Quote of the Week:
"I won't fight to keep this job, but I will fight for our school district. ... I don't want a role until I know where we are and have a sense of where we're headed. If the policies are right — yes, I'm willing to play a role. ... [But] I need indication about the policies and direction before I sign up."
—Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus at a legislative hearing on Monday, May 2, answering a question about whether he'd consider staying with the district in a different role after his contract expires this summer. It's widely assumed that Kurrus was fired because he and his boss, Education Commissioner Johnny Key, disagreed over the expansion of charter schools in Little Rock.
The new man in charge
While public anger continues to build regarding the firing of LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus (see item above), his replacement was in town last week doing his best to build bridges. Bentonville Superintendent Mike Poore faces an uphill climb, given the long history of turmoil and broken promises in the district — the Kurrus firing being only the latest example — and it remains to be seen whether he'll build on the tentative stirrings of trust established by his predecessor. But give Poore points for reaching out to a broad range of political, community and business leaders recently, along with the Little Rock teachers' union president and local media (including the Arkansas Times).
Governor's top aide departing
Michael Lamoureux, chief of staff to Gov. Hutchinson, will be leaving the staff at the end of May, the governor's office announced. It's not immediately clear why Lamoureux is stepping down or what he'll be doing next. He said in a statement only that he's found "another professional opportunity." Before joining the Hutchinson administration, Lamoureux was president pro tem of the state Senate.
Nice work if you can get it
Last week, Benton County Sheriff Kelley Cradduck pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of records tampering and received six months' probation; in return, the special prosecutor in the case dropped a related felony charge.
Cradduck was arrested by State Police in January on charges stemming from his alleged instructions to jail staff to backdate the hiring paperwork of an employee (thus giving the employee additional compensation). Strangely, the Benton County Quorum Court agreed in mid-April to pay Cradduck around $80,000 for salary and health insurance for the rest of the year; only then did he resign. The members of the quorum court framed the compensation as a "buyout."
Zoning out with Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson
A compromise was struck this week on a fight over abolishing the Capitol Zoning District Commission, the tiny state agency that regulates land use in neighborhoods around the Capitol and the Governor's Mansion. Last week, state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-Little Rock) forwarded a "special language" amendment that would end the CZDC and transfer its budget of about $240,000 to the Arkansas Department of Heritage. Hutchinson argued that having a separate zoning agency for the historic neighborhoods is unnecessary. Separately, Rep. Nate Bell (R-Mena), who's long held a peculiar grudge against the CZDC, also proposed his own amendment to kill the commission.
The proposals ran into opposition from neighborhood groups, some Little Rock legislators and city leadership. Little Rock, which would have inherited responsibility for land use regulation in those areas under CZDC purview, said it didn't want to take over such duties. After the amendments failed to gain approval in the Joint Budget Committee, the agency's budget was preserved, with one caveat: Property owners whose applications to the CZDC are denied may now appeal directly to the Department of Heritage director, rather than to circuit court.
Unsurprisingly, Paul McCartney's visit to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock on April 30 sold out completely. Less expected was the picture that Verizon Arena posted on Facebook the next day, showing the former Beatle meeting with Thelma Mothershed-Wair and Elizabeth Eckford, two members of the Little Rock Nine. McCartney has said the 1957 desegregation of Central High helped inspire the lyrics of "Blackbird," which he performed at Saturday evening's concert.