A discussion is planned in North Little Rock on the city's Big Rock Quarry property, a parcel briefly targeted last year for an apartment development. The outcry led to formation of a land use study committee. The latest announcement:
What does the public think about the future use of several parcels of city owned properties? That will be the question on the minds of the Public Land Use Development Task Force this Thursday evening when they hold a community meeting to get input on the Big Rock Quarry and several other important city owned property. All are invited to attend and participate this Thursday, February 21st, at 7:00pm at the North Little Rock Community Center, 2700 Willow Street.
The task force was established by the City Council when a proposed sale of the Big Rock Quarry land was announced last year. Questions arose about how the city could best use the property it has acquired over the years. “The task force has reviewed several parcels of city owned property and has considered several options based on that study. However, we want feedback from the residents of North Little Rock before presenting a final report to the City Council,” said Connie Phillips, Chairman of the Public Land Development Task Force.
While the Big Rock Quarry has received most of the media attention, several other important locations will also be discussed, including:
• The Lodge at Burns Park
• Baring Cross Bridge Property
• Smart House Way Parcel
• Young Road Parcel
Just in from the North Little Rock School District:
The North Little Rock Board of Education named Kelly Rodgers, Superintendent of Schools Wednesday evening with a unanimous vote in a Special Board meeting. Mr. Rodgers has been Superintendent of Schools in Terrell Independent School District in Terrell, Texas.
During his tenure as Superintendent of the Terrell Independent School District (ISD), Mr. Rodgers reorganized the curriculum process, guided the District to acquire the designation of a STEM Academy, and passed a Bond to fund a new Career & Technical Campus. Prior to working as Superintendent in Terrell, Texas, Mr. Rodgers worked in Texas as Superintendent in Center ISD and Assistant Superintendent in DeKalb ISD where he increased fund balances in the school district, passed a bond for a new elementary campus, and rebuilt campuses after tornado damage. Kelly Rodgers worked as Principal of Pleasant Grove High School from 1992 to 1997 and Pleasant Grove Middle School from 1990 to 1992, and Assistant Principal of Pleasant Grove High School from 1987 to 1990. Mr. Rodgers worked as a Band Director in the Pleasant Grove ISD from 1985 to 1987 and in the Texarkana ISD from 1979 to 1985.
Mr. Rodgers accepted a three-year contract, the longest allowed by law, at a salary of $ 185,000. Kelly Rodgers and his wife, Gail, have three grown sons: Brent, Bradley and Brandon. Mr. Rodgers said he was honored to be selected as Superintendent of the North Little Rock School District.
Current superintendent Ken Kirspel is retiring at the end of this year. The School Board interiewed five finalists, including two from the district.
A taxpayers' lawsuit has been filed challenging expenditure of tax money by the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock — cumulative millions over the last 20 years — to support local chambers of commerce.
The lawsuit contends that the Arkansas Constitution prohibits payments to private corporations by municipal governments. It also says both Little Rock and North LIttle Rock have violated state law on bidding procedures in the course of funneling money to Little Rock and North Little Rock organizations in the name of economic development.
Little Rock, particularly, has defended the practice over the years as a service contract with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. It says it can't afford to operate its own economic development office, as it once did. But the arrangement has functioned as a financial subsidy to existing chamber operations and the contract has been unaffected by changes in the city allotment based on budgetary restraints. It currently is $200,000 a year. The Chamber only provides general information on the spending, not specific accounting how and on whom the money is spent. It says the state Freedom of Information Act does not require it to disclose specific spending on travel, entertainment and other costs. North Little Rock has similar arrangements with the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. It of course doesn't disclose what political representations it might make in the course of recruiting businesses. The money to the chamber helps pay the salaries of employees who lobby the legislature on political issues important to the business lobby, though not necessarily to working people.
A news release follows. As I've disclosed before, I'm a member of the board of the Arkansas Public Law Center, which is backing the legal action. The Center earlier brought a successful lawsuit over the Arkansas legislature's practice of enhancing members' pay with undocumented "expense" reimbursements. The nonprofit group has also intervened in support of open court records and has attorneys working on several other potential public interest matters, including the city's threat to take private property by eminent domain for a development to be used by private businesses in the proposed Little Rock Tech Park.
TThe Arkansas Public Law Center today filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court to stop the annual city appropriations to the chambers of commerce in Little Rock and North Little Rock.
Some years ago, chambers of commerce were encouraged to seek annual appropriations from their local governments with the justification that they were helping attract industry and commerce to the cities and counties. Many cities did so although Article 12, Section 5 of the Arkansas Constitution prohibits cities, counties and municipal corporations from appropriating money to private corporations.
The city of Little Rock appropriates $200,000 a year to the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce for performing economic development, and the budget for 2013 appropriates another $100,000 to the Metro Little Rock Alliance, which is run by the Chamber of Commerce. North Little Rock appropriates $250,000 a year to the North Little Rock Economic Development Corporation, which is housed with the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, and the city appropriates a smaller sum directly to the Chamber of Commerce.
The suit alleges that the cities are illegally donating tax revenues to and subsidizing private organizations. It contends that the payments are an illegal exaction because people are taxed and their money illegally spent.
The cities also violate their own codes and contracting procedures in making the annual appropriations, the complaint says.
The plaintiffs are Jim Lynch and Tony Orr of Little Rock and Glen M. Miller of North Little Rock. The McMath Woods law firm and Sonia Eileen Fonticiella Rios are the attorneys.
The Arkansas Public Law Center is a non-profit corporation established in 2009. It engages in litigation for the public interest.
Here's a link to the full lawsuit. The link is corrected.
Sherwood recently signed a new 20-year agreement with the North Little Rock Electric Department to continue to buy power wholesale from NLR.
Some city residents aren't happy about it and there's talk of sending the deal to a voter referendum by petition
That, in turn, has prompted a letter from the North Little Rock Electric Department and interim leader Jason Carter. Mailed last week, it outlines the case for sticking with North Little Rock — among them that Sherwood, like North Little Rock, reaps a financial benefit for city government from profit on the sales; there'd be a huge cost to switch to another supplier; no one else emerged with a better deal.
North Little Rock also made this upfront promise, something that Entergy customers will appreciate as they continue to pay a surcharge for years-ago storm cleanup and face a new assesssment from this year's winter storm:
We are pleased to tell you that North Little Rock has no plans to pass along storm restoration costs to our customers, unlike other utilities serving this area.
While our crews were out working, some of your neighbors circulated a petition to refer our recent contract with Sherwood to a vote of the people. You may have signed it. We appreciate those who expressed concern about the process of securing electricity for our Sherwood customers and support the right of the people to have a say in government.
When you know the facts, you may wonder at the need for a special election, estimated to cost $25,000 to the taxpayers of Sherwood. If the referendum passes, the city of Sherwood will reopen the electricity contract process. And in all likelihood, North Little Rock will again be awarded the contract, because the facts will not change.
Here's a copy of the letter provided to me, in two parts.
UPDATE: On the jump you will find a letter being distributed by the group unhappy with the new rate deal.
But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that this news was forecast Dec. 19 by reader "Tired," whose comment then I reprint today:
So……the whispers about what’s coming in North Little Rock politics is that after Pat Hays retires at full benefits from the Mayor’s office in January, he will replace Mike Russ at the NLR Electric Department and current Chief of Police, Danny Bradley, will retire with full benefits and replace Joe Smith’s position as he graduates to the mayor’s office. All with top end city salaries and additional benefits. Puts a whole new slant on “double dipping” don’t you think, Max Brantley? Hey, it’s just city tax dollars, not a non-profit. Wait and watch.
No word as yet on the second half of this prediction.
North Little Rock school board member Scott Miller, a supporter of Tracy Steele, has an interesting breakdown on the runoff for mayor on his Facebook page.
Looking at the vote counts for Steele and Joe Smith by precinct reveals that different areas in the city were starkly divided over the two candidates, with Smith dominating north of I-40 and Steele racking up big margins south of I-40. Here are the numbers from Miller:
North of I-40...Smith 70.0%...Steele 30.0%
South of I-40...Smith 22.3%...Steele 77.7%
The Levy/Amboy area generally broke about even between the two so let’s look at North of I-40 less Levy/Amboy....Smith 78.5%...Steele 21.5%
Baring Cross, Argenta, Sherman Park, Dixie, Rose City...Smith 18.3%...Steele 81.7%
Indian Hills, Overbrook, McCain Mall North of McCain Smith 80.3%...Steele 19.7%
Did race play a factor in the election? Miller thinks not, noting that some of the areas that Steele dominated are majority white.
You can see the very deep divisions that underlie the total vote percentage of about 55-45 for Smith. But don't let anyone tell you these numbers reflect a race issue. For the large part they don't. Much of the area south of I-40 & East of 440 went heavily Steele despite being majority white. In my opinion these numbers reflect a story of areas that perceive everything is OK in the City and other areas that feel left out with fire stations, safety or development, or just feel disenfranchised. Mayor-elect Smith has some heavy lifting to do to heal this City and I don't envy him.
At the very least, looks like Miller is right that where voters live was the best predictor of how they voted in the runoff. Of course, wherever they called home, a good chunk of them stayed there on election day. Turnout, as expected, was significantly down from the general election earlier this month.
Joe Smith flipped the script. On Election Day earlier this month, Rep. Tracy Steele had a commanding lead over Smith in their race for North Little Rock mayor, with 48.2 percent of the vote to 41.1 percent for Smith. But Steele couldn’t quite get a majority in the four-candidate race, forcing yesterday’s runoff election, where Smith prevailed with 54.7 percent of the vote, topping Steele by nearly 10 points.
Smith credited a whole lot of door knocking and re-energized supporters after his second-place finish, but it looks to me like turnout was the key. With a presidential election on and Obama on the ticket, more than 21,000 votes were cast in the general election for North Little Rock mayor back on November 6. For the runoff, less than 14,000 folks showed up to vote. Smith himself nabbed 2,000 less votes than he had in the general.
On the other hand, Smith’s supporters do sound energized, though their chanting is rhythmically challenged.
North Little Rock firefighters, who endorsed Steele, struck a conciliatory tone on Facebook last night: “We gave it our best and left it all on the field so to speak. Now we move forward to try and better the service we provide to our citizens with Mayor Smith.”
A North Little Rock woman is dead after a house fire in the 4300 block of N. Gum Street. Firefighters patrolling the neighborhood saw the blaze around 3:30 a.m., and discovered the woman's body in a bedroom when the fire was extinguished. The victim hasn't yet been identified.
Some work underway in Emerald Park in North Little Rock, coming not long after controversy arose over sale of the former quarry below for apartment development, engendered some nervousness among blog readers. Perhaps because of the concern, the city issued the photo of the work above and this statement:
October 8, 2012 (North Little Rock)— The center section of Emerald Park has been temporarily closed for at least 2-3 months (depending on weather) in order to construct the new Highland Trail, which will connect the section of pavement to the west.
The new paved trail (marked in light blue on map below) will be called the Highland Trail and the unpaved portion (marked in magenta pink)will remain known as the Emerald Park Trail. Once completed, the Highland Trail will be asphalt paved and ADA compliant. The old trail will remain known as the Emerald Park Trail, and will be available for off-road bicycles and hikers.
No surprise. Steele's main opponent in a four-way race, Joe Smith, is Hays' top administrator and Smith has been negotiator with city employees. Police figure an endorsement — and a Steele win — would pay dividends against the status quo of a city that has been strapped.
I appreciate police and the tough jobs they do. But, as I've said before, Fraternal Order of Police chapters are notoriously tone deaf politically and the opposite of progressive, particularly given that they are labor unions. A FOP endorsement is usually a reason to look for a different candidate.
The FOP statement:
A project a year in the making, the North Little Rock Visitors Bureau was approached by producers, who recognized that in today’s challenging economic times, tourism still has a large impact on the global economy. Producers were impressed by North Little Rock’s desirable location and hospitality. “It was an exciting time for us. We strive daily to promote North Little Rock and to be offered such a great opportunity like this was amazing and it doesn’t hurt that Terry Bradshaw hosts the show,” said Hazel Hernandez, Public Relations Representative at the Bureau. With the producers, Hernandez worked on a script, shoot locations, and interviews for the segment.
Check your local listings and tune in to Fox Business Network on Sunday, September 16 at 3 PM CDT to see North Little Rock’s famous landmarks and famous faces, which include Mayor Patrick Henry Hays.
Why North Little Rock? Kind of a good question, though to good ol' boy Bradshaw, a Shreveport product who became an NFL superstar, it's a working class kind of town in keeping with his roots. The show's website says this about its aims:
In the age of shock television and outrageous reality shows, Today in America stands apart from this fad and plunges into the heart of mainstream America. Today in America was the brainchild of Producers who always hoped to create exceptional stories on unique individuals and businesses. Created exclusively for Terry Bradshaw to host, Today in America appeals to a broad audience. It captures the era of the changing economic times and digs into the knowledge and passion of each of its Featured Guests. The show’s writers specialize in crafting immersive stories. “Viewers will be excited to see that we’ve gone beyond the typical news stories. From the moment we launched the series, we knew that we were telling stories that would get noticed” said Vice President of Production, Jim Nicholas. “These are stories about experts who have the ability to share first-hand insights with our viewers.”
If the commodore got the mike — and they say he did — I bet they got a lot of extra tape.
The show was filmed in October. Bradshaw himself didn't come to town, but will do the narration. In addition to the mayor, producers talked to Donna Hardcastle of the Downtown Council and visited such places as Burns Park, the Arkansas Queen, the Razorback submarine and the Old Mill.
UPDATE: You'll see in comments that a reader's comment prompted some additional questions by me. The city paid $19,800 for participation in the show, which it figures is a good price for broad exposure.
Opponents to a proposal by North Little Rock to sell the approximately 40 acres that make up Big Rock Quarry below Emerald Park and along the River Trail will meet at 5:30 p.m. today at The Joint, 301 Main St., in Argenta.
The deal would let Real Estate Commercial 1 Inc. buy the acreage for $1.2 million for a condo development called "The Bluffs." We wrote about opposition from bicyclists to the plan a couple of weeks ago.
Opponents to the plan have created a Facebook group, Save Emerald Park and Big Rock Quarry, to share information about the proposal. The page identifies realtor Byron McKimmey as the developer. I have a call in to McKimmey to verify.
Besides objections to spoiling a section of River Trail with a dense residential development and overlooking uses more compatible with Emerald Park and the River Trail, other problems have been raised: The only access to the site is a two-lane road, a reason Mayor Pat Hays gave some years back in nixing an idea for an amphitheater at the site. A representative of the Argenta Boosters says the sale price represents only 2/3 of value, that the land was under-appraised at $1.75 million and the city's offer is even less.
He calls attention to a little discussed proposal on the North Little Rock City Council agenda Monday night to sell city-owned former quarry land along the River Trail below Emerald Park to Real Estate Commercial 1 Inc. (not further identified on the Council agenda) for $1.2 million.
JBar says the land will become a multiuse development. He's concerned that the plan for access to the property would close the River Trail to vehicular traffic.
While I'm not against center-city development, certainly preferring it to urban sprawl, I think most of us perceived this as valuable park space and once it is gone, it is gone forever. Take a look at the impasse at Dillard's on the other side of the river and we can see how giving up this narrow strip between the Big Rock and the river may have serious implications. I am not placated by a statement that says "well, the trail stays". Damn right. The River Trail is the very reason that this property has become valuable and I do not want to see it compromised. At first glance, the deal smells sneaky and I feel more than a little betrayed.
It appears that I'm waving a warning flag on something that is a done deal, but the lack of public discussion on this smells. I fear that the view from Emerald Park will become a view of rooftops and parking lots and that would be a sad legacy to the last days of Pat Hays's tenure.
I'll make some calls today. Anybody else have details?
UPDATE: I talked with Mayor Pat Hays and got a history lesson in the city's acquisition of the land years ago and a period when there was talking of building a performance space for music and other purposes. The limited access made its use for a mass attendance facility a non-starter he said.
Now, he said, he has a proposal to build 200 to 300 condos or apartments on the roughly 20 to 30 buildable acres there, with some light commercial uses and perhaps a marina on the river. North Little rock Realtor Byron McKimmey is leading the group, Hays said.
Hays said he was inclined to support the plan, but he noted the City Council was divided about developing the property at one time. He said there won't be a vote Monday and likely not at the next Council meeting either. "I want to run it up the flagpole," he said.
Hays emphasized that the river bike/hike trail was "sacrosanct." He said he wouldn't vote for any plant that put a vehicle or other crossing in the way of trail traffic. As a consequence, he said the investment group had drawn a plan to take the existing trail up several feet on existing topography and then use a bridge or other means to pass over a path between the development and the river. He said he'd told developers the trail not only couldn't be adversely affected, "it had to be improved." I'm trying to get a copy of the site plan.
River Road now deadends at the property. But work is underway now to close a portion of River Road and use a newly built extension of Third Street to reach that property.
City Commerce Director Joe Smith provided me with a presentation on the proposed Bluffs development, including the schematic drawings below of overpassing the bike trail.
Hays has designated aide Joe Smith as his successor.
State Rep. Tracy Steele also is running for the job.
Smith is a solid member of the city business establishment. Steele has a powerful voter base. He's black and Smith is white in a city that is moving toward majority black population. Race is relevant because it's a rare election where voting isn't polarized on racial terms when candidates differ racially. Steele will clean up in the black community. If he makes sufficient inroads elsewhere — and he's made some already from Hays fatigue— he might win.
So Miller's knock on Smith has some significance. It's particularly interesting given the careful dance that's been done in recent years between competing financial and political interests of the mayor and the School District, which recently won a huge tax increase for a complete rebuilding of city schools. A School District lawsuit threw a monkey wrench (properly) in Hays' plan to tap school tax revenues for downtown redevelopment. Said Miller:
I recently saw the video you can find below where Mayor Hays to no one's surprise endorses Joe Smith for Mayor. Joe is a truly nice guy and the race will be a good one for the City. My problem with the endorsement is the selective memory Mayor Hays uses in justifying Joe's experience with the construction of the ballpark. Mayor Hays says "I handed the baseball off to Joe Smith and the project was completed on time, in budget"
Last year on April 18th in an article on the ballpark, the Dem/Gaz reported " An overrun of more than $6 million in construction costs led the city to take out a loan to pay off the rest of the debt" Mayor Hays was quoted in the same article ""I feel very strongly that we made the right decision to spend those additional dollars to build the ballpark right...."
For the math challenged that's about an 18% overrun, certainly not on budget. A note for all the candidates...what the City needs is more transparency, more openness and more everyday citizen involvement. Not more of the same and certainly not more selective memory.
Transparency would include, I hope, a full recitation of how Tracy Steele raised money for the private foundation that has paid him a hefty salary. Among the contributors were major corporate interests with issues before the legislature in which Steele sits.
UPDATE: Walter "Bubba" Lloyd Jr., a businessman who'd talked about running for mayor, says he won't run and will support Steele. A vote for Smith is a vote for business as usual, Lloyd said. I think Lloyd is right that the election will, in many ways, be a referendum on Hays. A lot of people like what's happened under his leadership, not including the recent sales tax proposal.
Note to North Little Rock: I'm pretty sure that when you refinance a bond issue due to be paid off in three years by floating a new 10-year bond issue to pay off hydro plant costs (as the North Little Rock City Council did yesterday), it will cost a good deal more money cumulatively in the long haul, even if the interest rates are lower. Electric rates may not increase to carry that new interest cost, but they sure won't go down from the added expense. Every extra dollar in interest will, however, reduce the amount of electric company profit devoted to other city expenses in the form of electric rates' hidden tax on ratepayers.
What I'd like to see is a pencil put to the entire hydro project over time — all the repairs, all the months of inability to generate power, all the costs and interest compared against power sales against what the power would otherwise have cost from wholesale suppliers. Might be a heckuva deal. Somehow ....
Citizen: I think you're right about the push for "marriage" as opposed to "civil unions."
"America was a segregated country when LBJ came to power. It wasn't when he left.
Mainly, they stop seeing people as oppressed. I forget the critter that said that underneath…
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