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Library promises openness

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Bobby Roberts, director of the Central Arkansas Library System, promised openness about the details of the campaign for a library property-tax proposal on the ballot March 13.

The library proposes to reduce a one mill tax to .9-mill, but extend it for five years to refinance bonds at a lower interest rate and raise $19 million for more materials and construction projects including branch libraries and archive space.

We asked about transparency because of Times' columnist Max Brantley's crusade for detailed reporting of expenses on issue campaigns. The state Ethics Commission ruled recently that, while it wasn't happy with the circumstances, state law didn't require the city of Little Rock sales tax campaigners to disclose more than the checks it had written to the Markham Group, a political consulting firm. How the Markham Group spent that money could be kept secret.

The Ethics Commission will seek a law clarification. In the meanwhile, we're asking groups seeking tax increases to voluntarily commit to reveal how campaign money is spent.

Said Roberts, who'll be using Mary Dillard as a political consultant, as he has before: "I agree with you about the reporting and we will itemize how the money is spent in the report. In our case the Coalition does not pay very much through Mary. That is we pay directly to the vendor supplying the services so almost all of the coalition's expenditures will show in the report. Most goes for printing and mailing."

Pulaski Tech, which is planning a summer property tax election, is going to discuss hiring a political consultant this week. The Times has called on Tech to promise full disclosure in its campaign. The Markham Group, which told the Ethics Commission such transparency would require it to disclose proprietary information (though none was identified), was among those Tech planned to talk with.

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