by Max Brantley
Leslie Peacock wrote yesterday about a legal opinion that said the new board governing the city technology park authority wasn't mentioned in the older state ethics law and thus members weren't required to file financial disclosure statements. Of course they should. Of course the law should be changed What follows is a letter on the point from a UALR faculty member to Chancellor Joel Anderson making the case well. Anderson appointed
one two members of the board and the university has been a partner in the beginnings of the project to build office buildings to lure technology enterprises.
Dear Chancellor Anderson:
At UALR, faculty members have been informed that department chairs and above are now required to sign financial disclosure statements and that all faculty members must sign conflict of interest statements. The department chair of a small academic department might control a $30,000 annual budget, with oversight by a dean. The financial disclosure statements must be submitted to the Arkansas Secretary of State, which publishes them on the web. You can search for them here.
In contrast, the board members of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority control at least $22,000,000 of public funds and have the power to use eminent domain to take people's homes, but are, apparently, not required to disclose their financial interests or reveal actual or possible conflicts of interest. So far, the board members have refused to make financial disclosures, claiming that legal counsel determined that financial disclosure was not legally required. Nothing, however, prevents the board members from voluntarily releasing financial disclosure statements and conflict of interest statements.
I note that, although Dr. Mary L. Good, who chairs the board of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, was a dean at UALR for more than a decade, and is now a "Special Advisor to the Chancellor," her financial disclosure is not available on the website of the Arkansas Secretary of State. An Arkansas Times news article about Dr. Good and the Little Rock Technology Park Authority is available here.
I urge you to require that all UALR employees and others you appoint to decision-making roles with the Little Rock Technology Park Authority submit, at the minimum, the same financial disclosure statements and conflict of interest statements that are required of UALR administrators, department chairs. and faculty members. Furthermore, since UALR is one of the driving forces behind the Little Rock Technology Park, I urge you to recommend that all board members of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority make such disclosures.
It is my opinion that UALR should go out of its way to be nice to its neighbors, who are at risk of losing their homes to the Little Rock Technology Park Authority. If the bare minimum legal requirements are insufficient to earn the trust of the community, then perhaps more should be done, voluntarily, to reassure people. Voluntary financial and conflict of interest disclosures might build at least a little bit of good will with the neighborhoods on which a bull-eye has been placed.
For years, UALR has claimed to be a metropolitan university, and it has urged its employees to be actively involved in the community. It's time for UALR to be a good neighbor and to offer some reassurances that the board members of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority are not in a position to personally profit from the use of eminent domain. Disclosure is simply the right thing to do.
An even more significant step would be to urge the Little Rock Technology Park Authority to consider other locations for the Technology Park. Why is eminent domain being considered for residential areas, but not for commercial areas, such as University Avenue, between I-630 and UALR? Much of that corridor is a sea of strip malls that are not exactly thriving financially. The corridor is in between UALR and UAMS and it also has easy access from I-630. Building the Technology Park there would not uproot anyone from their home.
Nickolas S. Jovanovic
UALR Faculty Senator
Nickolas S. Jovanovic, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE | Program Coordinator and Associate Professor
Construction Engineering Program | Department of Construction Management