13 foster homes closed
The state has “designated for closure” 13 foster homes because of suspected abuse or neglect over the last two weeks, Department of Human Services spokesperson Julie Munsell confirmed Tuesday. All foster and biological children have been removed from the homes during the agency's investigation, she said.
Munsell attributed the number to an increase in reporting from the field sparked by the department's “campaign of accountability,” which she said had been a “huge theme for us for the last three or four months.” DHS Division of Children and Family Services has been under the gun since revelations that four children died in foster care over the summer and other incidents of abuse.
The State Police hotline, which came under fire at a September hearing for neglecting to pass on to DCFS information that didn't meet a legal definition of maltreatment but may have constituted a licensing violation, now passes screened-out calls on to DCFS, Munsell said.
Munsell said she was checking the division's monthly reports for a comparison, but said the two-week number did seem high, though a small percentage of the 1,100 foster homes licensed in Arkansas.
Of the 13 homes, eight were headed by married couples. The rest were single women. One of the 13 was self-reported, by someone living in the home where the alleged abuse or neglect occurred.
The Democratic Party of Arkansas suspects political espionage regarding a political advertisement they submitted to Conway Corporation (a publicly owned utility and cable services operator in Conway) in support of Joe White, the Democratic challenger to Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway.
According to the party, the ad described Sen. Baker's relationship to an independent group that attacked gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe and other Democratic candidates in the 2004 election.
The advertisement began running on the Conway cable system on Friday, Oct. 24. However, according to the Democratic Party, residents of Faulkner County began receiving robo-calls from Baker denouncing the ad Thursday evening.
How'd that happen?
“That is a wonderful question,” says Benton Smith, legal counsel for the DPA.
“Obviously the DPA did not give it to him. We don't know exactly what happened, but certainly it's apparent that Sen. Baker has used his authority to get this information from someone. It's apparent that he got it 10 to 12 hours before it was ever aired, and has since started the calls discussing the specific content of my client's ad.”
Sen. Baker would not return our calls. For years, Conway Corp. broadcast a cable TV program hosted by Senator Baker.
Richard Arnold, CEO of Conway Corp., initially issued a prepared statement: “We assure you that Conway Corporation has acted in compliance with law and regulation in cable-casting the Democratic Party of Arkansas's ad.”
However, that did little to explain how Baker saw it before it aired. When pressed, Arnold issued another statement saying Baker's campaign had asked whether or not Conway Corp. had received a new ad, which they affirmed. Baker then asked to see the ad and was told he could if it were determined available under the Arkansas FOIA. “No such request was made and to our knowledge no Conway Corp. employee provided Senator Baker a copy of the ad or an opportunity to view the ad,” Arnold says.
PACing up the dough
Mike Huckabee parlayed his presidential run into a Fox News talk show and a high public profile that has won him speaking engagements around the country. He's also managed to staff up the Huck PAC, which, according to its website, was formed “to assist Republicans running for office nationwide.”
Evidence of PAC work in support of other candidates includes plugs on the Huck PAC website and a smattering of campaign contributions — about $14,000 to 11 recipients in the quarter ending Sept. 30. But $4,500 of that went to Iowa Family PAC, a conservative religious force in Iowa, where Huckabee won last year's Republican caucus.
PAC records show reimbursements for nationwide travel, but they don't indicate the purpose of the trips. The Huck PAC isn't short on staffing. Records show five people on payroll during the quarter, at pay ranging from $2,900 to $4,500 a month. Top employee is Huckabee's daughter, Sarah.
The PAC took in more than $205,000 in the third quarter. The biggest individual giver was James Davison, a Ruston, La., trucking firm owner who's given the PAC $7,500 in 2008.
It hasn't drawn much attention but the campaign continues to get Fayetteville voters to approve an initiative Nov. 4 that would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana low priority for police and prosecutors. At www.sensiblefayetteville.com you can read all about the effort, plus view a video of a cross-section of city residents — a doctor, engineer, students, a former mayor, etc. — who endorse the idea.
According to numbers compiled by the group, Fayetteville has arrested, on average, one adult a day for the last 10 years on marijuana charges, generally just possession. Using national figures, the group figures the cost of marijuana busts in Fayetteville is more than $1 million a year.