The new Arkansas Times is now on the web. I thought I'd call attention to some items of current interest:
* The Insider explains a mysterious and impenetrably worded bill, now law, that passed the House recently with reluctant support from pension reform hawk Allen Kerr. It legalizes continued contributions to a 13-year deferred option retirement plan enjoyed by Dan Flowers, director of the state Highway and Transportation Department. The vested benefit in that plan is worth $195,000 a year in retirement pay and growing. Flowers currently makes $157,000 in regular pay after 43 years at the department.
Kerr was convinced finally of the need to adapt state law to federal law that builds protections against excessive pensions. The alternative was putting the whole retirement plan out of compliance — at great cost to the state and employees in the deferred retirement plan. The change also isn't solely for Flowers. At least a couple of other current highway employees may eventually qualify for similar retirement benefit protection.
Some thought might be needed in the future about the wisdom of the Highway Department's extended deferred retirement plan. When you can draw pay and something close to your retirement pay at the same time for 13 years — albeit in a tax-free savings account that you can't tap until actual retirement — it walks and quacks a lot like a double-dipping duck.
* As promised, here's Gerard Matthews' article on gas exploration in the Greers Ferry Lake area, where a boat doing seismic testing has made some nervous.
* You may have already noticed David Koon's cover story on return visits to the Midland School District, caught in a national controversy last year over homophobic remarks by a School Board member. Did it change hearts and minds? Maybe we asked the wrong people.