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Intrigue on the hill

Also, 8th Circuit refuses to reconsider and Argenta makes moves.


8th Circuit refuses to reconsider

The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declined to revisit its decision upholding Governor Hutchinson's order that Arkansas stop allowing Planned Parenthood to participate in the Medicaid program. Federal District Judge Kristine Baker, citing precedent in other courts, had blocked the state from stopping funding. But a three-judge panel overturned Baker. The decision affects some $50,000 worth of medical services annually — not abortions, but health screening and family planning and other medical services. Hutchinson ordered participation in the program stopped because of reports in other states — debunked in every investigation that has been mounted — of improprieties in some other Planned Parenthood clinics in providing fetal tissue for medical research. Patients in Arkansas said federal law required the state to allow them to use medical providers of their choice. The 8th Circuit, notoriously conservative and anti-abortion, said that right was "ambiguous," even through four other U.S. circuit courts decided it differently. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the difference between circuit court rulings is now a possibility.

Intrigue on the hill

Leading up to last week's meeting of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, multiple sources told the Arkansas Times that several members of the board have been pressing for the removal of University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Athletic Director Jeff Long, in part, but not only, because of the poor record of Bret Bielema's football team. The board met for more than three hours in executive session on unspecified personnel matters without taking formal action or commenting on what was discussed. Long sat quietly outside the meeting room as the board met with Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz.

Update: Long was fired on Wednesday.

Since then, there's been official silence. A campus spokesman referred questions to the Board of Trustees, whose members have said they couldn't discuss private session matters. The campus also declined a comment to the Times' question of whether Steinmetz expected the same leadership to be in place in athletics at this time next year.

If board approval of the status quo in athletics at Fayetteville was the result of the meeting, Steinmetz, System President Donald Bobbitt or someone likely would have said so forcefully. Instead, silence. That leads to the conclusion that there will be a transition in leadership, in a time and manner determined by the leader of the campus, and not following a public dictate of the Board of Trustees.

There are many complications. One is the football coach. Bielema, doing poorly in his fifth year, seems unlikely to survive absent an unlikely finish to this season. He has a contract through 2020, but can be terminated with a buyout estimated at more than $5 million. The timing of such a change is important, because recruiting is ongoing, and this year the NCAA is allowing its first early signing period for football prospects, in early December. Several board members don't want Long choosing a successor.

Future schedules, another prerogative of the athletic director, are also up in the air, particularly the future of games in Little Rock. Long had been lobbying the board to end the games in Little Rock, including the single game planned for 2018. Governor Hutchinson, however, has taken War Memorial Stadium on as a project. He told Long he wants the game next year to be played in Little Rock and Long reportedly got the message. In return, the governor has made assurances that he'll provide the money, perhaps $3 million or so, to wire War Memorial Stadium with camera gear, digital cable and studio necessary to meet standards of the SEC Network.

Argenta makes moves

First Orion, a company that developed software to block unwanted phone calls, will build a headquarters on Main Street in North Little Rock. The company, now located in the River Market district in Little Rock, is led by Charles Morgan, the former Acxiom CEO. It employs about 90 people in Little Rock, but by the time it expects to open its new headquarters in January, Morgan said it would have 180 employees based there.

Monday, the North Little Rock City Council also approved appropriating $4 million for the Argenta Plaza, a long-planned development on Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets. The project plans include water features, an audiovisual screen wall, and a "front porch" area with porch swings along Main Street between Fifth and Seventh streets, along with a performance stage and design influenced by the nearby Arkansas River.

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