is all these geniuses can do.

  28. Anonymous,

    Without the millions we provide to the Parks and Recreation, they would burn through that fund in a matter of several years. Then they would be operating in a deficit.

    Many people care about the Clinton museum and our rich history, just apparently not you.

    Town Center operates in the black every year and has for quite some time.

    We don't "bring" the bike festivals, the citizens do that. We just help new festivals with funding, and as I've said many, many, many, many times, we do not have a preference of bike festivals over any other festival whatsoever. Wish we had other festivals apply (see above reiteration of this above).

    And to the second masked "Anonymous" (you guys really should say who you are), what on EARTH makes you think we are the "geniuses" who bring in bike festivals? Where are you getting this idea from? Do you not understand anything about hot A&P works? We don't 'bring' festivals. Period. We just provide money to citizens who have ideas and want to put on festivals. We wish people brought more ideas.

    I think you need to understand more about the A&P Commission. Please check out this page on our website for more information. I want you to understand, but if you make to attempt to do so, it undermines your argument.


  29. Thanks for the link, Mr. Freeman. The Fayetteville Flyer reports that this link just went up Monday night, so don't pretend that everyone should be aware of it this morning.

  30. Why, Mr. Freeman--

    You live down to my expectations. First, you continue to dodge the central issue of this post as well as my question, and then you take it upon yourself to comment in an insulting manner. Do you represent your business the same way you represent Fayetteville? Has it occurred to you that I might be a frequent visitor to Fayetteville rather than a resident?

    My positive idea was in my comment of 1:24 AM. If you had been more focused on responding to this thread than on reacting to it, you might have noticed that.

    I'll ask again, and hope that my tone suits you: May we expect the A & P Commission to provide useful agendas online and elsewhere in advance of meetings? This will be more than an activist issue to me later this year, once I have moved to Fayetteville.

  31. I'm not trying to lay anything at the feet of the Mayor.

    It's just a fact that he represents you on the Commission, he's your elected representative there, and complaining anonymously in a blog's comments are unlikely to communicate to him how important it is to you.

    If you want results, reach out personally. It's more effective.

  32. Anonymous,

    I mentioned earlier that it was going up Monday night....some cover up!

    Also, our agendas are available before the meetings. Ozarks Unbound is going to provide the full agenda package for you, as they mentioned above, three days before the meeting. This should have everything you would want to see. If you need anything else, simply do not hesitate to ask! We usually finalize it the Wednesday or Thursday before the meeting, after any last-minute additions by commission members.

    Thanks for your interest, and I look forward to you becoming one of our citizens, and hopefully unmasking yourself in the future.


  33. My apologies, Mr. Franks.

    You clearly identified yourself, which I greatly appreciate! I had misread your post as also being from "anonymous", as was the one just preceeding it.


  34. So glad to see you're taking the initiative to publish agendas, Tim. Thank you.

  35. Is this the real mpetty?

  36. It was until you showed up. :P

  37. Tim Freeman said: "Town Center operates in the black every year and has for quite some time."

    Mr. Freeman: Is it your contention the TC takes in more revenue then the A&P spends on TC debt service (about $700K/year for interest and principle), staff, maintenance & insurance?

    I don't believe that's the case. Please prove me wrong by posting the A&P's most recent annual budget on the A&P's (or City of Fayetteville's) website.

  38. Restaurateur (sic)--
    love what you are dishing up!
    The TC, sold to the public as a benefit to local non-profits, voted on in August! (if memory serves) to ensure low turnout...
    some accounting is long overdue.

  39. As long as the commissioners and others profit from their positions on the A&P, there will be no accounting.

    I pay my HMR taxes every month but never see any benefits. Neither do others.

    The A&P doesn't really care about tourism - only the money. It's always been about the money. Just ask Davis and Heifner.

  40. Judge Mr. Freeman by his blog comments instead of his actions and he actually seems like a good Chairman.