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Diamond dining

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Lots of speculation has been floating around lately about the full-service, year-round restaurant planned for Dickey-Stephens Park, new home of the Arkansas Travelers. We have answers.

Valentine’s Ballpark Restaurant will be a casual Italian place on the third-base side of the ballpark with a full bar and about 20 tables, Assistant General Manager Pete Laven said. It’ll be part of the overall ballpark operations — no separate lease agreement with the city or separate utility bills — and owned by the Travelers organization, not by General Manager Bill Valentine, as some rumors had it. Profits will go to the Travelers, and Valentine isn’t making any extra money off the deal, Laven said.

Restaurants are common in new ballparks around the country, Laven said. Valentine’s will be open during every game and “most likely” Tuesday through Saturday when the Travs are on the road and during the off-season, he said. It won’t be ready for the April 12 opener, however.

Help for Lord’s Ranch

A state-employed consultant reported to legislators last year that Arkansas spent more money on inpatient mental health programs for children than did other states. He suggested that some of this money might be better used for other programs, such as at-home care. So the legislature is now considering legislation to do what? To increase the amount of money the state spends on inpatient mental health programs for children. Funny how these things work out.

In this case, there’s a strong suspicion that Ted Suhl is involved in the working-out. The bills, SB 944 and SB 945 by Sen. Shawn Womack of Mountain Home, are backed by the private providers of the inpatient programs. Suhl, who runs the Lord’s Ranch in Warm Springs (Randolph County), is the best known and most politically active of these providers. His attorney, Bill Trice of Little Rock, appeared before a legislative committee on behalf of SB 944 and 945. Suhl, whose Ranch receives millions of dollars in state payments annually for mental health services, has become a major contributor to Arkansas politicians — $100,000 in 2004 and at least $30,0000 in 2006. He was particularly close to former Gov. Mike Huckabee, but he’s given money to a number of legislators and statewide candidates, including new Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. Beebe seems unswayed to this point — members of the administration have testified against SB 944 and 945, including Jay Bradford, a former legislator who’s now director of mental health services.

Indeed, the only people who support the legislation, other than legislators, are the providers themselves. Advocacy groups such as Arkansas Advocates for Children and Family, which usually lobby for more money for state programs for children, do not support Womack’s legislation and were not consulted in the drafting of it. Nor were the families of children who are in the mental health system. Nor were state agencies. The providers say they should have more money. Opponents object to mandating an increase in the amount of state money going to the inpatient providers, after a consultant recommended just the opposite. More importantly, they say language in the two bills would make it difficult to reform the system.

As of this writing, the legislation has been approved by the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee and is headed for the Senate floor. We’ll match up contributions with votes when the time comes.

Drink up

Governor’s Mansion Administrator Ron Maxwell confirmed that a tip to the Insider is true: The mansion will be using two portable bars.

The Beebe administration has brought booze back to the mansion after a 10-year drought imposed by Gov. Mike Huckabee. The bars will be used to serve guests at outdoor functions and in the Grand Hall, Maxwell said, and they will transport not only alcohol but non-alcoholic beverages as well.

Maxwell said the bars will be built by the mansion’s inmate staff. He did not what it would cost, but it will be paid out of the mansion’s expense account.

Judicial candidates

Cathleen Compton, of the Dudley and Compton firm, is telling local lawyers that she’ll be running for the juvenile judgeship that Rita Gruber plans to vacate next year. Gruber is planning to challenge Court of Appeals Judge Wendell Griffen, undoubtedly hoping to capitalize on the state Judicial Discipline Commission’s continuing ire at Griffen for presuming to believe he has a First Amendment right to speak about poverty, social justice, the law and response to natural disaster. Melinda Gilbert is also planning to seek the juvenile judgeship, as we mentioned previously. Compton’s election would double up her family’s presence on the bench. Her husband is federal Judge Bill Wilson.

On another note, to address some confusion in the legal community: Circuit Judge Collins Kilgore, who won a certain amount of appreciation, along with legislative ire, for the decision in the Lake View school case, later upheld on appeal, will be seeking another term in 2008. He is not retiring.

Talk bubbles about a potential challenge to another incumbent circuit judge, but it until it firms up, we’ll let him rest in peace.

News at Nu?

He should know, right? Paul Novicky, co-owner and chef at Nu Cuisine Lounge, responded to rumors that the restaurant might have a new executive chef:

“I don’t know if that’s relevant right now. What we’re doing is taking care of business, doing parties, wine dinners, chef dinners. Other that than, there’s nothing official. Who’s to say anything is going to happen?” Co-owner Rebekah Hardin likewise said it was business as usual.

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