Columns » Max Brantley

Double-talk

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A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.

AT CITY HALL: A proposal to require energy efficiency testing for new homes built in Little Rock was withdrawn from Little Rock City Board consideration.

City Manager Bruce Moore said more discussion was needed. Do tell. The measure had been delayed several times.

It's pretty simple. These tests are being required in many places, including Fayetteville, because homes without leaky windows, doors and ductwork are more energy efficient. They save money over time. They reduce demand on energy generation (in Arkansas, we are still dependent on polluting coal).

But, the testing and tightening work could add $800 to $2,000 to the cost of a home. The powerful real estate lobby made it clear it doesn't like this. This is the same lobby that has resisted impact fees on new development in Little Rock, thus leaving the city short of the revenue necessary for new services — police, fire, street and other expensive investments — that new sprawl demands.

Mayor Mark Stodola, a beneficiary of the business community in his runs for mayor, is nothing if not sensitive to the real estate lobby. He wouldn't endorse this ordinance.

But, note that the proposal came from the Mayor's Sustainability Council. Yes, it was his own agency's effort to make this a greener city. The news of the backsliding came while Stodola was in Miami for a meeting of the nation's mayors, where many vowed to pick up the ball dropped by Donald Trump when he repudiated U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord.

Was it only three weeks ago that Stodola trumpeted his joining a "mayors climate agreement"? It said, in part:

"We will continue to lead. We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will buy and create more demand for electric cars and trucks. We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice."

That is, unless, Little Rock realtors object.

LITTLE ROCK SCHOOLS: State Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who functions as the Little Rock School Board under state takeover, held an unannounced, unattended "school board" meeting Thursday afternoon to approve $92 million in borrowing through second-lien bonds (not supported by pledged taxes) to raise money for a new Southwest Little Rock high school and some other roofing and HVAC repair.

News leaked out Friday night. I don't object to the idea. I echoed Baker Kurrus during the recently defeated $600 million construction millage extension election in saying that second-lien bonds and budget cuts could sustain the high school and other important work while waiting to see if the charter school explosion supported by Key was going to further decimate enrollment and perhaps even change the geographic shape of the district during the 14-year tax extension. Superintendent Mike Poore, Key and even Governor Hutchinson made it sound like the tax extension vote was the district's only viable lifeline.

That was then. Poore told a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week (apparently before even the state Board of Education knew of the plan) that not only could this get the first important work done, the city might have enough excess revenue from construction millage that it could pay for these bonds without cutting operating expenses.

This suggests to me that somebody was crying wolf before the election. Poore also tried hard to pre-spin this story with the friendly D-G before it got in skeptical hands. In Little Rock's current undemocratic state, a "school board" can meet in secret and sign off on $92 million in borrowing without any public discussion about how the money is to be spent and how the budget will accommodate it.

This is no way to run a school district supported by tax dollars. It's past time for the state Board of Education to give Little Rock its school district back.

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