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Whence the records

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Former Governor’s Mansion administrator Don Bingham kept the records of the private non-profit organization formed to raise funds for mansion improvements, the Governor’s Mansion Association. Questions about purchases (such as $6,500 in china and crystal for the Huckabee family), fund-raising and assets were always referred to him — a dead end for the Arkansas Times (and by extension, the public), since Bingham declined to provide the records, relying on dubious advice from the governor’s legal staff that the tax-exempt organization’s files were part of the governor’s working papers.

With the change in administration, Bingham is gone — and so are the records, staff at the Governor’s Mansion said. Where are they now? “That’s a terrific question,” Sally Stevens, president of the association (until next week), said. Stevens said a compact disc with the minutes of the association’s past meetings has been provided to first lady Ginger Beebe. While she and other association members had always referred questions to Bingham, Stevens said she did not know what records Bingham might have possessed.

Sunshine on the garden

Sally Stevens herself had files on the mansion’s landscaping project and, in a refreshing bit of candor, answered questions the Times had previously asked about the work. The fee for nationally known but locally based garden guru P. Allen Smith’s design of the $1.7 million project was “a cool $500,000,” she said, all of which was raised privately. Smith’s firm was the only bidder on implementing the design, which is being funded by a $1.2 million Natural and Cultural Resources grant.

Stevens said the association’s goal is to get the landscaping presentable by May 7, when the International Master Gardener Conference convenes in Little Rock.

Website change

The Jan. 11 Arkansas Times reported that you could buy copies of former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s books on the website of his Hope for America PAC, which is paying for his travels to test presidential waters. (Book prices were higher, we noted, than those at Amazon.)

The “e-store” is now gone from the Huckabee website. The Huckabee camp doesn’t take our questions so we can’t tell you if the change is related to a whisper we got from someone with experience working for another political hopeful’s PAC. According to this source, PACs may not sell candidates’ books.

Injudicious talk

The legal gossip mill says there could be two vacancies in Little Rock district judgeships in 2008, from Lee Munson’s expected retirement and if David Stewart lands a job as new head of the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission.

Potential candidates being mentioned include: Hugh Finkelstein; Jerry Larkowski and, this is the most interesting one, former Municipal Judge Bill Watt. Watt in 1996 gave up his judgeship and agreed never to run again after being caught up in the Whitewater affair and other questionable activities while on the bench. (Among others, the Arkansas Times complained about his acting as investigator, prosecutor and jury for school truants.) Watt petitioned for reconsideration of his lifetime ban in 2004 and was granted it. So he’s clear to run again, if he chooses.

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