Hourly news and comment
The guide to Arkansas entertainment
For food lovers
On art in Arkansas
A view from Northwest Arkansas
The Fold, the new taqueria and cocktail bar from Bart Barlogie and Wilson Brandt, opened this weekend in Riverdale.
Coming to the Pleasant Ridge Town Center.
Travis McConnell serves up the good stuff at the Bernice Garden Farmers Market.
"Beautiful Uprising" reception tonight, talk by artist Saturday.
Reception for artist is tonight.
I had a nice visit with Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood last week. /more/
If you are a beltway Republican, no antidote for the blues matches extended congressional hearings on a real or imagined national horror — that is, if it might heap dishonor on a Democratic administration. If Hillary Clinton will be the dishonoree, so much the better. /more/
I hinted earlier that evidence was mounting that the securities salesman who provided confidential information to the FBI was Steele Stephens, the broker who began enjoying a huge share of Treasurer Martha Shoffner's bond business in 2010.
Two highly placed sources have told me that they were certain Stephens was the wired informant who delivered cash to Shoffner in a pie at her Newport home Saturday.
Yesterday, he didn't take calls. But his boss at St. Bernard Financial Services in Russellville, Robert Keenan, had told me he'd talked to Stephens, who assured him he was not involved.
After hearing from my two sources, I was heading to work with plans to call Keenan back. I was greeted at my desk by this phone message from Keenan: "I think my rep's been lying to me."
I called Keenan, who gave the following account:
Keenan first looked again at the criminal charge and decided that the time line of Stephens' involvement with Shoffner dealing could fit Stephens after all, if you counted his time with both St. Bernard and an earlier employer.
"I asked him, 'Are you involved?'"
Stephens reportedly responded, "The FBI told me I can't say anything."
Keenan said he then asked when that counsel from the FBI occurred. In January, Stephens reportedly responded. That's when the confidential source began talking with the FBI in the Shoffner case.
"So I said, OK, it's him" Keenan told me.
Stephens never officially confirmed that. But Keenan said "there are so many dots." He said Stephens continues to work at the firm today (he didn't respond to my request for a call), because he didn't want to move rashly. But he said he'd begun notifying all relevant regulatory authorities to "see what they say."
Keenan reiterated that anything Stephens had done was without his knowledge. "I'm crushed. He's a great guy."
He said Stephens is required to sign a lengthy questionaire every year about his business. Among them is whether he'd made any contributions to anyone without the firm's permission. He said he had not. "Obviously that's not true," Keenan said.
"It's like family when you're in a little firm. You believe in your people. It's like if somebody told you your son's got a drug problem. Your first reaction would be to say, 'No, I don't think so.'"
Keenan said, "It's a PR nightmare. We haven't done anything wrong as a firm. My dad taught me you can't do crap like this because it eventually comes out."
Keenan's father, Steve Stephens of Little Rock, also has been employed as a registered securities rep at the firm, but retired this year on his 83rd birthday, Keenan said.
When I went back to Heath Abshure, the state securities commissioner, with my information that Stephens figured in the probe, he responded:
We are working on it. Although the Department’s enforcement actions are civil, the effect on a respondent’s reputation mirrors that of a criminal case. As soon as the Department files its complaint, the damage is done. Therefore, I tell my examiners and attorneys that they are not to file an action until they are absolutely sure they can prove each allegation in the complaint.
With regard to the identity of the confidential source, the Department is reaching out to the likely suspects in an effort to get them to talk to us. Cooperation is something the Department considers in its enforcement matters. Obviously, lack of cooperation is also considered.
Here's a list of the Republicans who voted against disaster aid for areas hit by Hurricane Sandy. It includes Oklahoma congressmen as well as, famously, Rep. Tom Cotton, the Club for Growth's consul in Arkansas's 4th District, itself a frequent tornado casualty.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is holding firm. He wants disaster aid for Oklahoma, but he wants it paid for by cuts somewhere else. That's been Cotton's past stance on disaster money. Will he hold firm when it's a red state feeling the pain?
It's simple. The American way is to help the needy without condition, certainly not the somebody else must sacrifice first. Take no hostages, certainly not for ideology. There but for the grace of God go all of us.
A morning report as Arkansas watches the stormy skies:
* THE STATE TREASURER WATCH: Can Martha Shoffner really return to work today as state treasurer, overseeing billions in state investments, after admitting to FBI agents that she wrongfully accepted a pie stuffed with a cash kickback from a securities salesman she inordinately favored with state business?
Her first appointment today will be with her attorney, Chuck Banks, who's already indicated he thinks her best choice would be to resign, but the decision is hers. Facts of the case indicate she's broke, which might make her want to hang onto her $53,000-a-year job. She presumably has some Social Security to fall back on. She's accumulated some state pension credits, too. (I've looked but can't immediately find if my memory was correct about legislation being introduced this year to require forfeiture of retirement benefits by public officials convicted of crimes.)
Meanwhile, multiple sources of extremely high credibility assure me speculation on the FBI's confidential informant has not been off base.
It's worth highlighting what federal officials said yesterday. Until Saturday, when the wired informant delivered a hot money pie to Shoffner at her Newport home, they didn't have a case against the treasurer. Some overheated Republican commentators confuse suspicion with evidence. Evidence and probable cause to believe crimes have been committed are customarily necessary to undertake criminal investigations, not partisan innuendo. In this case, that arrived when the securities salesman began talking to federal investigators, long before the legislature got involved. Even then, it took months before they could get the goods on the treasurer.
Ready as I am to presume Shoffner's guilty, it's worth remembering that we have a Constitution. For example, if Shoffner doesn't quit, agitation will grow quickly for a special session to impeach her, an expensive process and also one that would require some period of time to stage, with lots of procedural problems. If she really is planning a criminal defense, she might argue that it would harm her defense by being forced to defend essentially the same charges in a trial for removal. She could do everyone a favor by going quietly, of course.
PS: I am reminded that there's an easier course provided in the Arkansas Constitution. The governor may remove the treasurer by "address," requiring only a two-thirds vote of both houses. That could be quick work. Some, but probably only a few, might be reluctant to essentially declare a guilty verdict without trial for someone protesting their innocence. But it certainly could be done. Again, the better course is for Shoffner to hang it up.
* ARKANSAS: IT COULD BE WORSE: We had a lamentable legislative session if you have a progressive, or even a centrist outlook. But, yes, it could be worse. Get a load of what a Virginia senator and candidate for attorney general wants to do:
If a woman in Virginia has a miscarriage without a doctor present, they must report it within 24 hours to the police or risk going to jail for a full year. At least, that’s what would have happened if a bill introduced by Virginia state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) had become law
* THE UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS BOARD AND HOSPITAL COMBINATIONS: The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meets tomorrow. The agenda includes an "information" item about a clinical integration agreement. That's not an action item on the discussion of UAMS and St. Vincent merging their operations. The agenda also includes a new affiliation agreement between UAMS and Arkansas Children's Hospital. UAMS pediatric faculty staffs Children's. They've had an agreement since 1982 that has been amended several times. It's not clear what drives the latest amendment, though I note that the divesting of power by the UA Board to the UAMS chancellor on overseeing the arrangement and a joint governing board made up equally of UAMS and Children's representatives is similar to what's been discussed for UAMS-St. Vincent. The Children's deal refers to autonomy of decisions in the respective institutions and the like.
* NICE WORK BY THE LEGISLATURE: You see the report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about the lawsuit filed over Blytheville's decision to exempt itself from the new school choice law, presumably to prevent segregative transfers from a district with a history of court action over segregation? The go-to lawyer for the Billionaire Boys Club and their pro-charter, pro-voucher, anti-conventional public school agenda, Jess Askew, is leading the legal charge naturally. It's an opportunity to frontally combat the theory that all of Arkansas, with its well-documented past of support for segregation, has a duty not to contribute to resegregation and thus can take racial outcomes into account in allowing school choice. But the real wrinkle is a technicality to beat all technicalities. Askew is arguing that the law is without exception, at least this year, because the deadline to ask for an exception for the next school year, as written in the law, occurred April 1 before the law was signed. The state Education Department imposed a new deadline so districts could have a meaningful opportunity to opt out, but the lawsuit argues that's not legal. Nice trick, Johnny Key. Maybe if they have that special session to impeach Shoffner, they could clean up that bad piece of legislative drafting. Unless it was intentional.
Here's what you get when you combine "Rockin' Robin" with "Folsom Prison Blues" and "The Joker." What say you — abomination or finger-snapping good time?
The mash comes courtesy of DJ Faroff.
I'll have more on my impressions on this year's festival tomorrow. In the meantime, here are this year's prize winners.
Oxford American Best Southern Film Award ($10,000 prize money): "Bayou Maharajah"
Heifer International Social Impact Film Award ($10,000 prize money): "These Birds Walk"
Golden Rock Narrative Film: "Short Term 12"
Golden Rock Documentary Film: "Dirty Wars"
Extraordinary Courage in Filmmaking: Jeremy Scahill ("Dirty Wars")
Arkansas Times Audience Award: "Bridegroom"
Made in Arkansas Best Feature: "45 RPM"
Made in Arkansas Best Short: "The Discontentment of Ed Telfair"
Made in Arkansas Best Director: Mark Thiedeman for "Last Summer"
Made in Arkansas Best Actor: Liza Burns in "45 RPM"
World Shorts: "When We Lived in Miami"
A previous version of this post incorrectly listed the World Shorts winner as "When We Live in Miami."
Arkansas is full of talented people, and we ran across yet another one of them last night: the thoroughly-hilarious writer and video blogger Joseph Birdsong. In the video seen above, Birdsong, who was born in Arkansas, schools out-of-staters on some skewed facts about the Natural State, including: "People in Arkansas are born with the ability to recognize 30 different kinds of roadkill based on scent alone," and "The first gay person to ever come to Arkansas was George Takei, and that was because he was forced here to live in an Arkansas Japanese internment camp during World War II." Just remember, he's laughing WITH us, not AT us. Okay, he's laughing AT us as well, but a great sense of humor covers a multitude of sins.
If you're looking for a good laugh, you can check out almost 200 of Birdsong's quirky videos on his Youtube site, cupofjoeshow.com. He's also got a site where he blogs, a very funny Twitter account. and a video blog for My Damn Channel's Answerly page where he talks about sex and relationships.
ahf501...... I am not aware of ANY Democrat who thinks it is okay for Ms…
Please follow the link below to a report by the Department of Transportation / Federal…
From a news article:
"And despite their voting record on disaster aid for other…
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings