Political allies in state agency expansion on Capitol Avenue | Arkansas Blog

Political allies in state agency expansion on Capitol Avenue

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EXPANSION PLANNED: Political allies in lease of building by state.
  • EXPANSION PLANNED: Political allies in lease of building by state.

County courthouse records reflect that a new $6.2 million mortgage was taken out this month for the Capitol Avenue office building shown above, with state lease payments pledged to the lender, Delta Trust, by the owner Capitol Place LLC. It plans to expand the building for a still bigger lease by the state.

LANDLORD/TENANT: Richard Mays (left) and Bill Walker.
  • LANDLORD/TENANT: Richard Mays (left) and Bill Walker.
A key figure in the ownership of the building, Little Rock lawyer Richard Mays, happens to be an old political ally of the head of the state agency occupying the building, the Department of Career Education, directed by former Sen. Bill Walker.

The building at 525 W. Capitol, the former headquarters of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, was purchased by Capitol LLC in December 2009 for $3.2 million. The Baptist group left the building vacant when it moved to a new building in western Little Rock. Several months later, the Arkansas Department of Career Education moved a portion of its Rehabilitation Services Division into the new building. The offices moved from a building on Brookwood Drive in Riverdale. Now, Career Education proposes to move the rest of division offices, currently in Corporate Hill in western Little Rock, to the expanded building on Capitol Avenue.

Anne Laidlaw, head of the Arkansas Building Authority, which oversees state building ownership and rentals, promised me to compile lease costs on the old buildings and the new one for comparisons. She said it was part of a Walker plan to consolidate division offices in one place. His own departmental office is at 3 Capitol Mall. Those figures hadn't arrived by state closing time.

I haven't been able to get Walker yet to explain his reason for consolidation of offices and how he happened to choose this building as the place for his agency to move.

A 2007 state law made LLC ownership confidential, so the owners of Capitol Place aren't known. It's registered at 415 Main, Mays' law office, but recent financial documents list a mailing address at 400 W. Capitol, Suite 1200, the address of Colliers International, a real estate firm. Mays reports more than $1,000 in income from the LLC in his state financial disclosure statement as a state political appointee. The form says Capitol Place is a name under which he does business.

Walker and Mays, also a former legislator, have long been political allies, beginning as Bill Clinton supporters. They have proved adaptable. After Jim Guy Tucker resigned as governor, both Walker and Mays aligned themselves with the Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and helped him make inroads among black voters in Arkansas. Huckabee appointed Mays to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Banking Board and the Arkansas Claims Commission (a paying job in which he remains co-chair). Huckabee appointed Bill Walker to a paying job on the state Parole Board.

When Huckabee's time was up, Mays and Walker went back to working for a Democratic candidate, Mike Beebe, and were among his most prominent black supporters, a voter bloc that had not particularly been a strength for Beebe previously. Walker was an early Beebe appointee to head Career Education. Mays' son, Richard Mays Jr., got a Beebe appointment to a paid job on the state Parole Board.

Walker and Mays weren't in their offices Thursday. I left messages for both and also wrote Mays an e-mail.

I asked Gov. Beebe's office about state dealings between two of his supporters. Spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor was aware that a new lease was being proposed. "We were made aware of the potential lease and at the time the governor's instruction was that it go through the same vetting process state Building Services goes through with any other. That was the last involvement we had on the matter."

UPDATE: I think other cheaper offices have been moved into the high-dollar new quarters. A full analysis will be interesting.

More when I have it.

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