The Arkansas Lottery spent $15,901 on a construction project in late August that included a new and expanded office for Ernestine Middleton, the lottery's vice president of administration, and other renovations to the lottery's space on the third and 14th floors of the Union Plaza building in downtown Little Rock.
Middleton switched offices with Public Affairs and Legislative Relations Director Julie Baldridge and an interior wall between the office and an adjoining conference room was removed to "create a larger office," according to documents obtained from the lottery through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The project included removal of a wall in another office, installation of wood and glass doors, replacing sections of carpet and a couple new coats of paint.
The renovations, which were set to be completed in early September, came approximately one year after the lottery staff moved into the Union Plaza building in September of 2009.
Middleton could not be reached for comment at press time about the need for more space. Middleton makes $225,000 a year.
Another FOI request to the lottery revealed the commission spent $4,263 to install "Confidante Control Modules," or white noise emitters, in the offices of Chief Legal Counsel Bishop Woosley, Security Director Lance Huey and Deputy Security Director Remmele Mazyck.
Woosley says the devices resemble small smoke detectors and speakers are placed near the door and along the walls that emit a "sound like static from a TV."
"The individuals that work in these three positions are often required to discuss employment issues or lottery security-related issues in their offices," Woosley wrote in response to our request. "These areas involve legally protected employee privacy concerns or sensitive lottery security issues. Based on the poor insulation and acoustics of the walls, conversations can be heard while standing in the halls outside of these three offices. In an effort to ensure that employment issues remain private and that lottery security issues are not divulged, the noise cancellation equipment was installed."
The Confidante Control Modules and emitters were purchased from Today's Office, Inc., of Little Rock, who also installed the products.
The Committee for Arkansas's Future made a heavy ad buy in the final days of the election season to support Issues 2 and 3, both constitutional amendments referred by the legislature. The former would raise the interest limit on consumer lending to 17 percent, lift the ceiling on interest on government bonds and provide a mechanism for government to finance energy efficiency projects. It is being challenged in court as a fraud for its multiple parts. Issue 3 would allow the legislature to issue state-backed bonds to give money to potential business prospects.
Randy Zook, head of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, leads the Committee for Arkansas's Future. Through Oct. 26, it reported raising about $408,000 and spending $465,000. Contributors were led by car dealers seeking to be able to charge higher interest rates on vehicle financing – America's Car Mart gave $100,000, a group headed by automobile dealer lobbyist Dennis Jungmeyer gave $70,000 and the Independent Auto Dealers gave $12,000. Stephens Investments and Crews and Associates, both of which deal in government bonds, gave $27,500 and $20,000 respectively. The taxpayer-subsidized Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce gave $35,000 and a number of other chambers and local economic development groups also contributed.
A TV ad for the amendments also urged voters to approve Issue 1, a constitutional amendment giving hunting and fishing constitutional protection. It is presumed to be popular and has no organized campaign. It raised the question of whether interests in favor of the amendment, such as the National Rifle Association, might eventually contribute to the campaign for the other amendments. Calls to Zook and the campaign's ad firm were not returned at press time.
Stephens Investments Holding LLC, controlled by Little Rock financier Warren Stephens, also turns up in another political effort – American Crossroads, the Republican-supporting independent political group founded by Karl Rove, George W. Bush's political adviser.
Stephens Holdings contributed $100,000 to the Rove group, which is attacking Democratic candidates nationwide.
Walker files FOI
John Walker, the civil rights lawyer and legislative candidate, dropped a huge Freedom of Information Act request recently on Little Rock City Hall. He wants the city to uncover all city business done by all appointed members of city boards and commissions.
The issue became controversial when city officials realized they'd awarded a demolition contract to a company led by two members of the city Planning Commission, Marcus Devine and Billy Rouse without getting the deal approved in an ordinance by the City Board. They resigned from the Planning Commission rather than risk a problem with a coming contract at Little Rock National Airport. Walker wonders why Devine was singled out. He noted that Airport Commissioner Virgil Miller's employer, Metropolitan National Bank, has banking relationships with the city. Another planning commissioner, Bill Rector, is an investor in a company that has a contract to publish city legal notices. And there are others. The city is still working on compiling the information.