Columns » Max Brantley

Head-shaking

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Another edition of so-much-bad-news-so-little space:

* Jerry Guess built one helluva resume as the appointed superintendent of the Pulaski County Special School District. He broke relations with intractable union leaders. He fixed its fiscal distress. He oversaw a big building program and won a tax increase to pay for it. He engineered successful separation of the breakaway Jacksonville School District. He was a key player in an omnibus settlement of the Pulaski County school desegregation case. He made great strides toward resolving the few points on which the district remained under court supervision. All his work led to return of local control and an elected school board, which fired him last week.

What the heck? The school board didn't like his lawyer, Allen Roberts, who was critical in Guess' achievements. But Roberts is viewed as too friendly with John Walker, the civil rights lawyer. His ability to work with Walker brought results, which was precisely why Guess wanted to keep him around. For that, Guess was fired. The catalyst was the fact — pointed out by Roberts and Guess — that resolution of the desegregation case would open the door to state Board of Education consideration of realignment of the unwieldy district, whose disparate components include Chenal Valley, Wrightsville, Maumelle, Sherwood and Scott. A particular problem point is the unwillingness of mostly white, upscale Chenal residents to consider the practicalities of fusing Little Rock and the part of the Pulaski district south of the Arkansas River. Its separation from the majority black Little Rock School District was a prerequisite for development of the area.

The state of desegregation law today is that people are safe in segregated neighborhoods from busing and racial balance plans. But the mere prospect of consideration of a district realignment in two or three years was enough for many to push the panic button. So Guess was fired to protect the status quo.

* Defrocked judge Mike Maggio of Conway went to federal prison for admitting he had viewed campaign contributions from a nursing home owner, arranged by a former state senator, as an inducement to knock down a jury's nursing home negligence award by $4.2 million. He said he was sorry he pleaded guilty. He said he was a better man than media accounts represented. He said he hadn't received a fair trial. He was not a sympathetic figure as he embarked on a 10-year stretch.

* Politico reported that U.S. Rep. French Hill was chatted up by a couple of key Russian figures in Russia a few weeks before they joined that infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. Hill reportedly was told Russia would reopen the door to U.S. adoptions if Congress would lift economic sanctions. This puts Hill in the middle of the hottest political intrigue of the day. He refused to talk to us about the subject or anything else. Some constituents just don't count for much. But we knew that from his vote against tens of thousands of sick, elderly, disabled and working poor people in favor of a health bill so bad Donald Trump called it "mean."

* The Arkansas Lottery had another year of flat revenue. Poor folks' dream-chasing, thanks to new state legislation, now disproportionately helps higher-income, whiter students. Yes. Arkansas subsidizes college costs for higher-income families with lottery ticket purchase by poor folks.

* A dynamic, progressive transit director, Jarod Varner, took a big job with an international transit management company. But it wasn't too surprising, particularly because voters here are stuck in the 20th century. They defeated a small dedicated tax for the improving Rock Region Metro. Varner stood alone in a Metroplan vote against the Arkansas Department of Highways (D'OH) plan to widen the city-destroying Interstate 30 concrete gulch through the heart of downtown. The department's old-school thinking comes at a time when evidence shows a decline in commuting because people are finding jobs — not just homes, schools and new shopping centers — in the suburban cites the freeway building (and school white flight) helped create.

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