Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen — speaking as a neighborhood pastor, not a judge — has sent me a statement he said he read last night to the Little Rock Board of Directors opposing spending of sales tax money on condemnation of residential property to builld the Little Rock Technology Park to attract private business. He said the board should pass an ordinance specifying no public money could be used to take private residences.
I have done no research myself — and an infamous ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court has given broad power to governments for use of eminent domain even for projects that will include private components — but I can add that Griffen's statement contributes to growing interest in the neighborhood about raising a legal challenge to any effort to condemnn private property for another private use.
The Little Rock Technology Park Authority — a public agency but functionally a tax-financed creature devised by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which continues to run the administration of this "public" body —- is meeting today and may give a better indication of which of three sites between UAMS and UALR it favors for a 30-acre office building development. Dozens of homes could be affected. UALR and UAMS chancellors will speak to the board today about treating residents with respect, though not to discourage use of eminent domain.
Documents I received this week under FOI show both campuses have heard bitter complaints from residents about the plan and, particularly, about comments at an Authority meeting that neighborhood impact would be considered AFTER the site was chosen. I also received documents yesterday that indicated Arkansas Children's Hospital, asked to be a co-sponsor of the project, had declined, though it is providing $125,000 in startup money. Officials at Children's expressed concern about how participation in this might be viewed by the community in the context of its mission of helping sick children and in any future tax support the hospital might need. Indeed.
MAYOR STODOLA, CITY DIRECTORS, MANAGER MOORE, PEOPLE OF LITTLE ROCK:
I am Rev. Wendell Griffen, Pastor of New Millennium Church. Our congregation includes people who live in the Oak Forest, Forest Hill, and Fair Park neighborhoods. Those people purchased homes and are raising families. Some of them have lived in their homes for decades. So I am pleading tonight with you to protect and defend them from being displaced by the Little Rock Technology Park Authority.
Twenty-two million dollars ($22 million) of the revenue generated by the sales tax increase Little Rock voters passed last year is to be given to the Little Rock Technology Park Authority. In the interest of protecting our neighbors, I urge you to promptly pass an ordinance with the following provisions.
1. Prohibiting the disbursement, transfer, authorization, lending, appropriation, or other use of City of Little Rock revenue, personnel, and any other resources for, to, or otherwise on behalf of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority for the direct or indirect purpose of exercising the power of eminent domain on any residential property in Little Rock or within the jurisdiction of the City of Little Rock.
2. Requiring the Little Rock Technology Park Authority to immediately adopt and comply with all financial disclosure, conflict of interest, freedom of information, and open meetings and access to records provisions of Arkansas law.
3. Emphasizing that no city revenues, whether traceable to sales tax revenues or otherwise, may be provided to or expended on behalf of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, whether directly or indirectly, for the purpose of displacing any residents of a residential neighborhood within the City of Little Rock.
Little Rock is a city of neighbors and neighborhoods. You are elected to protect our peaceful enjoyment of the investments we and our neighbors make in our homes and neighborhoods. You have $22 million worth of leverage with the Technology Park Authority. I call on you to use it to protect and defend our neighbors from displacement.
Wendell L. Griffen