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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tracking a Globetrotter

Posted By on Tue, Aug 3, 2010 at 6:52 AM

Where does Fred Smith, the former Harlem Globetrotter, really live? The question has been the subject of a series of articles in the West Memphis Evening Times because Smith, listing a Crawfordsville address, won the Democratic nomination for state House. Since then, nothing but questions.

The latest story in the West Memphis newspaper, gives you some of the flavor of a controversy that seems likely to grow into a multi-faceted public story before long. The Ethics Commission is reviewing Smith's failure to file financial disclosures. Opponents are talking of a court challenge to his residency. And there's an intriguing story line reflected below on a federally funded school tutoring program that has come in for unflattering attention.

FROM THE WEST MEMPHIS EVENING TIMES, FRIDAY, JULY 30

By Trip Cook
trip.cook@gmail.com

With uncertainty surrounding where Fred Smith lives or where he
received funds for his campaign, what is known about the man who will
likely represent a portion of Crittenden County in the Arkansas House
of Representatives?

Smith, a nonprofit director and newcomer to politics, upset a crowded
field of three individuals with decades of political experience with
his victory in the Democratic primary earlier this year. He finished
with considerably more votes than former Gilmore City Council member
Gary Tobar and former Sen. Blanche Lincoln staffer D’James Rogers,
then went on to defeat longtime West Memphis Councilman James Pulliaum
in a runoff election in June.

The former professional basketball player and current nonprofit
organization director took an unlikely road to being about five months
away from taking a seat in the state house. Smith’s road has been
marked by success on the basketball floor with one of the world’s most
popular basketball teams and a post-basketball career spurred by
controversial changes in the law regarding school districts.

Smith played high school basketball at Crawfordsville High School
under then-assistant coach Otis Davis. More than two decades later,
Davis, a term-limited state representative who holds the seat that
Smith is seeking, became Smith’s campaign manager.

“He (Davis) has taken me under his wings... I feel that we’ve both
come from Crawfordsville and been able to accomplish things that no
one ever thought we could,” Smith told the Times in March.
After graduating from Crawfordsville High School, Smith went on to
play basketball for Oral Roberts University. In 1994, the
6-foot-5-inch forward was selected to the All-Independent basketball
squad in a vote from sports information directors around the country,
according to a 1994 L.A. Times story.

After leaving the charismatic Christian university, Smith joined the
Harlem Globetrotters, where he gained the nickname “Preacher.” The
Crawfordsville native was recognized by Sports Illustrated, Jet
Magazine and other national publications in 1997 when he broke the
world record for a vertical slam dunk at 11 feet, 11 inches.
Smith was eventually selected for the Harlem Globetrotters all-time roster.
In 2004, Smith started Save Our Kids, a tutoring program that pairs
schoolwork with athletics.

The program, which was described as “controversial” by the Washington
Post in 2006, came after the No Child Left Behind Act required schools
with low academic performance to hire outside education companies to
provide free tutoring for low-performing students.

Groups like Save Our Kids, which provide what are known in the
education world as “supplemental educational services,” are paid by
local school districts per student for the tutoring.

School districts are given a cap for expenditures per-child for the
services. In Crittenden County, Earle School District can spend up to
about $1,600 per student for tutoring from groups like Save Our Kids
and West Memphis can spend up to about $1,400 per student, according
to the most recent available information from the U.S. Department of
Education.

In the 2008-2009 school year, 468 students in the West Memphis School
District participated in supplemental educational services, according
to information from the school district. West Memphis School District
was allocated about $682,000 for school choice-related transportation
and supplemental educational services for that school year.

Smith received about $90,000 from the Lee County School District in
2006, according to The Washington Post. Smith told the newspaper that
he paid tutors about $30 per hour.

At the time, Lee County School District Superintendent Wayne Thompson
and Lakeside Assistant Superintendent Billy Adams reportedly told The
Washington Post that they were frustrated that Smith used teachers
from the school district who were prevented from tutoring directly for
the school system.

“We have someone who comes in, basically does not have any real
educational background, and hires our teachers who already have been
on the job and haven’t been able to do the job either,” the newspaper
quoted Thompson as saying.

Save Our Kids has been included as one of the Arkansas Department of
Education’s state-approved supplemental educational services every
year since 2004, but Smith’s nonprofit was not included in a list
released last week of the state’s 64 approved tutoring services for
the 2010-2011 school year.

Smith has said that he was motivated to assist low proficiency
students after his own struggles in the classroom. He has said he
planned to focus on educational issues while in the state legislature.
“God’s vision for me was to help bring low proficiency kids —
motivating low-income kids — to do better,” Smith said in March. “I’m
not jumping into politics just to be known as a politician. I have
been working in schools in Earle, West Memphis and Turrell, areas that
allow my program to work with them. I want to bring people together to
see the vision that God has given me.”

Numerous attempts to reach Smith for comment on this series have been
unsuccessful.

WEST MEMPHIS EVENING TIMES THURSDAY JULY 29

By Trip Cook
trip.cook@gmail.com

If law enforcement and the state ethics commission couldn’t find Fred
Smith at the Crawfordsville address he provided on his candidacy
forms, can anyone find him there?

Public records and anecdotal evidence suggest that finding Smith at
106 Green Street in Crawfordsville, the address he provided on some of
his candidacy forms, may be extremely difficult.

The recent attempt by the Arkansas Ethics Commission and Crittenden
County Sheriff’s Department to find the Democratic Party nominee for
the District 54 seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives follows
months of speculation and questions surrounding Smith’s residency.
Political opponents have claimed that the reason no one has been able
to find the candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives is
because Smith’s actual residence is in Walls, Mississippi. Public
records seem to back up the claim or at least raise serious questions
about Smith’s residency.

Public records provide no evidence that Smith pays property taxes at
the Crawfordsville home, but do show that he paid property taxes for a
home in Walls, Mississippi earlier this year.

A city property card for the home at 106 Green Street in
Crawfordsville lists the house’s owner as William Lee Taylor Sr. The
property card also lists a P.O. Box address in Crawfordsville for
Taylor — the same P.O. Box that Smith used on his candidacy forms.
The only property Smith has assessed in Crittenden County through the
P.O. Box address came in 2001, when Smith assessed a 1994 Chevrolet
Suburban.

Voting records also show few links between Smith and the address he
provided on his candidacy forms.

Prior to the 2010 elections, the only times Smith used the 106 Green
address to cast a ballot came in 1996 and 1994, according to a voting
history report. A voting card mailed to Smith at the P.O. Box address
in 1995 was returned as undeliverable, according to a registrant
information card.

While there are few concrete documents linking Smith to
Crawfordsville, there are several links to Smith at an address on
Broken Hickory Drive in Walls, Mississippi.

A real property tax document from DeSoto County shows that Smith and
his wife, Tasha Carodine, paid about $1,000 in property taxes on the
Walls, Mississippi property in January.

A nonprofit organization called Saving Our Children Inc. registered
under Smith’s name shares the same Walls, Mississippi address and a
fax number for Save Our Kids has an area code for the northern half of
Mississippi.

Arkansas law requires that members of the state House of
Representatives be a current resident of the county or district for at
least one year before taking office. State law also requires that
state representatives are residents of the state for two years.
Attempts to reach Smith at a cell phone number listed on his candidacy
forms and an e-mail address listed for his nonprofit organization were
unsuccessful.

But Smith has addressed the issue in the past.

He said in May that he refused to play “dirty politics” with political
opponent Gary Tobar, who raised the issue of his residency to the
Crittenden County Board of Election Commissioners. Smith said at the
time that “when it boils down to it, at the end of the day, my
residence is in Crawfordsville, Arkansas.”

“Personally, I never worry about where a candidate lives — I am going
by what they are doing in the community now... By law, it doesn’t
state that you can’t have another residential place like a dream or
beach home,” Smith told the Times in May.

After he won the June primary election, Smith said he was elected
because he always treated people right and “it doesn’t matter where he
lives.”

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