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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tech Park Board member 'furious' over 'unilateral' decision-making

Posted by on Wed, Apr 10, 2013 at 4:58 PM

FURIOUS: Tech Park Board member C.J. Duvall
  • 'FURIOUS': Tech Park Board member C.J. Duvall
C. J. Duvall, the telecommunications executive who's a city of Little Rock appointee on the Little Rock Technology Park Authority Board, called me today to express unhappiness with the decision by Board chair Mary Good not to hold a meeting this month. He saw this as another indication of "unilateral," agenda-driven decision-making as the board searches for a site for the city-tax financed business development center.

The blog reported yesterday an announcement from Good that there'd be no board meeting this month. Her announcement included further information about a new potential site brought forward by consultant Charles Dilks, after an earlier site search had been completed and winnowed down to three finalists.

Duvall said he was "furious" over the decision not to meet and that board members didn't participate in the decision. "It was not the first time we were caught by surprise," he said.

The board needs to meet more than an hour or so once a month and have more conversations about matters before it, not be "blind-sided" with new information shortly before meetings, Duvall said.

He said Dilks' presentation of a new potential site — two parcels along University Avenue — was one such surprise. He said he'd talked to other board members who agreed that "meetings need to be more conversational and not driven by an agenda. We wonder if public understands that's where this is going, a unilateral decision-making process."

Duvall sees Chair Good as setting the agenda. So have others. She, for example, expressed unhappiness with sites developed in the advertised search process. "We've been patient with Mary, but I've lost my patience," Duvall said.

Duvall is frustrated with Dilks, too, who's backed off early insistence on a number of characteristics of an ideal site in recommending the University Avenue property, including a 30-acre tract of contiguous property and a single-purpose facility. Dilks now says separated smaller parcels might work, including with mixed use of a potential office building. Duvall said Dilks had "no credibility" with him any longer.

"They are not thinking about the taxpayer," Duvall said. "If I hear one more time 'this is a long-term process,' I'm going to pull my hair out." He said the idea of the tech park was to help researchers commercialize their projects. He said that process could begin if people would rally around the concept and if the board could devote more time to moving the project forward. "The magnitude of this decision requires more than an hour or so a month," he said.

Duvall said his concern would likely be a topic of discussion at the next board meeting.

NO AGENDA: Chair Mary Good
  • NO 'AGENDA': Chair Mary Good
I called Dr. Good about Duvall's complaint. She said her extended absence from town, in part because of the death of her sister, had made it difficult for her to be ready for a meeting this month, but she said it was also important that more information be gathered about the new sites recommended by Dilks. She said she'd spent time today meeting with Hank Kelley, who's proposed the old Brandon Furniture building as a potential tech park site.

Of Duvall's remarks she said, "I'll talk to him and see what his problems are."

MORE ON THE JUMP.

But as for her making the sole decision not meet this month, she said. "The chairman has to have some prerogative on these things."

She readily acknowledges her dissatisfaction with sites to date. "At this moment in time, we don't have a first-class option. We have two or three options we could make work." The question is, she said, "Is there a way to make one of them better? Or are there other alternatives?"

If Duvall thinks there's an agenda, she said, "I'll have to ask him what it is. Because frankly we don't."

She said successful tech parks have been close enough for cooperating institutions — UAMS, UALR and Children's Hospital here — to think they were a part. "That's what we're trying to make happen."

But she said she had no personal interest or agenda in the specific choice. "I don't have a dog in that hunt. Whatever we get done will be long after I'm gone."

In response to Duvall's comments about a perceived loss of credibility in Dilks, Good said: "Charles Dilks has built many of these things. He knows a lot about what works and what doesn't. But I do not want C.J. unhappy, so I'll call him up and talk to him. He's a good man."

MEANWHILE: A group supporting a site for the park in the John Barrow neighborhod has issued a release on the delay that says the time could be used for answering important questions.

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