City Director Dean Kumpuris, we understand, defended the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission and budgeting of the LR Convention and Visitors Bureau at the City Board meeting last night
This was a prelude to an A&P Commission meeting today, the first opportunity for the group to respond to the fusillade of allegations of poor financial management and self-dealing in a series of recent articles and editorials in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Will the group be aggressively defensive; chastened; promise to do better or what? It will be interesting and we'll drop by.
We know already that one line of defense will be to say that it's unfair to compare the LR Convention and Visitors Bureau's budget with the Houston, Texas visitor agency (ours employs many more people and the budget is comparable in dollars) because the Houston agency isn't responsible for running facilities such as the Statehouse Convention Center, Robinson Auditorium and part of the Peabody hotel. We don't know if this is correct or not, but that's what defenders of the agency are saying.
Glad they mentioned facilities. The Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods is on the warpath today because the City Board last night authorized an architect's contract for what may be $2 million worth of work to improve the amphitheater in Riverfront Park, primarily the cost of a new roof. The Coalition thinks the city has greater priorities. City Hall responds that the Coalition shouldn't worry, A&P intends to take over the facility, so there'll be no cost to the city. Not unless you count all those pennies city residents pay into the hamburger tax as city tax funds, which we do.
This is another example of a long-standing relationship. A&P has been one of the primary vehicles that Director Kumpuris, the de facto mayor of the River Market neighborhood, has used to achieve redevelopment aims when normal City Board actions aren't sufficient to get the job done.
The Coalition takes pain to say (as we do) that many good things have been achieved downtown. But none of that explains away the need for responsiveness of city agencies, transparency of financial transactions, full prior public review of major expenditures of public money (the hamburger tax is public money) and full accountability for an agency with millions to spend.
The A&P will defend expenditures with commission members by saying they are hamstrung by the state law that requires that most members of the commission come from the hospitality industry. It's not fair, they say, to expect a commission member to give up a chance at city business as the price of serving on the commission. Perhaps it's not fair. Perhaps the law should be changed to have broader representation on the commission. But it seems like a bright line rule to us, the same one we invoked against Airport Commissioner Carl Johnson (and which he eventually realized made sense). No city commissioners should do business with the agencies they supervise. To do otherwise is to invite suspicion.