News » The Week That Was

Stodola won't run for re-election

Also, bring ID, Woods found guilty and more.

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Bring ID

Early voting in this year's primary elections began May 7; Election Day is May 22. You'll have to show your ID card, thanks to the Arkansas Supreme Court's stay of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray's recent injunction blocking the state Voter ID law from going into effect. Secretary of State Mark Martin had asked the state high court to grant the stay. The vote was 6-1 to grant the stay. Chief Justice Dan Kemp dissented. The court gave no explanation for the order.

Gray's ruling came in response to a public interest lawsuit brought by plaintiff Barry Haas. The state Supreme Court held in a 2014 case (also argued by Haas' attorney, Jeff Priebe) that a previous version of the law was unconstitutional. The 2017 legislature passed the law again with slightly altered language and a procedural process aimed to answer problems raised by some of the justices in the 2014 decision.

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Stodola won't seek re-election

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola will not seek re-election this year, citing a serious health diagnosis of one of his immediate family members. He's finishing his third term. This leaves state Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) and banker Frank Scott in the race. After Stodola's announcement, former Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus said he was considering running and expected to make a decision before June 1. Rev. Benny Johnson, founder of Arkansas Stop the Violence, also said he was considering entering the race. City directors Dean Kumpuris and Lance Hines have been named as possible candidates in the past.

Guilty

Former state Sen. Jon Woods was found guilty on 15 of 17 counts in his federal corruption trial in Fayetteville. Consultant Randell Shelton Jr., on trial on related charges, was found guilty on 12 of 15 counts. Each faces up to 20 years in prison on each charge of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud; Woods was also found guilty on one count of money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Woods and Shelton could also be forced to forfeit any money or property they acquired through illegal activities.

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Woods stood accused of participating in a kickback scheme in exchange for guiding state money to a small Christian college in Springdale, Ecclesia College, and to a nonprofit under the umbrella of Preferred Family Healthcare, a major provider of Medicaid-funded services in the state. Former state Rep. Micah Neal pleaded guilty to being a co-conspirator in both schemes before the trial started and cooperated with the government. Oren Paris III, president of the college, pleaded guilty to being a co-conspirator in the Ecclesia scheme less than a week before the trial began, cooperating with the government.

Shelton stood accused of participating in the Ecclesia scheme, with the kickback payments disguised as payments to his consulting company. 

Shakeups at UAMS

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences shocked the medical community last Friday when it announced it was suspending its cardiothoracic surgery program until a replacement for retiring heart surgeon Dr. Gareth Tobler could be found. Tobler retired a week ago; UAMS leadership has been in negotiations with surgeons to replace Tobler but has not been able to complete a deal. The decision to suspend its heart surgery program was made "in the interest of safety for patients," interim College of Medicine Dean Christopher Westfall told the staff. UAMS will direct patients needing heart surgery to the Arkansas Heart Hospital or Baptist Health.

Then on Monday it was revealed that Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute Director Dr. Peter Emanuel had submitted his resignation from UAMS, which will take effect July 31. Emanuel has directed the institute since 2007 and oversaw its move to the 12-story research and treatment tower in 2010. He was paid $500,000 a year; interim College of Medicine Dean Christopher Westfall and incoming Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson will initiate a nationwide search to replace Emanuel. Patterson arrives June 1.

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