Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bad Day in Benton County

The front page today has two stories from Benton County, related to position on the page and on the political spectrum. Benton County Judge David Bisbee was charged with five counts of ethics violations related to three separate incidents. Bisbee offered no comment, but it looks like he was just following the Republican Party line of running government like a business -- his own or maybe Enron. Lots of self-dealing, corner-cutting, and ethics-winking by the developer-politician. The Prosecuting Attorney is preparing a petition to remove Bisbee from office; Bisbee says he ain't going nowhere and is running for re-election in that little one-party fiefdom.

Just down the road, Pinnacle Point Properties, LLC, already way behind on paying $700,00 in local property taxes, has filed for bankruptcy. Lined up to take another hit to their capital accounts are Metropolitan National Bank of Little Rock ($34.9 million) and Chambers Bank of Danville ($6.65 million). Chambers Bank is also sucking air in the John Lindsey bankruptcy deal. Bill Schwyhart is the man behind the curtain here. Last year, he was slapped with a $27 million foreclosure suit by Bank of America on other properties, and was involved in litigation, and the year before that he was sued by widow Johnelle Hunt, a former partner in a $30 million air charter deal.

In 2008, Schwyhart invested $13,900 in the campaign coffers of Mike Huckabee, John Boozman, Jim Inhofe, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and the Republican Party of Arkansas. Back in 2004, he dumped $18,300 on Bush-Cheney, John Boozman, Ernest Istook, Kit Bond, and Marvin Parks. Less than 5% of his generosity went to Democrats, and that was a single wasted contribution to Dick Gephardt.

John Boozman should consider hiring Bisbee and Schwyhart as campaign consultants and economic advisors. He owes them something for their past support.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Astroturf Politics from Another Planet

There is a bunch of wingnuts calling themselves Secure Arkansas and claiming to be "a grassroots organization" dedicated to making damn sure that no Mexicans get anything but a raw deal in Arkansas. The Third District coordinators are Jack and Jan Lea in Rogers. Dawn Harpell of Bella Vista, Kevin Connor of Rogers, and Joyce Loftis of Bentonville are the Benton County cell coordinators, and the Washington County klavern is headed up by Teabaggers Christine Keller and Jim Laubler. The Madison County bunker is staffed by Linda Vandiver, owner of the Faubus Motel that hoisted the Confederate Battle Flag after Obama's victory.

If you ever had any notion that this gaggle was mainstream, let their own Tea Party Straw Poll of over 1,000 people who attended their rallies this week clear your mind. In the Governor's race, they voted 94% for Jim Keet to Mike Beebe's 6%. In the Lt. Governor's race, Democrat Shane Broadway also got 6%. I would be willing to wager the farm that both Beebe and Broadway waltz into office with clear majorities among the more sane voters in the general election. Their little poll also had Republican Mark Martin of Prairie Grove thumping Democrat Pat O'Brien by 95% to 3%. For Land Commissioner, Republican John Thurston, whom I've never heard of before, getting 98% and Democrat Monty Davenport getting less that 1%. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was given a 95% disapproval rating.

The Third District Congressional race is another example of the disconnect with reality. Among those running in the Republican Primary, the Secure Teabaggers favored Bernie Skoch and Mike Moore tied at 23% each, while Rogers Mayor and Mexican Hunter Steve Womack had only 3%. In the Fourth District, Mike Ross was favored by 4%. No Democratic cendidate in the Second District broke 1%. It was about the same story in the First District with Republican Rick Crawford picked by 81% to 17% for Republican Princella Smith.

The ranking of United States Senate candidates was the only surprise, with Bailout John Boozman leading with 27%, just ahead of Jim Holt at 23%. None of the Democrats broke the 1% barrier.

I can think of nothing clever to say that would be any funnier than the raw numbers in this poll.

A&P Requests Revealed

Thanks to the good journalistic work of the Fayetteville Flyer, we now know which local groups have applied for this round of funding from the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission. Thirteen groups requested $260,869 for projects ranging from $1,000 for Puppets in the Park to a whopping $62,000 for the 540 Film Festival.

Too bad that the Commission blew most of their cash wad last fall, because they have only $31,000 left for this round, and the film festival wants twice that much. Poor budgeting at best, but all of Allyson's insider deals were at the trough last fall and had to be fed first. The Walton Arts Center, never shy, is back again asking for $25,000 for Beauty and the Beast, and TheatreSquared is again wanting another $15,000 on top of their previous funding. Now, I like TheatreSquared productions, but I have seen no evidence that their productions draw many tourist dollars to Fayetteville.

The most reader comment at the Fayetteville Flyer has been a raging back and forth about the $10,000 request by All OUT June for some kind of GLBT parade and festival. Some don't think it is appropriate to fund such a celebration, as opposed to, say, $20,000 for Babes and Bling Bikers. The worst application, in my opinion, is $36,612 for the Washington County Fair. Someone should take a look and see how many overnight guests booked rooms in town for the county fair last year and how much sales tax the carnival rides and cotton candy vendors paid to the city.

The Commissioners need to get control of the A&P staff and start being more cognizant that there are two funding cycles. They should also be more sensitive to the conflicts of interests that abound when A&P employees are on boards of groups that seem to get full funding while everyone else gets a rain check. They did take one baby step for mankind when they adopted a policy that commissioners had to bid on insider contracts; they should have been prohibited outright, but that would be asking too much of Bob Davis who continues to milk the goose.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Arrogance and Plunder -- In Secret Yet Again.

About a month ago, we had a good discussion here about the secrecy that abounds at the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission. Chairman Tim Freeman posted several comments promising to make its operations more transparent and accountable. Nice words, and a new section was put up on the A&P website. Nice words, but nothing else has changed. Nice words, but we are still being kept in the dark.

The A&P Commission meets today to dole out grant funds. There is no notice of that on the website, which only says it meets at 2:00 p.m. on the second Monday at the Town Center. I've heard a rumor that they are meeting somewhere else, but, if so, that is not information the Commission staff has shared on its website. Even more disturbing is that there is no listing of which groups applied for A&P Grants, and there is no information about which ones the Commission staff is recommending for funding at what level. How convenient for a cabal that wishes to do its work in secret. How unacceptable.

If a citizen wanted to show up today and comment or voice support or opposition, it would be difficult to do so, despite Chairman Freeman's Nice Words and Empty Promises. You would have to know where the A&P Commission is meeting. You would have to know what is on the agenda. You would have to have a crystal ball or be well connected with someone on the staff, because, like the A&P Commission, the local excuse for a newspaper has again failed to do its job of informing the public. Otherwise, unless you check out the Fayetteville Flyer for the new meeting place and the agenda, you are SOL. Again.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Nature of Socialism in the Ozarks

No, I'm not talking about Medicare, public libraries, free parking on Dickson Street, farm subsidies for Jim Lindsey, management training programs for a Chinese flea market, or home delivery of junk mail. This is real, and it is costing taxpayers $2.4 million. Not a single Republican candidate for Congress has called a press conference to denounce it or to urge their flock to chain themselves to the fence in protest. The Teabaggers who oppose all millages for public schools have made n'airy a peep nor a misspelled sign against this one.

R&P Electroplating of Fayetteville
operated a metal plating facility from 1974 to 1997 in the industrial area on the banks of the White River. The company illegally dumped cyanide and heavy metals into the Fayetteville sewer system and severely damaged the city's sewer treatment plant. That cost Fayetteville taxpayers $21,000 in repairs.

The business owners walked away from the site in 1997, leaving the abandoned facility full of cyanide, acid plating solutions, solvents, acids, caustic soda beads and soda ash, oils, spent solutions and sludge. In 1999, 42,081 gallons of liquid waste and 410,200 pounds of solid and sludge waste were removed under an emergency order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Then it just sat there for years as environmental reports documenting the hazards piled up on the shelf. A few years ago under a previous city administration a proposal was floated to make it a city park with a playground. Obviously a bad idea, and it went nowhere.

Yesterday, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality announced public funding for a $2.4 million contract with Southern Environmental Management and Specialties Inc. of Baton Rouge to clean up the abandoned industrial site on Pump Station Road. The taxpayers will foot the bill to clean up the mess left by a private corporation that reaped profits and degraded the environment for more than 20 years. Still to come is the multi-million dollar cleanup of the toxic dump at SouthPass that a former mayor rushed to get for the citizens of Fayetteville.

Everyone seems to think it is alright to bailout banks with toxic assets and businesses that leave their toxic chemicals, but it is horrible to provide a public option for those who cannot afford private Blue Cross health insurance rates. The only consistency in all of this seems to be that socialism for the rich is fine, but public assistance for the less fortunate is terrible.