An early open line | Arkansas Blog

An early open line

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I'm checking out early to work on a project. The line is open. Stuff to add:

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* FIRST LADY TO VISIT LRAFB: First Lady Michelle Obama will jet next Thursday into Little Rock Air Force Base as part of a three-day swing about her Let's Move healthy eating program. She'll visit base dining facilities and talk to personnel about what the Air Force is doing.

* REPUBLICANS RIP TREASURER SHOFFNER ON MISSED DEALDINE: I mentioned this earlier in the day and now the Arkansas Republican Party is making hay about a paperwork screwup that could cost 14 Arkansas counties a total of $1.1 million in federal support for road and other projects. It's kind of complicated. As the Association of Arkansas Counties tells it, the legislature in 2011 transferred authority for disbursing of federal turnback on Forest Service timber sales from the state Education Department to State Treasurer Martha Shoffner's office. Shoffner got a letter notifying her of the change, but the assumption appears to have been that a veteran Education Department employee would continue handling the paperwork as she always had. That employee retired. The paperwork wasn't filed by the Sept. 30 deadline. When the Forest Service called Shoffner's office about the missing documents, Shoffner's office got on it and filed the papers 20 days late, on Oct. 20. The state and the congressional delegation are now appealing denial of the money, which would have been distributed about this time of the year. The state is arguing that the state substantially complied. Counties' plans for spending the money had been drawn up and reviewed by federal officials, for example. A meeting a few days ago went well, county officials said. Now, they are waiting word. Meanwhile, Republicans have another example of a state foulup by a Democratic officeholder to add to the Forestry Commission. They want Shoffner to admit her "gross mismanagement." Perfectly fair. I just wish they'd issued the news release yesterday, when Visa, the credit card company, was using Shoffner as a pinup for its PR gimmick to market the credit card peddler's supposed good citizenship through a video game distributed to high schools. The immediate impact of the problem is delay of planned work, except in one case. Montgomery County may have to lay off three workers already employed for upkeep of rural parks. Here's a full rundown from the Association of Arkansas Counties. Stone County managed to get its paperwork in on time. Said AAC's Jeff Sikes: "The county treasurer had a note on her calendar or a tickler in her calendar that there was something that needed to be filed in September. When she didn't receive anything she started calling and, eventually, was directed to a Forest Service website where she downloaded the election form. She mailed the form in herself." See jump for Shoffner's response

* NEW MISSION FOR FT. SMITH FIGHTER WING: A new mission has been won for the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith, which had been in danger of being cut. It will lose 20 A-10 aircraft, but will begin responsibility for a remotely piloted mission. That IS the future, isn't it?

* HEADSTART: Stephens Media has been following the nitty gritty, but it looks like the Head Start operator in Russellville — CDI — that ran into financial troubles is going to be mostly replac3ed by another operator. The new operator will take over federally funded slots, but some confusion remains about whether the troubled operator will get to stay in place and receive money provided through the Arkansas ABC program (which makes no sense in terms of efficiency or anything else). A statement from Arkansas DHS:

The federal government has hired CDI out of Denver to take over the HeadStart slots relinquished by CDI Russellville. Both the Headstart and ABC slots that CDI Russellville has will remain at the same facilities in the same counties so that there will be no disruption of service to the children. DHS will increase its monitoring of the programs. Historically, the CDI Russellville programs have been very high quality with few problems. DHS has no indication that any state funds were misspent. (ABC funds are reimbursed, meaning we pay for services already rendered.) Management from CDI out of Denver will be here on Monday to begin the transition of the Headstart program, but that contractor doesn’t officially take over until Feb. 10. In the meantime, the facilities continue to be open and the children continue to receive services.

* CARE ABOUT VETERANS?: I'm hearing that a stout grassroots response is underway to the city's crazy emergency ordinance to remove by-right zoning approval for everything from churches to liquor stores with specific emphasis in between on agencies that serve people in need of mental health services, such as the VA vet center proposed for 10th and Main. The ordinance is aimed at giving the City Board a tool to kill the vets center. Great question posed by a reader:

I notice a psychologist's office downtown on Cumberland Street. Will all psychologists and psychiatrists have to apply for a conditional use permit in the future? Will the psychiatric floors of St. Vincent and Baptist hospital have to apply for permits if they seek new facilities. What about the new Psychiatric Research Institute at UAMS. Would the new Wolfe Street center for Alcoholics Anonymous (on Louisiana, behind the proposed vet center Main Street) have been approved under this ordinance? The list goes on.

This ordinance hasn't been thought through, beyond the kneejerk effort by Mayor Mark Stodola and U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin to stop at nothing to prevent establishment of an adequate, carefully conceived facility for people who fight our wars. The ordinance would add a conditional use permit to hurdles the vets center must jump. Stodola believes he has the votes to kill it. If enough people call city directors, that vote count could change.

Here's how to reach your city directors.

RESPONSE FROM MARTHA SHOFFNER TO FEDERAL FUNDS ISSUE

The State Treasury did not receive any notification of the election process in 2011 from the U.S. Forest Service. The election forms have historically been submitted by the Department of Education, even for the previous two years when the State Treasury made the distribution of the funds, pursuant to Act 1476 of 2009. It was never communicated to the State Treasury that they were not contacting the counties and submitting the report for the September 30, 2011 deadline. The State Treasury was notified by the U. S. Forest Service by telephone in October that the report had not been submitted and would be accepted at that time. Treasury staff immediately contacted the counties for their election and submitted the report by electronic mail within two days. It was not until two weeks ago that the State Treasury learned the report was not accepted. We have been working with the Association of Arkansas Counties and Arkansas Congressional staff in D.C. in hopes that the Forest Service will reverse their decision.

Going forward, the State Treasury will accept responsibility for the county election report and will put policies and procedures in place for the process. Our office will monitor whether or not the program will be re-authorized for 2012 and beyond. Once that decision has been made at the national level, we will move forward with these plans and will make sure the U. S. Forest Service has the appropriate contact information for State Treasury staff.

One problem with office's excuse. This July letter, addressed to the treasurer from the Forest Service, sure looks like notice to me. Spokesman Debbie Rogers claims this letter was never received by Shoffner's office.

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