The City Board of Directors tonight voted to approve Director Dean Kumpuris' ordinance (initially a resolution) directing the Little Rock Technology Park Authority to give further study to alternate locations for the tech park, but turned back Director Ken Richardson's ordinance that would have prohibited the use of city tax dollars to exercise eminent domain to take residential property, voting to defer action on it for six months.
Though Authority board member Dr. Mary Good told the board she didn't think Kumpuris' ordinance was necessary because the board already plans to consider locations other than the three neighborhoods it has already identified, Kumpuris disagreed, adding he thought the Authority's requirement that the tech park site be within five minutes of partner institutions UAMS and UALR was "a bunch of malarky," because "once you're in your car, you're in your car" and such close proximity isn't required.
The votes came after the board heard from several speakers supporting Richardson's ordinance, including Ashley Bachelder, a student at UAMS College of Public Health who reported on a class study that found distrust among residents of the areas currently under consideration by the board — all south of I-630 — of the Authority, a point that Good later expressed surprise at. Good told the board that the Authority was feeling like the "Gang of Three" and she still believed the neighborhoods (minus a 100 residences or so) would benefit from the park. State Sen. Joyce Elliott told the board that the Authority's decision to look south of I-630 for the park amounted to "pulling off the scab" from the injury done to the neighborhood by the construction of the interstate, and that approving Richardson's proposal would "go a long way toward healing" that injury. Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission member Akasha Hull said building in any of the three proposed areas would hurt minority residents and asked that the Authority board meetings be open and conducted in a "non-intimidating" way. Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin told the city directors he was like the Temptations and "not too proud to beg" for them to pass Richardson's ordinance.
Griffin also wondered why there was no staff recommendation on Richardson's ordinance, a question Richardson put to City Manager Bruce Moore. Moore responded that he believes the authority "got off on the wrong foot" in its rush to site the park on one of three residential neighborhoods. But, he said, the city needed to exercise its right of eminent domain to complete the acquisition of land for the Clinton Presidential Library and if staff had to make a recommendation, it would be for deferral. Richardson said he was amazed at director Doris Wright's motion to defer consideration of his ordinance given widespread public opposition to the Authority's ability to use eminent domain expressed to board members.
Earlier, Richardson won swift approval of his resolution to ask the state legislature to amend the Arkansas Code to require entities with the power of eminent domain to submit statements of financial interest. The act creating the Little Rock Technology Park Authority does not have that language; authority members volunteered their financial information after pressure from park partner UAMS.