City Director Brad Cazort, is driving the train for more money for Stodola, who makes $160,000. Cazort seemed to indicate that an ordinance to lift Stodola to $179,208, the same as City Manager Bruce Moore, may still fall short of the weird state law that requires that mayoral pay be "comparable" with that of other municipal officials.
CORRECTION: Others at the meeting say I misread the Democrat-Gazette story. It should have been clear that Cazort was defending the raise to $179,208 because Stodola's existing $160,000 salary was not comparable, not that the higher figure was not comparable. So this post has been updated to reflect that, though I still have questions about the whole debate on a need for a raise.
I was confused by the continuing discussion of the fact that Airport Director Ron Mathieu ($197,600) and Sewer boss Reggie Corbitt ($185,099) make more, as Cazort has noted. It hasn't come up in discussions, but Stodola also is line for a $600-a-month car allowance, a $1 million life insurance policy, paid health insurance and a $20,000-a-year tax-free contribution to a retirement account.
What's comparable mean? He knows it when he sees it, Cazort says, and $160,000 isn't.
My questions from this morning remain:
1) Is it not correct that the mayor has no administrative duties other than chairing city board meetings and making the occasional appointment? Would comparability also include a consideration of the work done for the money, Bruce Moore being required to do a good bit more? The mayor's day-to-day responsibilities are of his own choosing.
2) Does anyone really think a taxpayer is going to file a lawsuit demanding that Mark Stodola be paid more? Or that a court would get into the hazy notion of defining comparability against a representative body's definition of the word for an official who himself must face voters periodically?
City Director Doris Wright is on the money. The state statute needs clarification. And home rule, not state law, should prevail on elected official pay. If the pay's too low for Stodola — or anyone else — nobody made them run.
The ordinance also provides:
(c) The benefit package of the Mayor shall include life insurance, health insurance as available to City employees, retirement, access to deferred income accounts, a car allowance equal to that of the City Manager, and any other benefits made available to any employee of the City.
A memorandum with the ordinance from City Attorney Tom Carpenter says the ordinance will also provide the mayor with an increase in his car allowance to equalize that paid the city manager. The ordinance would make it match exactly, as with pay. The mayor's car allowance would go from $500 a month to $600 to match Moore's $600. Each has a $1 million city-provided term life insurance as well as defined contribution retirement plans. In the retirement plan, the city contributes 12.5 percent of each man's pay and they put in 7 percent for a tax-deferred account that is taxable on withdrawal.
Its letter objecting to a rezoning plan says, in part:
At a public forum held at Winthrop Rockefeller Elementary and Early Childhood Magnet School on March 2, 2013, residents asked Paradise Group LLC to share their business and community engagement plan. To date the Paradise Group LLC has failed to share their solid business and community engagement plan with our community the very place where this proposed planned development will be housed. We know of no letters or confirmed intent of support from Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS), Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) or Transitional Youth Services (TYS) or any other organizations or entities that would directly impact the specific services being provided to these pregnant teens.
Presently, the property at 2020 Vance Street has remained vacant and a nuisance for a number of years. This boarded and dilapidated historic structure is visible from Interstate 30 and has proved to be a hardship for those residents whose homes are in close proximity to this structure.
It has been the expressed wish of the PNA that the structure be demolished. However, if the structure is to be rehabilitated, the PNA requests proof that the proprietors have a solid business and community engagement plan to ensure the sustainability of whatever business is housed in this particular structure.
The Pettaway community along with MacArthur Park Historic District and the Main Street corridor is experiencing growth. People are moving in, buying vacant lots, restoring older historic homes, and building new structures. This growth is directly related to the sustained community effort to embrace community by making it safe, clean and supporting one another in our desire to live in a vibrant downtown. As much as the residents would like a positive and effective planned development at 2020 Vance Street (like the new Children's Library in the 12th Street corridor) we want to make sure that the property is not left vacant again after a short period of use.
She objects, too, to an earlier project to put a bike lane on West 12th Street between Jonesboro Drive and Battery, a portion of which is also in her Ward One.
The plans were done quietly without consulting her and should have been brought before the City Board, she said.
"I resent it. I'm tired of it."
Hendrix, who is black, sees the bike lanes through a racial lens. She thinks the pressure to accommodate bicycles comes from white residents and that the largely black residents of her ward don't support the traffic changes. She said South Main is a busy street with a bus route and the bike lane will be a hazard and slow traffic, as it has done on Twelfth Street.
Hendrix contends that an expenditure of public money on bicycle traffic should have been brought before the City Board. She's filed a Freedom of Information request for financial information about the bike lanes, something she said she was never favored with. She said she also planned to contact the federal Justice Department.
The Main Street project includes some new asphalt surfacing and bike lanes on both sides of Main between I-630 and Roosevelt Road. A public meeting was held on the plan last week, but Hendrix said that wasn't sufficient. "It wouldn't have gotten this far if I had been included," she said. The project is an outgrowth of redevelopment of the South Main business district with restaurants and other businesses.
Her FOI request, as written in e-mail to city officials:
TOTAL AMOUNT OF CITY FUNDING $$$ CONTRIBUTED, TO THE BIKE TRAIL, ON WEST 12th, FROM BATTERY TO JONES STREETS.
TOTAL AMOUNT OF ANTICIPATED CITY FUNDING $$$, TO BE SPENT FOR PROPOSED AMOUNT, TO BE SPENT FOR THE MAIN STREET BIKE TRAIL.
REMEMBER THE TURN AROUND TIME OF THIS REQUEST.
IF EITHER OF YOU HAVE A QUESTION YOU MUST EMAIL THE CONCERN. NO TELEPHONE.
UPDATE: Quite a stir produced in the neighborhood. Hendrix sent along a letter she'd received about the comments reported here. She responded that the blog item was hearsay and asked me if I had a tape recording of her mentioning race in her comments to me. I don't. But I know she mentioned race several times, both of those who oppose the bike lanes and those who support them. But, as the original item also noted, Hendrix was less concerned with race than with being left out of the process and, she believes, disrespected by the mayor. She remains convinced that Main and W. 12th are bad streets for bike lanes. She said Chester Street would be far preferable as a north-south bike route.
Couple of late-arriving news items:
* MAYOR STODOLA DESERVES MORE MONEY TOO: The Little Rock City Board has begun discussing, at the mayor's suggestion, a pay raise for directors, who've made $12,000 since 1994. Something in the range of $18,000 would reflect inflation, the story goes. Now comes a memorandum on the pay of the mayor himself from City Attorney Tom Carpenter, prepared at the request of City Director Brad Cazort. The mayor makes $160,000, a rate in effect since 2007. The state statute governing mayoral pay says the mayor "shall be compensated with salary and benefits comparable to the salary and benefits to an official or employee of the municipality with similar executive duties and powers," Carpenter's memo notes that Stodola's pay "ranges from approximately 12% beneath that of the City Manager, and is 23.9% beneath that of the executive director of Central Arkansas Water." Carpenter concluded:
The key is that the Mayor’s salary is currently double digit percentages less than any of the major municipal executive positions in the City. While the word “comparable,” is not exact, this significant of a difference is clearly something the Board should consider, and determine an appropriate adjustment to make.
* WINTHROP ROCKEFELLER INSTITUTE DIRECTOR DEPARTING: Roby Brock at Talk Business reports that Christy Carpenter is retiring May 31 after two years as CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean. It's a University of Arkansas facility using the former governor's ranch and supported by his charitable trust as a conference center and site for educational programs. From her statement:
The remoteness of WRI’s location and its distance from my husband, Robert Walden’s, work in Los Angeles are major factors in my decision, as is my desire to dedicate my energies fully to working on national and global issues.
Robert and I plan to split the remainder of this year between Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, where I will also devote time to reviewing the papers of my late mother, former White House aide Liz Carpenter, for permanent archiving at the LBJ Library.
Add me to the admirers of Walden's lead role in "Death of the Salesman" at the Rep. Nearly a full house for the show last night.
Above is a rendering of a project planned by by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau on River Market Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets.
LRCVB just rolled out a new brand strategy and, to underscore it, they devised this beautification project to brand an underpass with the new Little Rock logo. From the news release:
“We thought it might be a really great opportunity for us to kick-off our new 'brand,' while also providing a little color and splash to an otherwise ordinary underpass,” said LRCVB President and CEO, Gretchen Hall. ”Additionally, we felt that this location provides a great opportunity for us to do this, as it connects the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown, our new Residence Inn as well as several of our restaurants and shops to President Clinton Avenue and
the River Market.”
A news conference tomorrow will emphasis the dollars and employment that flow from the tourism industry locally.
The school, Lauer reports, has come up with an all-hands-on-deck traffic warden system augmented by private security. It COULD stagger school start and release times, but, no, that would be inconvenient to the school. I mean, really, inconvenience the school just because of a couple of cranky neighbors?
I was most interested in the school's remark that it had been "blind-sided" by the city's enforcement of zoning rules.
Through the wonder of the Internet, you can go back to January 2011 when the Planning Commission approved an expansion for LISA to 600 students. It had to present a detailed plan to qualify for that expansion and it included a great deal of discussion of and accommodation for the traffic that would be generated by a facility serving 600 students. LISA was well aware of planning rules then and traffic needs then. Was it really blind-sided by the city's interest NOW in the fact that it had increased enrollment by almost a third over what had been permitted without first going through the required city planning process? I remain interested in any internal communications at the alleged public school about this expansion plan. Did no one remember the 2011 hearing at which traffic requirements were put in place for 600 students? Maybe LISA was just blind-sided by learning that rules really do apply to them. That's not what charter schools in Arkansas had been accustomed to in their beginning years.
A city planning process in which major facility expansions are approved after the fact is not a planning process at all. But once Jess Askew is done with the City Board at a coming hearing, I'm sure this can be worked out. Maybe Walton charter school lobbyist Luke Gordy can also come down and back Askew up. How can Arkansas have school choice if grouchy neighbors and city hall bureaucrats and laws and petty stuff like that get in the way?
PS — In pinpointing the school on a Google map, I happened to run across a comment about LISA by someone who described herself as an unhappy parent of a former student. Her observations included this remark about the 2011-2012 school year, BEFORE the 190-student expansion.
... Getting in and out is a nightmare. There is no parking, no real traffic control, and the street is full of horrible potholes. ....
The new campaign was rolled out Friday, the work of BrandStrategy Inc. and MMGY Global. It's the product of a $180,000 project that will gradually find its way into advertising and literature of the convention bureau.
You here the updated logo for city marketing (the bridge logo will be gone), plus a couple of the ads that have been developed to pitch Little Rock as a friendly Southern city with sophisticated charms.
At the rollout, a consultant said the idea was to inspire people on an "emotional level" to find out more about the city, rather than to overwhelm with all the things the city has to offer.
The city's "brand promise," according to an account of the news conference in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
“Discover the pleasant surprise of Little Rock. Enjoy our charming hospitality, sincere service, genuine people and engaging experiences.”
Since I've written quite a bit on the Capitol Zoning District and the effort by Rep. Nate Bell of Mena to abolish it following a dispute over fence height requirements in historic neighborhoods, I want to close the book on it. At least for this session.
Bell's bill to abolish the agency that oversees zoning issues in the Capitol and Governor's Mansion neighborhoods was withdrawn this morning and referrred for "interim study." The agency's appropriation bill, which had been placed on hold at one time, has been signed by the governor. Also: A friendly bill by Little Rock representatives to allow enforcement of CZDC rules in Little Rock district court has passed the House and pends in the Senate.
CDI Contractors of Little Rock, in partnership with the Hunt Construction group, has been chosen by the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission to handle the expansion and renovation of the Robinson Center and its music hall.
Arkansas Community Organizations has scheduled a tour Saturday of the parts of town where need is greatest for the street work promised by the city's massive sales tax increase. The group has documented the much higher request for help in poorer parts of the city, despite the city's insistence on spreading street money evenly among the wards.
Areas south of Interstate 630 are a particular focus.
My attention was called by someone who was there to the waning minutes of the Little Rock Board of Directors meeting Tuesday, when Director Ken Richardson took the mike to ask for a reminder for the board about a policy directive concerning contact between directors and city departments.
Directors, in theory, are supposed to work through the city manager or department heads, not directly with staff members, and not micromanage city government. Policy making, not management, is the ideal.
But, said Richardson, he'd been contacted recently by food cart vendors in his ward who said they'd been "repeatedly targeted" for inspections or observation by the city and he suspected another member of the board was responsible. "Every time they're inspected they get a clean bill of health," Richardson said. But he added that the vendors, all Latinos, said they were beginning to feel "some form of discrimination" was at work. "I'd like to look at this before it becomes a serious liability for us."
I talked further about this Thursday with Richardson, who declined to identify specific complainants. They fear retaliation, he said. I asked City Manager Bruce Moore for a record of requests on taco truck inspections. He later provided a three-year list of violations by traveling food vendors that showed only two in 2013, neither for a Latino vendor. I haven't heard back from Moore, however, on my followup question: whether there was a record on the specific complaint Richardson made — multiple visits to vendors who were NOT guilty of any rule violations.
Richardson said he couldn't say where the complaints have originated. Since he suspected a city director is responsible for inspection requests, I turned first to at-large Director Joan Adcock. Adcock is known for aggressive involvement in City Hall business. She rose to political power from Southwest Little Rock, a big chunk of which Richardson now represents and home to many taco trucks and wagons. She once was an opponent of a Latino nightclub in the rapidly changing neighborhood, now heavily minority after beginnings as a working class white community. She is not particularly noted for sympathy on minority issues. She was a student at Central High during the 1957 school crisis and has been cool to events commemorating that episode, including a symbolic city board repeal of a pro-segregation resolution approved by the city board more than 50 years ago.
I sent Adcock questions and left her a phone message. Late last night, I got an e-mail response that said, "Sorry I am so late it has been a very busy day. I am not the person you are looking for."
Richardson said the person responsible is less important than the action itself.
Sure, city directors have broad portfolio — and a 1st Amendment right — to go to anyone in city government with a complaint about a city business.
But, said Richardson, special requests for city inspections "create confusion for staff, add workload and are ridiculous," he said. More broadly, he said that the message of the repeat visits is, "You're not welcome here, even if you're playing by the rules."
Richardson, himself a graduate and former student body president at Central High, says the city regularly observes anniversaries of the triumph of the rule of law in Little Rock in the school crisis. "We talk about how far we've come. These kinds of actions are a stark reminder that we might have farther to go to move our city to a level we want to move."
He said city pressure on Latino vendors comes as the city school district deals with allegations that it has been insensitive to bullying of Latino students. "I don't want that same kind of activity or perception from city government," he said.
Richardson and I agree on a purely personal level about the gravity of equal treatment of taco trucks. He says he likes them as much as I do. For illustration, I've used one of our file photos of my favorite taco wagon, Taqueria Samantha, which sets up on Geyer Springs Road in Richardson's ward. He tells me that it's his favorite, too. (Steak quesadilla for him; carnitas burrito for me.) He said he'd checked with Samantha's operator and it has not been a target of recent inspections. But he said the advent of warmer weather and more activity at the food carts seemed to have spurred the scrutiny.
"Specific targeting of Hispanic food vendors is a bad practice," Richardson said. "I don't want us to get in the bad habit of — or being perceived as — practicing discrimination."
UPDATE: Director Adcock responded further to a followup question I posed after receiving her brief response last night. She says she HAS gotten involved in vendor issues in the past, though not recently. She writes:
I've called her and city hall to confirm the authenticity of the document, but it rings true. The energetic and outspoken city director has won substantial city benefits for her neighborhood in years past by making her wishes known clearly and frequently.
For fun, I've asked city hall under FOI for similar directives from all other city directors for the last month. They'd have to get up early to match this list of tasks for planning, housing, public works, parks and other departments, including work on Wright's website and a Ward 6 video from the public relations department.
The memo directs PR to come up with a plan to distribute news about Wright's ward via electronic, social media and direct mail. The memo also asks for "rebranding" of parks and athletic facilities in the ward, with a campaign to solicit a sponsorship for the West Central Sports Complex.
UPDATE: The city manager confirms the authenticity of the memo. He says there are currently no other such memos on file to department heads from other city directors.
Mara Leveritt writes with a word of warning about another one of the ways that Comcast plans to extract money from the unwitting cable TV customer:
Watch out for a new Comcast charge. If you have Comcast for your television service and ever received a small adapter from the company to let an analog TV receive a digital signal, you should check your bill because starting in February, you will now be charged $1.99 a month for that adapter. (This is identified as a “cable box” on your bill.) If you no longer use the adapter, you will have to return it to get the charge removed. If you have lost it, given it away with the analog television, or thrown it out, you will need to pay Comcast $45 to get the monthly $1.99 charge removed from your bill.
A Comcast representative said this morning that this is a new policy decided in January. Most TVs now are digital. This cost will affect anyone who does not own a digital-ready TV, or who once used the Comcast adapter but no longer has it to return.
You think the city of Little Rock, which nominally grants Comcast the franchise to operate here, could figure out a way to make this company be slightly more customer friendly? That is, if they ever get around to picking up yard waste again.
UPDATE: Speaking of cable television. Please ask your representative why in the Sam Hill should the Arkansas legislature put Secretary of State Mark Martin in control of cable TV regulation in Arkansas. Read the bill.
Almost two months after the winter storm that left piles of tree debris mounded on city streets, the city has signed a contract to begin the cleanup. It has been working slowly with limited city crews, but if they've picked up anything in my neighborhood it was so slight as to be unnoticeable.
The city release:
City Manager Bruce Moore today signed a contract with Ceres Environmental to pick up the rest of the storm debris from the historic Christmas 2012 Winter Storm. This comes after President Barack Obama signed a FEMA declaration, which will allow the City to be reimbursed for this work.
“Little Rock residents will quickly see a demonstrable increase in the amount of storm debris being picked up daily,” said Moore. “The contract with Ceres Environmental is for 160 days; however, we expect them to finish before then.”
Ceres was the lowest qualified bidder at $47.44/ton. This company will bring in between 15-20 specialized debris cleanup trucks that have self loading booms and high volume truck beds.
Zath, if you don't know about this guy, Dewitt, I think you will like him…
Whoo-hoo, ohmygod, it's a rainbow, a full-on double rainbow across the sky... it's over eLwood…
Announcing she will run for state auditor next year, state representative Andrea Lea said:
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