"Evening shadows make me blue …” an old song begins, but in Little Rock, it's Chamber shadows that make us blue. Mysterious Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce “contractors” doing who knows what for who knows how much taxpayers' money are given preference over legitimate city functions and accountable city employees. While protecting an annual $200,000 contribution to the Chamber, the Little Rock Board of Directors has slashed the city budget ruthlessly in other areas. Park supervisors, plumbing inspectors, electrical inspectors, tax collectors, city attorneys, and platoons of zoo employees have been laid off to keep the Chamber spooks fat, happy and anonymous. No police officers or firefighters have been dismissed yet — that we've heard of — but apparently they will be if necessary to continue the Chamber's grant-in-aid. The city Board has established its priorities.
Park land may well be sold off to meet the Chamber's demand for public dollars, zoo animals shipped off to backward cities more concerned with the education and amusement of their children than with subsidizing a private organization of adult businessmen. (Dare we hope that before Mayor Stodola and the Board disperse the gorillas, the animals are allowed to try out for those secret chamber jobs. If the positions consist mostly of sitting around flinging dung, for example, the apes could probably perform them as well as the incumbents, and for less money.)
But economy and efficiency are not the goals here. The idea is to show who's boss. The Little Rock Chamber solicits, and receives, contributions from a number of public agencies besides the Little Board of Directors — tax-supported water and sewer departments, UALR, the Port Authority, et al. And while we don't know exactly what the Chamber does with the money, we know it strives to keep wages down and benefits minimal for Arkansas workers, copying the activities of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the national level. The Little Rock Chamber's web page boasts of fighting “big labor.” “Big Labor” is as much a threat in Arkansas as President Obama's Death Panels. The Chamber knows that.
The chamber is not exclusively negative, though. It is for things — tax breaks for transient industry, and protecting corporate wrongdoers and incompetent physicians from lawsuits and insurance companies from competition. It is for those things that would help a few, and against those things that would help the many. And in Little Rock, what the Chamber wants is what the Chamber gets. Mayors and Boards of Directors are retained for ceremonial purposes.
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