by Max Brantley
* ACCOUNTABILITY: Here's answers to some, though not all, of the questions raised about how this money will be controlled and accounted for. They are incomplete answers. Money will be spent on potential industries recruited by taxpayer-subsidized Chamber of Commerce effort. How they spend their money and what they tell prospects in their meetings are secret. If you don't believe it just ask them, as I have. They won't say how they spend their money. The quarterly reports Stodola mentions are empty window dressing, telling nothing. And you can be sure the Chamber generally recruits their kind of people — anti-workers comp, anti-health insurance, unfriendly to public schools. If the city turns over deal-making to their secret recruitment team and then presents the worked-out deals as done deals, it's not transparent.
* LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Here, in full, is Mayor Stodola's bill of particulars about my unfair criticism. In short, everybody else is doing it, pouring money into building buildings for private business, why shouldn't we? And what's my objection to the Chamber? It's stated above. Their politics are unfriendly to the general welfare. That's their right, but when they do it with my tax money, I don't have to like it. The mayor has made it quite clear he's turned recruitment over to the chamber. Everything they do leading up to final votes is a secret. Why not adopt a people-first job requirement for these deals, as the ACORN successor has proposed.
* THE FINE PRINT: Here's the only document that's not purely political. It's the resolution the City Board will consider Monday on spending of the half-billion-dollars the city hopes to raise by voter approval of a penny worth of sales tax increases in September. More details? Not many. $22 million for the research park and $10 million for the port is about it. Spent how? Where? On who? By who? For whose land? Your guess is as good as mine. How were those figures arrived at? Why is the city paying nearly half of the research park idea? The money must create jobs, the resolution states. Of any particular pay or benefits? For any particular people? Doesn't say. Accountability is promised as a general matter. But Stodola claims the current expenditure on the Chamber's $200,000 subsidy is transparent. It isn't. No reason to believe it will be without more specific requirements.
Please read it all. It may change your mind. I haven't seen much new except the mayor's hurt feelings. I'll stipulate he means well. I repeat again that basic city needs are inarguable. The rest of us want to count the cards on giving out $38 million to bet on the come of economic development from government welfare.
I also want to add this e-mail from a true titan of the Little Rock business community, a stalwart member of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce who doesn't want to be identified because, well, you'll see. For once, he said, we agree. He directs his comments to the research park and Stodola's promise to coordinate with the state on development:
The State is just about the worst judge of a lending opportunity as anyone I could imagine. And I think the same thing about the research park. If it’s so necessary, why doesn’t the private sector do it? I could think of lots of opportunities for economic development that might need that money…..such as an actual company that would move here, with real employees…same thing with the ice cream company. They got enough money to REALLY go broke.