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Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Technology Park: Closed government and the heavy hand of the Chamber

Posted By on Sat, Apr 28, 2012 at 6:50 AM

TECH PARK GODFATHER: Dickson Flake. Coincidentally, hes trying to elect senator to unseat Joyce Elliott, whos been giving Tech Authority grief.
  • TECH PARK GODFATHER: Dickson Flake. Coincidentally, he's trying to elect senator to unseat Joyce Elliott, who's been giving Tech Authority grief.
A Board member of the Broadmoor Neighborhood Association has written city and UALR and UAMS officials urging a requirement that members of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority disclose financial interests, as most other city and state board members are required to do.

Seems simple. Karen Walls, who supports the project, said the group will be spending millions in tax money. Disclosure of members' financial interests will remove appearances of conflict that already exist.

Yes indeed. Is there another public board on which the taxpayer-financed Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has a statutory seat? (You'll find no such statutory seat for the neighborhood or the non-aligned public at large.) Is there, in fact, another private agency that lobbies against the public interest that gets a taxpayer subsidy from city government and also effectively controls a board given $22 million and counting of public money ? The board, as you may know, was created by chamber-written legislation and, so far, has been led by the nose — including with a no-notice, no-bid consultant chosen by the chamber member, Dickson Flake, who dreamed up the idea — by the chamber. The chamber even still has administrative control over what public information may and may not be seen by citizens inquiring about this agency.

Coincidences. The godfather of the tech park and Authority member, Dickson Flake, is leading the money raising for a candidate for the state Senate, Fred Allen, so if the effort to tear up Allen's opponent, Sen. Joyce Elliott, is successful, the Authority will certainly have an "in" at getting the necessary state legislation to make this board operate a bit less like a Little Rock Chamber marching and chowder society and more like a public agency. Allen will have to check with Mr. Flake first, of course.

Another good move would be, as Broadmoor's Karen Walls notes, to do an evaluation of neighborhood housing impact BEFORE a site for the park is chosen, rather than AFTER, as the Technology Authority's Board chair unbelievably suggested the other day. This is the typical Chamber/business executive mindset, sorry to say: "We know what's best for you. If you'll just be quiet and get out of the way, things would go a whole lot more smoothly." Democracy is messy, if allowed to flourish.

Coincidences. Joyce Elliott, a neighborhood resident and head of a new federally funded neighborhood initiative sponsored by UALR and the city, has been raising heck about residents' interests before the Tech Authority Board. Coincidentally, she's under heavy fire in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, whose owner hates Ellliott's education politics, for UALR hiring procedures that played — no doubt about it — far too loosely with constitutional restrictions on public hiring of state legislators. The latest coincidental development in that saga is that Little Rock city government — prime enabler and financier of the Chamber of Commerce-devised corporate welfare project known as the Technology Park — has suddenly decided not to participate in a plan devised to legally pay Elliott through the city. Pay her to give Chamber cutouts hell? Not going to happen. Which may mean she'll soon be out of work. The mayor and the chamber boss can yuk about it on their next publicly funded trip to Paris.

The letter from Karen Walls follows:

Dear Mayor and Chancellors:

I am a member of the Broadmoor Property Owners Association and serve on its board. Broadmoor is a member of the University District Neighborhoods Association and we have significant interest in the improvement of not only the University District but also of the the surrounding neighborhoods, businesses, schools and shared infrastructure.

I personally support the development of the Technology Park as I believe it will bring in new jobs and business development both to the University District and the 12th Street Corridor, and that it will improve quality of life in the areas south of I-630. The housing stock and commercial areas have languished and eroded for many years due to flight to the western areas of Little Rock and the county. Little Rock is ripe to reverse the trend and revitalize the central city, and the Technology Park can be the start of something great for both the core city and the local neighborhoods.

However, I find it of great concern that the members of the Technology Park Authority are not being required to disclose their financial interests. Every state legislator and board or commission member is required to file financial disclosure statements to prove no conflict of interest exists between them and the power of the position they hold. Financial and conflict of interest disclosure rules exist at all levels of city, county, state and federal government, particularly for positions where large amounts of money is involved and contracts are being written. This small group of people will be responsible for $22M of the citizens’ sales tax dollars and I am amazed how this situation of non-disclosure has been allowed. Filing such statements removes all appearance of impropriety, which now already exists. Damage has already been done and it needs to be repaired immediately with complete transparency in this process. If an Authority member does not wish to give financial disclosure, they should resign and another be appointed.

I also find it disturbing that there will be no early evaluation of housing stock and relocation possibilities for those individuals and families who will serve the entire city community by moving from their homes under authority of eminent domain. These are not just houses and pieces of property, they are homes for people of the area neighborhoods, some who have lived there for their entire lives. Community outreach and due diligence needs to be done prior to selecting the final site for the Tech Park. Please take the initiative to build some hope and confidence for the future instead of creating fear and frustration.

In conclusion:

1. The Tech Park Authority members should be required to immediately submit a standard financial disclosure that public employees and office holders are required to provide for city, county, state and federal type positions when managing large amounts of money and contracts; if they refuse, appoint someone else

2. Instead of waiting until after a Tech Park location is chosen, the city, the Tech Park partnering institutions and the appointed Tech Park Authority members should reach out and work with the residents – let them know what support and resources will be provided for the transition; each proposed Tech Park location has its different challenges but all have the same ultimate outcome: people will be removed from their homes, property and neighbors.


Thank you for your consideration of my concerns.

Karen Walls
Broadmoor Property Owners Association

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