On last night's "Ask the Governor" program on AETN, moderator Steve Barnes asked Gov. Mike Beebe how he stood on the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affair's attempts to move their Little Rock day clinic to bigger space at 10th and Main streets, an idea unpopular with some downtown business owners and Mayor Mark Stodola.
I couldn't get a transcript
and the show isn't online, but Matt DeCample, the governor's communications chief, paraphrased the exchange for me. (You may now see the show online here.)
The governor answered Barnes' question by saying that no one had yet asked him about what he thought about the day clinic's location — it's not an issue the governor's office is involved in — and that his answer would be that it should be on Main Street. He said he thinks it's a good place for the services, and that veterans deserve that.
Max, who is on vacation only theoretically, has sent an e-mail to Stodola asking him if he was prepared to require the private developer to sue to get a building permit from the city to refurbish the Main Street building. If an answer comes in, I'll post it here.
UPDATE: City Attorney Tom Carpenter issued an opinion today on the proposed conditional use permit ordinance that will come before the city board Tuesday, a proposal that popped up after the VA bought the building at 10th and Main and which could possibly require the VA to jump through more hoops to open the clinic.
Carpenter says in the opinion that the city's practice has been not to apply a new ordinance to a project that has received a building permit. However, the VA has not yet received the building permit it needs to remodel the building, though it applied for one six weeks ago.
The mayor's (indirect) response to Max's question on whether he'd require the company that is redeveloping the property to sue to get the permit:
As I have always suspected, but you never asked, the passage of an ordinance requiring a conditional use will not apply to the VA for 2 reasons. (I wouldn’t have asked for the opinion otherwise.) That has been the general practice on applications already submitted and further, the BIA would grandfather in community welfare agencies already in the specific location. The city is awaiting the remainder of Tom’s opinion on the existing requirements under UU zoning.
Re the Democrat-Gazette's extensive front-page article about a former Austin, Texas mayor who said a huge, state-of-the-art homeless shelter in Austin had perhaps deterred downtown redevelopment for a block or so around the building, but not elsewhere:
Mayor Mark Stodola chimed in with harrumphing about the proposed VA clinic he's trying to block at 10th and Main.
A day clinic — not strictly for homeless veterans, without residential facilities and open only to military veterans who've agreed to terms of service — is not a homeless shelter.
The Austin Center (and I'd be proud to have such a facility in Little Rock) provides overnight lodging to 100 men per night. And it's a day shelter from the elements for 10,000 men and women a year. It is not a VA day clinic that closes every night and that it is not open to all who wander in.
I remain stunned that the city seems prepared to force the Veterans Affairs Department to go to court to get a building permit because it wants to spend $300,000 to make something akin to a medical clinic out of a building that has stood vacant for years. Here's the building owner's schooling of the city over its bald effort to stop the vets clinic, facts be damned.
PS — Here's a report done by the building owner on the replacement value of the building. It pretty well blows the city's figures out of the water.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Erik Shinseki has written Congressman Tim Griffin that his office believes the VA here followed the letter of the law in its purchase of property at 10th and Main for a new drop-in veterans clinic.
Shinseki's letter was a response to a letter Griffin, who has stood with the city against the location of the clinic, wrote to the secretary about his concerns over site selection. Griffin talked about the letter this morning at a meeting of the Arkansas Veterans Coalition. Griffin told the group that he had no question that the VA Clinic had outgrown its Second Street building and needed more space.
After the Times got a call about the Shinseki letter, I called Debbie Meece, VA clinic spokesman, to confirm the details. I've also called Congressman Griffin's office for a copy of the letter
but haven't received a response., which the office says will be released soon.
Apparently, Shinseki also said the VA here could have communicated its plans better and that he hoped communication would improve as the clinic goes forward, Meece said.
The letter leaves Griffin zero for two, since his invitation to U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, to visit Little Rock last week failed to produce any criticism of the VA's purchase of the property.
S.I. Property Management has applied for a building permit to remodel the old Cook Jeep dealership for the clinic, but the city hasn't approved it. On Tuesday, March 6, the City Board of Directors will take up an ordinance it's drafted to stymie the VA's move, by amending city code to require it to get a conditional use permit, which it does not currently need.
UPDATE: Griffin's office has released Shinseki's letter and, by way of showing that Rep. Miller did come to the aid of a fellow Republican, a letter Miller sent Shinseki demanding answers on the selection process.
Griffin's release on the jump.
The chair of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, met further today with Arkansas officials working to provide services to Central Arkansas veterans.
We assume this meeting was to generally check up on things and perhaps weigh in on the Drop-in Center relocation to a site already leased at 10th and Main in Little Rock. We also assume that he toured local veterans' facilities, including the existing Drop-In Center at 2nd and Ringo, which is so over-crowded that clients eat in three shifts and the doors to the closet-sized offices don't open entirely, because multiple desks have been crammed inside.
We assume because at the press conference at the Little Rock VA hospital following the meeting, Miller barely spoke. He complimented local VA leadership, called Central Arkansas's facilities "one of the crown jewels inside the system," and repeatedly thanked U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin of Little Rock, until now a key opponent of the new location, for inviting him to visit. He literally spoke for a minute (the recording is posted below).
Tim Griffin spoke extensively, but he never went beyond platitudes. He took five questions — three from the same reporter— and all the while, Miller stood at Griffin's side, wearing an unreadable expression. When Griffin finished speaking (a question on why he has publicly supported Romney pretty much shut down the conference after Griffin said he couldn't discuss politics in the government venue), Miller was surrounded by a conglomerate of suits and uniformed security, and whisked away with journalists in vain pursuit.
So really, we don't know if Miller toured the Drop-In Center (he implied that he had, but he never explicitly said this), if he has an opinion on its conditions, if he agrees with Griffin's work — including a letter to Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki — to stymie the VA relocation efforts, or even why he was present at the news conference.
What we do know is that Griffin can't tell us "everything that was in the meeting, otherwise we would have had the meeting in here," but that "we have requested some facts about the timeline of events and the VA is being very cooperative, and they want to give us those facts, so we will take a look at those, and I have offered in every way to help further the conversation from different sides, and from what I hear from the VA, they want to be forward leaning and engage in conversation with folks who oppose that particular site."
Uh, yeah, I think we already knew all that and that Griffin has experience as a reservist. Speaking of questions and answers: You'll find answers to every single one posed to the VA so far on its Facebook page. And they welcome more.
Video after the jump. Also a news release in which Griffin works in a jab at the VA for not doing an adequate job of notice on its move.
Supporters of a new Main Street location for a center for vets seeking counseling and a variety of day services met yesterday with Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, an opponent of the Main Street location, and House VA Committee Chair Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, brought down by Griffin to buttress his attack on the VA for considering the location.
A release follows on the meeting by Kathy Wells, Robert Johnston and Herb Rule with the congressmen, though it doesn't mention a congressional response.
Griffin is going to line up some politically sympathetic vets this morning to cover him on a fight, which — if successful — will add another year or so to the VA's six-year search for better quarters for vets. The VA has been opposed at every turn by government officials — like Griffin and Mayor Mark Stodola — who speak out of the other side of their mouth about their reverence for veterans. The congressmen will meet later today with VA officials and then hold a news conference at 11 a.m. at which they are likely to say the problem is the VA, not veterans. Our vets should be happy to take a location as far as possible from human eyes except those in a neighborhood with no clout, such as that around the woeful site the city chose (without public notice) for a homeless center for non-vets on Confederate Boulevard.
Another supporter of the vets center suggests a viewing of this video on Kipling's tribute to the forgotten vets of the Light Brigade. He put together the tribute above.
ALSO: Here's a letter from almost 50 people, including several local clergy, backing the Main Street location.
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