by Max Brantley
I mentioned the other day that a response had been slow coming from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce on an FOI request I made for information relative to the Little Rock Technology Park Authority. The chamber controls the public agency administratively (and effectively), a fox-and-henhouse situation given the chamber's demonstrated resistance to public accountability in both tax campaign spending and how it spends its annual $200,000 handout from the city of Little Rock.
Nonetheless, I did get an e-mail response at 5:19 p.m. Thursday from chamber boss Jay Chesshir who said I could inspect documents he had gathered at a "mutually convenient" time. Convenience of the records custodian is not mentioned in the state law on open public documents, by the way.
There was also this in my response from Chesshir:
"In the event you would like copies, please bring a supply of colored post-it notes (not yellow) to mark the documents you want copied. Copies will be 5 cents per page."
A community group seeking documents got a similar bit of advice about post-it notes.
Colored stickies? But not yellow? What's that about? Gary Newton, I should add, happily made the small number of copies I needed without benefit of stickies of any sort, colored or otherwise.
The document request was largely non-productive. A pro forma statement of income and expenditures did reveal something I hadn't noted previously. Pulaski County contributed $50,000 — the single largest contribution — to a startup $150,000 kitty that included $25,000 each from the city of Little Rock, UAMS, UALR and Arkansas Children's Hospital. Note that the entire sum was raised by publicly financed agencies. No private contributions were listed.
County Judge Buddy Villines, who returned my call from a convention in West Palm Beach on "new urbanism," said the county served as conduit for a 2008 grant from the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, headquartered in Lonoke. He said Pulaski applied for money the district had received from state General Improvement Funds. So, state taxpayers, you own a piece of the Tech Park, too. (You might as well call this a direct appropriation to the Little Rock Chamber. The request for money made it clear it was going to their project and the county's application for the money said it was being sought by "Pulaski County on behalf of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.")
Villines said the county had not made a multi-year commitment and didn't have general fund money to continue an annual contribution. "I don't anticipate spending more," he said. "It's a city issue as opposed to a county issue."
The documents I received showed Children's Hospital had requested an invoice for a second-year contribution. I have asked UALR, UAMS and the city of Little Rock about their plans for continuing contributions — on top of the $22 million city taxpayers will provide from the new sales tax.
But never mind all that...
No yellow stickies? I asked Newton. He said I'd have to ask that question of Chesshir, the Authority's official spokesman.
UPDATE: Chesshir informs me the request for a non-yellow stickie was so that, in the event I asked for copies and the chamber had its own yellow stickies attached to documents, I would receive only copies I'd requested. There were, however, no yellow stickies on any of the documents I received.