Columns » Max Brantley

Corporate dominance

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Updates follow on a couple of topics. Though unrelated in the specific, both are directly related to corporate dominance of the people's government.

• LITTLE ROCK TECHNOLOGY PARK AUTHORITY: This is a public agency set up by a law written by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and controlled by business interests. It even has a seat specifically designated for the chamber. The chamber handles the group's administrative tasks and paperwork. The authority will have at least $22 million worth of city taxpayer money for a building that it hopes will be a magnet for private research firms.

A few weeks ago, the authority chose an engineering firm to oversee the preliminary work that likely will mean the uprooting of hundreds of people from their homes on the south side of Interstate 630 across from UAMS. The firm was chosen without a formal public vote, as the state law requires for legal actions. Only two members of the 7-member board were present. A third was on the phone. It was announced that the board had chosen a firm based on scores from ballots mailed to board members and scored before the meeting. The public was told that the firm with the highest score got the job.

Our reporter, Leslie Newell Peacock, asked to see the ballots recently. She was told they were destroyed, on advice of legal counsel. The city attorney didn't provide the advice on that decision; a private law firm did. Working for whom? Under what sort of arrangement? Was there a vote on that? It was not the same law firm, but it defended secrecy as another firm did in advising the Chamber of Commerce it didn't have to report specific expenditures on the city sales tax campaign the chamber ran to raise the $22 million for the Technology Park Authority. Which the chamber controls. Which just hired an engineering firm without a formal public vote. Which then destroyed the record of how that firm was ranked. Follow the dots.

Peacock will be writing more on the evolution of the technology park in coming weeks. This much seems clear: The authority will never deserve public confidence as long as a private business organization (subsidized by tax money with no accountability on how that subsidy is spent) is destroying public records and preventing full transparency on decisions that affect hundreds of lives.

• REGNAT POPULUS 2012: The ad hoc group to tighten Arkansas ethics law has submitted its proposed ballot initiative for review by the attorney general. Let's hope it gets expeditious approval so signature gathering may begin.

It has been boiled down to three simple parts: 1) It would have Arkansas law mirror federal law on campaign contributions — only from individuals or PACs, but none from corporations, partnerships or other enterprises, including unions; 2) legislators, beginning with those elected this year, would have to wait two years, not just one, after leaving office to become a lobbyist, 3) gifts to public officials, including food, drink and travel, would be prohibited. Government would operate like Walmart. Decision-makers could not take so much as a cup of coffee from someone trying to influence them.

This measure passes if it makes the ballot. Can a grassroots group without money get the 63,000 signatures it needs? With help, maybe. Check thepeoplerule2012.com.

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