by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette continues today in full howl over its discovery of financal problems at the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission. It breathlessly led the paper with incoming Mayor Mark Stodola's vow to do something (though he is but one vote and a figurehead in a poorly structured city government. Strong mayor and ward elections, anyone?)
The lead editorial takes the cake, even though it is exactly correct. A&P has indeed functioned for years, as much of city government has, like a club. Good friends and colleagues, generally of good intentions, operate loosely. They decide issues in private and dispense with formal procedures in operating a public agency with a huge and growing budget.
Correct though the editorial is, it's breathtakingly hypocritical.
Where was the editorial writer when Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman went to Little Rock School Superintendent Roy Brooks to put a project for merit pay in a Little Rock elementary school? Where was the editorial writer when Hussman -- not wanting his fingerprints on the project -- laundered the money through the Little Rock Public Education Foundation -- as representative an assembly of The Club as you'd want to see? Where was the editorial writer when the project was undertaken without a public discussion or vote by the policy-making, elected supervisors of the district, the School Board? Where was the editorial writer when the project was secretly expanded, again without public discussion or vote? Where was the editorial writer on the "formalities" of a contractually required vote of teachers on changes in pay arrangements?
This clubby arrangement broke apart when we started howling, alerted by -- of all things -- a right-wing columnist in the Wall Street Journal.
The editorial writer had only derision then for those who would question such secret policymaking in the Little Rock School District. How could anyone question the good intentions of such a fine person as the newspaper's publisher, after all, and those brilliant enough to agree with him?
Said today's editorial: "This city is run all too much like a social club. And you're either in The Club or you're just paying dues."
Ah, but sometimes the dues payers revolt. As when Walton and Murphy and chamber of commerce money decided to get behind the Hussman vision for the public schools in the last school election. You know how that turned out.
The editorial writer also said: "We're not unhappy because we don't belong to The Club; we wouldn't want to."
The writer may not be in the club, but if he thinks his publisher is not, we challenge him to release the invitation list to the publisher's annual Christmas party last night. Then tell us who is and isn't a member of The Club.