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The Insider Dec. 16


Conflict of interest? Here’s a good illustration of why it’s a bad idea for private sources to provide an $81,000 supplement to state Education Director Ken James’ salary. Turns out the Academics Plus Charter School in Maumelle has been cited in its own audit for violating a state law that requires Education Department approval of any expenditure greater than $75,000. The school spent $89,000 (without taking formal bids) to buy a wireless computer system financed by a contribution from the Walton Family Foundation. This is no scandal in itself, but violation of the act is a misdemeanor and it’s a bit of a bruise for a charter school that has been held up as an exemplar by charter advocates. So wouldn’t you know it. Jackson T. Stephens Jr. and the Walton Family Foundation have been arguing privately that approval wasn’t required if the source of the money was private (wrong: the law is about expenditures, not source of money) and that this could prove troublesome for many other schools (tough if that's the law). The point: Young Stephens and the Walton Family Foundation are huge charter school advocates. More importantly, they are among those contributing to Ken James’ salary to get him up to a more comfortable $203,000. Will he fight fiercely for enforcement of the law or fight for his private benefactors? Good news. James, who says he hasn't been contacted directly by Stephens or Walton though he is aware of the issue, shares our view that any money received by a public entity such as a charter school is subject to audit rules because it is then public money. Nonetheless, the school has asked for an attorney general’s opinion in hopes that office will say the legislature didn’t have Walton money in mind when it placed what seems to be a clear safeguard on public school spending. As the Times learned in an FOI case against the UA, however, public officials, including judges, give special deference when the name Walton is involved. All in the family We were perusing the taxpayer-financed websites of the state of Arkansas the other day and stopped to get an update on Gov. Mike Huckabee. There, we found a special web page for Janet Huckabee, the first lady, which led us to the Governor’s Mansion page. There, just in time for Christmas, we learned the Huckabode was a virtual gift shop. Top of the Mansion gift shop list: three books by, who else, Mike Huckabee – “Character Is the Issue” ($12), “Kids Who Kill” ($10) and “Living Beyond Your Lifetime” ($15). Buy all three and save a buck. Your next two options are books by Don Bingham, the Mansion administrator, and his wife, Nancy, the first lady’s publicly paid aide. Again, save a little more than a buck if you buy them both. You can also buy CDs with hymns and piano arrangements by, fa la la, Don Bingham. A CD by a former Huckabee aide, Beth Ann Rankin, is also for sale. There’s no readily apparent direct family/friend/public employee connection in the umbrella, coffee mug, playing cards, tote bag and shirts for sale. The website, however, doesn’t identify the supplier of these specialty items, so who knows? Party venue The Clinton Presidential Center is about more than history and education. It’s also about a good time. We told you previously that it likely would become a hot venue for private parties after hours. The social whirl has begun. Rector Phillips Morse inaugurated the catering side of the library with a dinner for 50 at the library’s Cafe 42 last Saturday night. Sunday, Dr. Bart Barlogie and the Arkansas Cancer Research Center had a reception for 500 or so. We expect you can attend vicariously if you’re a Democrat-Gazette reader because publisher Walter Hussman and wife Ben and High Profile editor Phyllis Brandon were in attendance. No word if former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, also on hand, got a chance to chat with Hussman about the newspaper’s Whitewater coverage. And speaking of eating: Brent and Sam’s may begin commercial production of the Hillary Clinton chocolate chip cookie served in Cafe 42. Demand seems to be high enough to justify adding boxed Hillary cookies to the offerings at the Clinton Museum Store. Corrections The task force report on school facilities said Dunbar Middle School was built in 1919, a year we repeated last week. It was built in 1929 as Dunbar High School. An article Oct. 16 on white supremacists said William Pierce, founder of National Allliance, taught at Oklahoma State University. He taught at Oregon State University.

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