Columns » Bob McCord

Jail, Gore, parking

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Last week the Quorum Court told the people of Pulaski County that they should vote to start paying another sales tax to pay for building and operating an addition to the Pulaski County jail because crime is increasing. The election will be September 12.

Five of the 15 court members voted no. If you know any of the five — Dan Greenberg, Jim Porter, Jerry Cox, Ann McCaleb and Phil Stowers — shake their hands because I think they were right. People who live in Little Rock are already paying 7.5 percent for what they buy at the grocery store and the North Little Rock people are paying 9 percent.

Of course there is more crime in the county. Policemen are discouraged when they arrest someone but there’s no cell to put them in, which often happens now that the county jail had to close down almost 250 inmate beds because Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines decided that the county didn’t have the money to pay enough people to operate the additional cells.

The judge and most members of a Pulaski County Jail Task Force put together the idea of a quarter-cent sales tax early this month. Some wanted just an eighth-of-a-cent increase, but that didn’t go far.

It seems to me that the county officials want to build a penitentiary rather than a jail out there on Roosevelt Road. But cities ought to stick to jails since all Arkansans are already paying millions to keep the many state penitentiaries operating.

One thing that might help would be to put the $2.1 million North Little Rock jail in operation again. The county paid for it in 1990, but it was closed in 1994 when the Roosevelt Road jail was enlarged. Then the state used it for juvenile assessment, but it was poorly operated and was closed in 1998 when the Democrat-Gazette revealed abuse in the jail.

I walked through the vacant three-story jail the other day (it even has a fenced-in basketball court on the top of the building), and it looks like a good place to hold Pulaski County’s offenders. It has room for 80 prisoners.

I asked Judge Villines about this, and he said it would cost too much to get the jail back into operation. But it didn’t look like that to me.

There will always be crime in cities. Loving parents, good schools, fun activity for kids, jobs with fair salaries are what prevent crime. Not big jails.

I have just sent another $10 to the Little Rock Police Department for overparking about 15 minutes at a one-hour parking meter in the big, lively and interesting River Market District. Even though professional city managers like Little Rock’s must consistently be looking for income, I think $10 is a little high for someone to pay who comes to a city to have fun and spend money. There aren’t many parking places in the area; dozens are marked for businesses and a few open spaces can’t be used because of some trolley-car tracks that aren’t even used yet.

I go to the city library in the River Market District a lot, and its big parking lot charges, too, but not if you stay only 30 minutes. But now there’s construction going on, and half of the parking lot will be closed for months. Sometimes I park in the big River Market parking garage. It’s OK, but it charges $1.50 an hour. But if you park there and survey the whole River Market District, you will wind up paying $6, or $7.50 if you spend the night. I guess that’s why I’ve never seen the garage even half full.

North Little Rock is developing its downtown, too, but it doesn’t have any parking meters. Sometimes it’s hard to find a parking space, but when you do, it doesn’t cost you anything.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been very interested in our environment. Last week I suddenly got very interested.

My wife took me to the Market Street Cinema in Little Rock to see Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” documentary. Gore is trying to prove that in a few years the sun will soon get so hot on the ice at the top of the world that cities all over the world will be flooded.

It got my attention. (And to be honest, that 104 degrees in Little Rock last week might have helped.) According to Morgan Barry, the manager of the cinema, about 700 people have already come out to see it, and so he will keep it running for at least another week. Barry says Gore’s movie is one of the 10 most popular movies of the year.

Just a few days ago 2,000 Wal-Mart bosses and workers in Bentonville heard the former vice president speak in person and also show his movie. The audiences in two large auditoriums gave him a cheering, standing ovation, according to the Associated Press.

People ought to listen to Gore, and maybe even elect him president again in 2008.

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