by Max Brantley
David Koon reports that things weren't so hospitable over at the LR Advertising and Promotion Commission today. His file:
A testy meeting of the Commission this morning played to a Robinson Auditorium board room so packed they had to bring in extra chairs. Mayor Jim Dailey's last appearance with the A&P board was a bang, with Chairman Mary Beth Ringgold and others striking back at critical editorials and stories in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about financial controls and spending of commission money with commissioners. A little internal strife among board members to livened things up even more.
"It's important that we restore the confidence of the citizens of Little Rock," Ringgold said, before calling for "total transparency" by the board and its members. Ringgold called for a report on that issue and suggestions for any corrections by Jan. 15. After that,
Conventions and Visitors Bureau CEO Daniel O'Byrne launched into the defense we predicted -- why it was unfair to compare the Little Rock A&P to the Houston, Texas visitors bureau — a comparison made in the D-G articles. He said the Little Rock A&P Commission's budget is comparable and its staff bigger because it operates two hotel properties and "significant" real state, including Robinson Auditorium, paid parking areas, and the Statehouse Convention Center. Some eyes glazed over and attendees started visibly nodding off when he went into the math of it all, calculator close at hand. Ringgold summed it up: "There are as many different agency styles and types as there are ducks in Stuttgart."
Mayor Dailey told board Ringgold that he hates that she had been under attack individually in the press (for commission expenditures with her restaurants), telling her she had done a great job as chair.
There was more drama soon after, as commissioner Bruce Bennett spoke up to object, getting a murmur out of the room by calling for Ringgold to resign as chair. He went on to say that the entire commission should resign before the first of January, in order to "give
the new mayor a chance to appoint a new board without industry representation." He was quickly reminded that industry representation on the board is mandated by the state law.
After Bennett finished, Ringgold first said that it would be much easier for her personally if she wasn't on the commission, then took a dig at Bennett's lax attendance at commission meetings. Commissioner and City Director Dean Kumpuris told Ringgold: "You didn't do a damn thing wrong." A vote to remove Ringgold as chair brought only Bennett's vote.
-- O'Byrne suggested that the A&P Commission be broken up into three parts: Real estate, conventions bureau, and a "Public Sector" which includes tax collecting, human resources, accounting, purchasing, space needs and political considerations.
-- A new West Little Rock branch office for the LR A&P commission was discussed. Currently, office space is leased in western Little Rock from the family of a commission member, Blair Allen, for about $3,000 a month.
-- Kumpuris won approval of a request for $25,000 to explore ways to improve the Riverfront Ampitheater. Suggestions included reskinning the roof and deleting the "hole" where the central mast currently juts through, raising the roof 18 to 20 feet to allow the use of a curtain and moving current utility structures to allow for more trucks backstage and a better view of the river. (Our earlier item says the Coalition of LR Neighborhoods believes this is preparatory to getting a new roof for the facility, a project that could cost $2 million.)
--Commissioner Jim Shamburger asked why there was no light display in Riverfront Park this year, and was told that most of the lights had belonged to Jennings Osborne, that others had been removed due to "religion connotations," and that what was left didn't have enough
"mass" to create a proper display.
UPDATE: Pat Lynch, and others, inform us that Bruce Bennett has resigned from the A&P Commission. Lynch says he's been on the phone with him. More on the radio tomorrow, Pat?