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Return to sender

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Another miscall at the Governors Mansion as Gov. Mike and Janet Huckabee were packing up to go into private life: Mrs. Huckabee took a painting by Little Rock impressionist Barry Thomas that she believed to be a gift to her. It turns out that the painting was purchased with Governors Mansion Association money and, thus, was a gift for the Mansion. The former first lady will return the painting.

New leadership

Wayne Cranford, who headed the Mansion Commission for several years before Georg Andersen took over during the Huckabee administration, is now chairman again. A first for the commission: Cranford was sworn in by Supreme Court Judge Robert Brown in the middle of Tabriz, the Arts Center fund-raiser.

A more important first, perhaps: Deborah Sheffield, whose husband, Ron Sheffield, was a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2002, may be the first African-American woman on the commission, Cranford said.

In the packet provided Cranford by the Beebe administration was a copy of the state Freedom of Information Act. “He really means it,” Cranford said of Gov. Mike Beebe’s intention to keep the sun shining on all business public.

Angling for the bench

Juvenile Judge Rita Gruber is telling friends that, rather than seek re-election next year, she’ll challenge state Appeals Court Judge Wendell Griffen, under fire by the judicial disciplinary commission because the judge, gasp, believes in free speech. The name of Melinda Gilbert is the first we’ve heard as a potential candidate for Gruber’s seat.

Air America crashes

The Air America radio network, the liberal answer to the Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity style of radio, will no longer be available in the Little Rock market. The ESPN radio network returned Tuesday to the 1380 AM frequency broadcast from Sherwood. The network struggled nationally, but it was hampered further in this market by a weak signal.

Rejoining

Looking out our office window at the big Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce TV screen across the street, we noticed that John W. Walker was listed among the Chamber’s new members. Walker, is, of course, Arkansas’s leading civil rights lawyer and has often been at odds with the Chamber, especially over the Little Rock school desegregation case. Has the hatchet been buried? Not exactly. Walker told us that he’s been a member of the Chamber off and on for years. He signed up this time at the request of a friend who was selling Chamber memberships. But Walker said he hoped to become an active member and he has his eye on a couple of committees.

Airport report

A review of purchasing practices at the Little Rock National Airport is in, though it likely won’t settle the difference of opinion that led to its creation. Last week’s Times reported on e-mails that indicated a disagreement between Airport director Deborah Schwartz and Airport commission chair Larry Lichty and commissioner Carl Johnson. Johnson questioned payments made to firms not under contract with the airport, and expenditures of more than $10,000 without commission approval.

A report signed by Schwartz says that in 2006 the airport paid more than $31 million to 854 vendors, but acknowledged only one set of payments “outside the commission’s guidelines.” These were four checks made to Hydro Blasting Inc. totaling $134,116.

On the issue of purchases made over $10,000 without commission approval, Schwartz counts each check as an individual purchase while Johnson is adding up the yearly total paid to each vendor. For instance, the report lists 27 payments made to airfield maintenance and supply company Allen Enterprises. Taken individually, the purchases are all under $10,000. But the total paid to Allen Enterprises in 2006 was more than $25,000. According to the report, 23 vendors not under contract with the airport were paid in excess of $10,000 last year. Johnson said he didn’t want to comment until he’s read the entire report.

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