by Max Brantley
The line is open. Final notes:
* A FADED ROSE FROM DAYS GONE BY: The Pryor Center's daily Twitter feed of historic Arkansas photos hit a chord with me today. It was taken in 1975. The gal shown was 16. She was going places. I saw her give an impromptu performance in Tracks Inn, the dry-aged prime rib and man-sized drink emporium in Union Station's old baggage room that had a great run in my younger, wilder days. Durango probably picked up the tab for this singer's local handler. Remember her?
* JUDICIAL CANDIDATES: By the deadline yesterday, 15 people had filed by petition as candidates for state court judgeshps. See them at the link. This isn't the end of judicial filing (and the secretary of state still has to check these signatures). Candidates may forego petitions and pay a filing fee — a sliding scale percentage of the salary — to qualify for the non-partisan judicial elections held on the same day in May as party prmaries. The deadline for fee filing is March 1. No surprises among the petition filers, with contested races already well known.
* THINGS GO BETTER WITH KOCH: Sure interesting to see how Teresa Crossland Oelke's clan has turned out in support of 4th District Republican congressional candidate Tom Cotton. T. Oelke is the head of the Koch Bros.-funded Americans for Prosperity lobbying operation in Arkansas (anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-union, pro-school voucher). Oelke, her husband and various Crossland kin in Missouri, Texas, Kansas and Arkansas employed by the family construction empire (some of which have benefitted from Obama stimulus projects even as T. Oelke rails against the socialist president) have sent $16,875 to Cotton. So far.
* FATAL WRECK: Fox 16 reports a two people have died in a wreck at University and Interstate 30. An empty school bus was among five vehicles involved. A Facebook friend posted the photo. Fox 16 indicates street racing may have been a contributing factor.
* BANK FRAUD PLEA: Kelly Harbert, 46, a former One Bank vice president, pleaded guilty to three counts today — money laundering, bank fraud and Social Security fraud — and saw 19 others dismissed in a plea deal, the U.S. attorney's office said. She used information from other customers to obtain about $550,000 in unsecured loans from several banks to prop up her personal deficit spending. Sentencing will be later.
* ARREST IN DISCOVERY SLAYING: Police have arrested the suspect they'd earlier identified in the slaying of Richard Ratley on Christmas Eve outside the Discovery nightclub. Report from Channel 4.
* TEACHER VALUE: She's not the first to point out obvious holes, but Diane Ravitch deconstructs a study in New York, trumpeted by the New York Times, about the value teachers add to students. Obvious problems in identifying which teachers added which values. But the best part is Ravitch's breakdown of the headline "$266,000 increase in earnings for a single classroom." Note: You're talking about 26 kids over 40 years of work. That equals about $250 a year per student, Ravitch notes. Can they really cut standardized test scores that fine to rate teachers, particularly those outside the Grade 3-8 assessment of math and reading where measurements get far more subjective?
* MARKET VALUE: I saw a note today about a sharp rise in Walmart's stock price this year, to $61.35 today. A nice score if you bought a bunch below $50 a few months ago. It's a reminder of the vagaries of market timing, however. Even annual performance of stocks and mutual funds doesn't necessarily mean much if you didn't own on Day 1 and Day 365. Bought low, sold high, in other words. Take Walmart: if you're one of the legion of buy-and-hold believers in Arkansas who happily rode the Walmart stock split rocket and still hang on, the last decade hasn't been supercharged. It hasn't even lifted off. Walmart still has to rise $2.64 before it attains the price it reached almost 10 years ago — $63.94 on March 1, 2002. Never mind the $70.25 it hit Dec. 1, 1999. The company has paid a dividend steadily all those years, which offsets the loss in share value. Lately, the dividend rate has made the stock very attractive to the market, given low interest rates.
* ELECTIONS SET: The Pulaski County Election Commission officially set two special elections today — Feb. 14 for the North Little Rock School District vote on a 7.4 mill tax increase and March 13 on the Central Arkansas Library System vote in Little Rock on reduction of a 1-mill tax to .9-mill, but an extension of the millage.
* COURT ASSISTANTS: I got a letter today from a trial court assistant in Saline County. She's one of 120 people in the state who face month-to-month possibility of a furlough because the special court revenue fund that pays their salary has fallen short. Gov. Mike Beebe wants the court system to fix the problem somehow. I have a conflict on this issue because my wife is a judge and she employs an assistant who handles docket scheduling, phones, correspondence and other work. I think the letter raises a fair question, though. Why is one small group of state employees not simply part of the overall operation of state government? (You could say the same, come to think of it, about the Forestry Commission.) Letter follows:
I’m writing to you, my representatives, to ask that SOMEONE do SOMETHING about the mess that the Trial Court Assistants are in. As I understand it, the 120 of us are being held hostage in this standoff between the Governor and the Judicial Counsel, and no one seems to care. Each month, we have to worry about whether or not we’re going to get paid. Why?
This is ridiculous, frankly. The easiest solution, to pull our salaries completely out of this fund and pay us through the General Fund like other state employees, or even have a backup system in place like the court reports have, apparently isn’t even an option because the Governor wants to “hold the judges’ feet to the fire” to see that fines are paid. What no one seems to understand, or at least hasn’t reported, the fines that are not being paid are not even under the jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts. When a person has fines on a felony, those fines are paid through the Department of Probation and Parole. The majority of these fines that are delinquent are due at the District Court level, over which, again, the Circuit Courts have no jurisdiction. So just what does the Governor expect the Circuit Judges to do? And why are 120 Trial Court Assistants being punished?
Please do something as quickly as possible in when the legislature convenes in February. I know we’re a small constituency, but this is a big issue. Our livelihoods are at stake.
Trial Court Assistant
Saline County Circuit Court
200 N. Main