Columns » Max Brantley

Caution: government at work

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I have several government targets this week:

PRISON MANAGEMENT: The state of Arkansas has already been turned into an illicit drug junkie to obtain chemicals to kill death row inmates. Now, to cope with an outbreak of violence in prison units (filled to overflowing thanks in part to ill-considered parole policies), it is going to increase the number of solitary confinement cells. Arkansas again is on the wrong side of a national trend. Other states are using fewer punitive isolations cells because of the mental damage they cause. More guards, higher pay, better parole procedures, realistic sentencing instead? Not in Arkansas.

MAYOR'S RACE, YO: Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, facing re-election opponents next year, had an over-the-top reaction to a scheduled rap show at the Metroplex by Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo. Police Chief Kenton Buckner was aware that there'd been violence at two club shows at which Mr. Yo performed and that Mr. Yo's own van had once been shot up in New Jersey. Buckner talked with the promoter, who agreed to hire 15 Little Rock officers as security, along with a private staff of 30. Buckner apparently also had other plans to use additional uniformed and nonuniformed officers. He felt he could provide adequate security and indicated he was reluctant to get into the business of deciding who can and cannot play club dates in Little Rock.

Not Mayor Stodola or a number of other members of the City Board. They flipped their collective lid and were on the brink of an emergency City Board meeting to authorize a legal attempt to shut the concert down when the promoter canceled it. The City Board and mayor need to stay out of day-to-day management of the police department, for one thing. For another, they shouldn't be making calls on acceptability of entertainment. If the police chief isn't capable of deciding whether he can adequately secure events in the city, Little Rock has a problem. Stodola defends his decision. Shutting down a rap show is a winner in a certain segments of the population. Not so with many others, including mayoral opponent Frank Scott Jr. and state Rep. Charles Blake, both of whom happen to be black. When a white politician says something isn't about race ... it's about race.

PORK BARRELING: Mike Wilson's lawsuit put a legal stop to a legislative money-laundering scheme in which state money was run through regional planning agencies and then spent as legislators directed. It was an end-run around earlier Wilson victories relying on the state Constitution's bar on state spending on purely local projects.

The planning agency that was focus of the suit, the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, still sits on about $1 million it had allocated as legislators requested, but not yet spent. It likely is to be returned to the state treasury. The unpaid projects illustrate the problem Wilson sought to correct:

A warning siren for Little Italy; sidewalk work and a generator for the animal shelter in Cabot; restrooms for a sports complex in Ward; improvements to the community center in Guy; renovations to emergency operations centers in Conway and Little Rock; a marketing study for the Saline County fairgrounds; water safety classes for disabled people in North Little Rock; a beautification project for private Shorter College; sending kids to a Salvation Army summer camp in Oklahoma; a ballfield for College Station; body cameras for Conway police; police department renovations in England; a pavilion for Two Rivers Park in Pulaski County.

The list also included $100,000 for an affiliate of the wealthy and powerful Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the lobby for the state's biggest businesses. About half has been paid out. This, arguably, had a statewide purpose – paying for staff and a tour of the state to encourage people to train for skilled trades with manpower shortages, such as plumbing. But ... the chamber is a lobby with enough money to get the legislature to cut workers comp and unemployment benefits and to support constitutional changes that make it hard to sue for injuries and easier to get taxpayer-financed corporate welfare for businesses. Can't they pay for their own job recruitment effort?

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