The Little Rock Technical Park Authority board of directors today had exchanges with a still-unsettled group of residents at its monthly meeting, at which the board voted to hire a consultant to advise them on the location of the proposed $50 million park.
At the conclusion of the meeting, University District Development Corp. board member Joe Busby, a longtime activist for the Oak Forest and Fair Park neighborhoods, asked the board to sign a “social contract” (on the jump) with the people whose property could be taken by eminent domain by the Authority. The contract asks the board to treat people uniformly and equitably in acquisition; ensure relocation assistance is provided to all displaced persons; ensure that no one is displaced without making sure that “decent, safe and sanitary” housing is available within their financial means; be open to the public and make financial disclosures; to encourage acquisition without coercion and to make public all factors that have gone into the process of site selection before taking any action to acquire properties. Board chair Mary Good said she thought it was an “extraordinarily nice piece of work” and that the board would consider it.
Afterward, State Sen. Joyce Elliott told a small group that she intends to amend the state's eminent domain legislation to require a people impact study and provide counsel for property owners. She noted that the Authority board will use tax dollars in their negotiations with land owners and that land owners should get some legal help from those dollars as well.
Elliott had earlier pressed the board on a point first raised by board member C.J. Duvall during the board’s consideration of hiring consultant Charlie Dilks. If more consultation was needed, he said, he thought it should include some demographics. “I think it’s important that we know who owns the property” in the three areas under consideration for the park location, Duvall said. “Are they speculators? From out of town? Individuals? … I’d like to understand how many children live there,” and what improvements people may have made to properties in the areas under consideration. Startlingly, his board colleague Good said she thought that information should be gathered after a site is selected, prompting Elliott to speak from the audience, saying the consultant’s report would not be complete without containing information on the impact the choice would have on residents.
Board member Dickson Flake, whose anxiety to spend public dollars wisely flares up when compensation for homes or requests for further study comes up, told Elliott it might not be possible to study the demographics of all the areas under consideration because of cost constraints. “I have great respect for public dollars,” Elliott told Flake, “but that doesn’t supersede what will happen to real people.” Elliott then asked Good what the point would be to do an impact study after the site has been selected, and Good, who often seems to be purposely dense in her response to questions, gave a lengthy (and non-responsive) explanation on the role of the civil engineers in narrowing down a site. Pressed on the point, however, Good then said if the impact on people was deemed to be too severe on the recommended site, the board could reject that choice and move to a second site and a second demographic study (apparently forgetting Flake’s desire to be a good “steward” of the tax dollars going into the project).
Told by Forest Hills resident Robert Webb that it was just that kind of back-filling that kills public trust in the board, Good admonished him, “You’re not listening carefully,” a response that made another member of the audience ask Good if she could be “more sensitive” to questioners. “Nobody talks to us like you,” Phyllis Johnson told the chair. “I’m just trying to give you the facts,” Good replied. “It’s how you say it,” the woman explained.
The board unanimously voted to hire Charlie Dilks of Dilks Consulting to make two trips to Little Rock to review the study being done by civil engineers Crafton Tull and give feedback to the board, limiting spending on the consulting to $10,000.
Crafton Tull will present preliminary findings at the board’s next meeting, set for May 16, tentatively at UALR’s Bailey Center.
Busby's proposed social contract to be signed by the Authority board which he offered to its members today:
Technology Park Authority Social Contract
The Technology Park Authority realizes that our actions will have a huge impact with individuals, families, property owners, neighborhoods, communities and our city. Our guiding principle is to improve our city through the development of a Technology Park for Little Rock. Therefore we the City of Little Rock Technology Park Authority, sets forth the following as our Social Contract to the city and its citizens.
To provide uniform, fair and equitable treatment of persons whose real property is acquired or who are displaced in connection with the Technology Park Authority.
To ensure relocation assistance is provided to all displaced persons to lessen the emotional and financial impact of displacement.
To ensure that no individual or family is displaced unless decent, safe, and sanitary housing is available within the displaced person's financial means.
To be open to the public in all matters concerning the Technology Park Authority; including the requirement of a Financial Disclosure by every Board Member.
To encourage and expedite acquisition by agreement and without coercion.
To publicly share the Technology Park Authority’s logic, criteria, considered factors, matrixes and any other decision making elements in the process of site selection, prior to any actions.
The Technology Park Authority adopts this Social Contract, as part of its bylaws, to be implemented by the Authority in all of its actions, and those by its employees, contractors and/or volunteers
Adopted _________________ this day of __________________, 2012.
Dr. Mary L. Good State Senator Bob Johnson
Dr. Michael Douglas Jay Chesshir
L. Dickson Flake Ed Drilling
C. J. Duvall