You've perhaps read that the legislature has already begun using expensive new hearing rooms in the Big MAC building, space cleared when a couple of state agencies moved into a newly renovated $18.5 million office building on Capitol Avenue. You may also remember that Gov. Mike Beebe put the kibosh on a plan to build a tunnel or skybridge to span the street between the Capitol and Big MAC to facilitate movement of paper from legislative research offices to the committee room (and keep legislators from getting their hair wet should an inconvenient shower crop up).
There's a lot of paper to be moved and, though the distance is short, stairs and one-way traffic patterns make it a little difficult to roll stuff straight from the Capitol to Big MAC. David Ferguson, director of the Bureau of Legislative Research, said the bureau traded cars used by staff to attend out-of-town committee meetings for a van that can transport large quantities of documents. A temporary employee will be hired during the session to drive it. He said there's no handicapped accessible entrance on the north end of Big MAC nearest the capital and staffers with a cart have to negotiate a 15 percent grade that's steep and slippery when wet, plus roll down a street for 100 yards to reach a doorway accessible to a rolling cart. It's not just a matter of a box or two of papers, Ferguson said. Multiple copies of long bills add up quickly. The legislature burned through 10.4 tons of paper in the last session, he said. A tunnel would have cost $3 million.
For whom the poll tolls
Residents of Little Rock report receiving telephone poll questions recently about city government.
Respondents were asked how favorably they viewed Mayor Mark Stodola (who is up for re-election this year) and City Manager Bruce Moore. They also were asked their feelings about the current form of government — a city manager/strong mayor hybrid — and about a sales tax increase.
So what's up? Political sources believe the poll was done by Stodola's campaign. At press time, he hadn't returned our call.
Why would Stodola ask about Bruce Moore? Speculation is that Little Rock may yet see a movement to a pure mayor-council form of government. That might produce more interest in the mayor's job than was in evidence this year, when Stodola drew only token opposition. There are also those who think that Moore, a capable manager with warm links in every segment of the community, might make a good mayoral candidate (though he reportedly has told friends he has no such interests).
New hand in lands
It has passed notice so far, but state Land Commissioner Mark Wilcox of Greenbrier has a new chief deputy.
You may recall that he fired Bentley Hovis several months ago for the apparent sin of telling the truth to newspaper reporters about Wilcox's use of two state automobiles, including a pickup kept on his farm, and $14,000 in fuel charges.
Gene Osment, a Little Rock lawyer, went to work Sept. 16 as Wilcox's interim chief deputy. He said the plan was to serve through the end of the boss' term in January. He'll be paid about $90,000 annual salary, or roughly $30,000 for four months work. Osment, who has been "of counsel" to the Niswanger law firm, said he planned to return to that role after a successor takes office.
We asked Osment about a rumor that has been circulating at the Capitol – that Wilcox hired an attorney in part to prepare to defend himself in ongoing investigations of his use of state vehicles. Research has been undertaken in several quarters as to whether there's civil or criminal liability if Wilcox indeed converted a state vehicle to personal farm use. (His wife was involved in a hit-and-run accident in the pickup while on a shopping trip.)
Osment said representing Wilcox on those issues was not part of his duties and he would not be a personal attorney for Wilcox after he left office. He said he dealt with vehicle issues only in the context of dealing with press inquiries or Freedom of Information Act requests. The pickup now sits at the Capitol, part of the office motor pool. Wilcox had another state vehicle he uses to commute to work, as several other constitutional officers
No vacancy for Owens
Though the charges have been dropped against a former Pulaski County Deputy Willie Owens, who was accused of raping a female inmate who later committed suicide, he probably shouldn't waste his time submitting an application to get his old job back. A sheriff's office spokesman says he's ineligible.
According to a sheriff's investigation concluded in January, former inmate Jessie Edwards told police that on Dec. 18, 2009, while she was being held in the basement cells at the Pulaski County Courthouse awaiting a hearing, Owens first groped her, then followed her into a cell and had sex with her. Edwards told investigators the sex was not consensual, but said she didn't resist because she was too frightened. Edwards said that when Owens left the room to get a cloth for her to clean up with, she took some of his semen and wiped it on her bra to keep as evidence. Later, the State Crime Lab matched the fluid on Edwards' bra to DNA swabs collected from Owens during the investigation. In January, Owens was arrested on one count of rape and later fired from the sheriff's office after an official hearing.
On Aug. 23, while being held at the jail on a contempt of court charge related to a failed drug test, Edwards apparently hanged herself in her cell with a sheet. She was pregnant at the time. This week, prosecutors dropped the charges against Owens, saying the case against him would be too difficult to prove without Edwards' testimony.
Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Carl Minden said that while the charges being dropped against Owen makes him eligible for rehire, he won't be sporting a Pulaski County deputy's uniform again any time soon. "I think theoretically he can be rehired," Minden said. "Is he going to be? No. I think I can go on record saying that and I don't think the sheriff would mind: No, he's not eligible for rehire."
On the campaign trail
Katherine West, a friend and volunteer in the Joyce Elliott campaign for Congress, contributes a campaign trail vignette at the taping of the AETN debate between Elliott, a Democrat, and Tim Griffin, a Republican:
While waiting for the debate to begin, supporters of both candidates were milling around outside Reynolds Performance Hall at UCA. Carlos Cervantes, of Latino heritage and a Vietnam veteran, turned to a Griffin supporter who was pushing a walker with a seat attached and inquired sympathetically about her injured foot.
She replied with her own question: "Are you a United States citizen?"
Cervantes, stunned: replied: "I'm not going to answer you. That is none of your business."
Said she: "Yes, it is, and everyone should be asking that question .... You must be a Democrat."
Cervantes fingered the Vietnam veteran's medallion in his lapel and responded: "I don't know what difference it makes if I am a Democrat. But you are asking a Vietnam war veteran if he is a citizen. You should be ashamed of yourself. You are distasteful and disgusting."
She turned away. Republican, we assume.