Columns » Max Brantley

So little space

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So much to rant about:

The Little Rock Airport Commission. This newspaper, and later the FBI, once gave state Sen. Bill Walker the third-degree for landing the minority contractor’s portion of the Little Rock National Airport concessions contract, which he gave up this year to run for mayor. Walker, who had friends on the Airport Commission at the time, looks like a paragon of virtue by comparison with modern-day antics.

Commissioner Carl Johnson announced last week that he was interested in the minority contract. A sitting commissioner angling for airport business? It was breathtakingly bad judgment. Plus, he didn’t absent himself from a discussion on the matter. He got support for his continued presence at the meeting from the commission’s attorney, Mark Stodola. Stodola, who beat Walker in the mayor’s race, still hasn’t managed to disentangle himself from Airport Commission work. This was unfortunate in this case, particularly, because Stodola once provided informal legal representation for, who else? Commissioner Johnson. This was when Johnson got in a golf course altercation with former Razorback basketball star Darrell Walker.

Johnson compromised his work as commissioner, even though he finally decied not to pursue the concession business. Stodola, by the way, announced later that his law firm will disengage soon from commission work. It can’t be soon enough.

City Director Stacy Hurst and others are trying to assure suspicious residents that plans to redo War Memorial Park are not being drawn with private development interests in mind. I believe HER. But I also know prominent developers are still talking about carving off some of the golf course for a residential development. Whether that’s a realistic threat, I can’t say. But I know that talk of improving the park by lopping off popular recreational uses — the golf course and tennis courts — has made more enemies than friends.

North Little Rock is forging ahead with its plan to give subsidies for Bruce Burrow’s proposed Bass Pro Shops shopping center on a prime piece of freeway frontage. This will deprive schools of the normal benefit of growth in the property tax base. Burrow will get the money instead. What’s more, state taxpayers apparently are going to be asked to foot the bill for $7 million or more to provide sufficient freeway access to the site. Other retailers will be harmed by this government-subsidized competition. The only way out of this boondoggle is a taxpayers’ lawsuit and a Supreme Court ruling that says the redevelopment finance amendment did not repeal the portion of the Constitution that says taxes voted for schools may ONLY be used for schools.

City Director Dean Kumpuris worked privately for a vote to trade part of Gillam Park to the wealthy families who’ve been quarrying nearby for years. The blasting makes life hell in Granite Mountain. It never made sense to hurry a vote by a lame-duck board, rather than waiting until Jan. 1 for new members. Maybe the hurry was to force Audubon of Arkansas to the table for a deal that heavily favored the blasters. They want to be able to grab still more park acreage someday. Audubon, which plans a nature center in the park, wouldn’t cave, queering the deal for now.

Then there’s the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission and its no-bid, insider dealing, richly detailed this week in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But I’m out of space, if not indignation.

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