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Smart Talk, July 29

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Nickles' dollars

The Arkansas Arts Center filed a report with Little Rock police last week accompanied by an audit of a former employee's credit card charges that suggested the card had been used improperly for personal expenses.

Arts Center board member Bob Birch said Rocky Nickles, deputy director of operations until his February firing, should have run his charges by former director Nan Plummer for approval. He doesn't know if Nickles did, and he said he didn't know if there was a legitimate explanation for the charges. Plummer resigned in April.

From 2007 to 2009, Nickles put $378,684.04 on the Arts Center's credit card, according to the audit. Here are a few things charged to the Arts Center, already saddled with a huge debt thanks in part to its extraordinarily expensive "World of the Pharaohs" exhibit:

Lunches: $27,511

Gas: $3,938.05

Personal: $8,506.91

No receipts: $27,665.75

Unclear purchases: $27,107.07

Some of the specifics that the staff could not confirm as appropriately charged to the institution: luggage from J.C. Penney ($84.42), groceries from Kroger ($28.29), toffee from Hammond's Candies in Denver ($109.79), six vinyl windows ($935.17), frames from Hobby Lobby ($202.94), an $881.20 charge to Tommy's Country Meats that Nickles said was for a staff lunch, a digital camera and card reader from Best Buy ($423.34) and Royal Bliss Linens ($340).

$2.1 million, no bird

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its final recovery plan for the ivory-billed woodpecker last week, totting up federal funds spent since 2006. The total: $2.1 million.

The total includes all ivory-billed related research, not just in Arkansas, including search team expenses, habitat studies, insect studies, mapping, and creating related scientific models. While the bird may not have been conclusively proven to be surviving in the Southeast, the research did provide information on other species and the ability of the Lower White River, Cache basins and other areas to support breeding birds. At the recovery plan's release, Cindy Dohner, Southeast region director of the USFWS, said, "We will look forward to implementing the plan when and where needed."

The last confirmed sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker was in the 1940s. An ornithologist commented on the state's bird listserv that the recovery plan for the Lord God Bird was about 60 years overdue.

Informal searches for the bird continue.

Clarksville moves on porn

The Courier in Russellville reported last week that a long civil battle by the city of Clarksville to drive the X Mart Adult Supercenter away from a high-profile location on Interstate 40 had turned into a criminal investigation. Stymied in efforts to zone the store out of existence at its current location, Clarksville police undertook "undercover" raids to purchase videos they deemed obscene and filed criminal charges. No word on how many times the cops watched the videos to be certain they qualified as criminally obscene. No word on which Clarksville citizens filed the complaints on which the police said they acted, or how the complainants determined that criminally obscene material was being sold in Clarksville. Perhaps they did some undercover work of their own.

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