NLR revival tab: $10,000 

NLR revival tab: $10,000

The City of North Little Rock's sponsorship of last weekend's Christian event downtown, the two-day City Fest featuring evangelist Luis Palau, should cost the taxpayers around $10,000, commerce department head Joe Smith says.

The cost includes part of the tab for North Little Rock School District buses to shuttle City Fest revelers to the Miley Cyrus concert at Verizon Arena and police and public works employees in city vehicles to provide security.

The Times reported last week that the North Little Rock School District put up signs promoting Palau's event on the east high school campus and that the city advertising and promotion commission gave the group breaks on city park rental. That they made taxpayers foot the bill for a Christian revival was of no concern to either school or city officials. Mayor Pat Hays brushed off questions about it at Monday's City Council meeting, according to a North Little Rock blog; school Superintendent Ken Kirspel said he just couldn't see what was religious about the church-promoted, preacher-filled, come-to-Jesus festival. Separation of church and state in North Little Rock? Not if the church is Christian.

Smith said the city believed it should get involved because of expected high attendance at both City Fest and the concert, and especially because many of those coming would be “young mothers” and their children who needed protection.

The arena and the Palau group picked up two-thirds of the shuttle cost. Palau paid the Visitors Bureau $3,000 a day to rent the North Shore Riverwalk. Marketing chief Elizabeth Elizandro said the agency gave City Fest a break by not charging them for “load-in” and “load-out” days before and after the event, a break commonly offered all major renters.

ACLU of Arkansas director Rita Sklar said last week that the high school's action in promoting the event — which it did in return for a landscaping service project — was a “poor civics lesson.” She said the ACLU is preparing a guide for schools on the First Amendment and how to protect the religious liberties of all their students.


The fountain

Now that the city has determined that the fountain on the east side of Robinson Auditorium in front of the Doubletree Hotel isn't going to fall into the parking garage below, plans are underway to restore the fountain and an adjoining pool. Jim Rice, chief operating officer of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, which oversees the auditorium and its grounds, said the 36-year-old fountain has long leaked into the parking deck. Rice said the fountain was drained three years ago due to concerns over the weight of the water and possible corrosion of the structural steel inside the concrete. While the city considered converting the fountain into a raised bed for plantings, Rice said hotel management weighed in and said they would prefer it to be restored as a water feature.

Rice said a companion fountain at Markham and Broadway, built at the same time as the fountain on the east side of Robinson, doesn't cause as much concern because it's built over dirt. An engineering firm examined the fountain on the east side by drilling into the concrete, and determined that it could be put back in service if it was allowed ample time to dry out and then sealed to prevent further seepage. Bids on the job are being accepted now. 


Still on the Capitol beat

The Justice Department this week cleared a proposal to end the Northwest Arkansas newspaper war by allowing the merger of formerly competing newspapers owned by the wealthy Stephens and Hussman families into a 50-50 partnership. The deal takes effect Monday. Locally oriented papers controlled editorially by Stephens Media will be wrapped around a regional edition of Hussman's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for delivery to subscribers primarily in Washington and Benton counties. Hussman will run the business end. More than 500 people have been employed in competing daily newspaper operations in the region. A substantial number are expected to lose jobs by this weekend.

We were curious about a small related operation — Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau based in Little Rock. It was beefed up years ago to add Capitol reporting muscle to the Stephenses' Morning News in Springdale, as well as serve other Stephens properties, including daily papers in Fort Smith and Pine Bluff. But it also sells the material it produces to subscribers, including the Arkansas Times.

Dennis Byrd, who established the bureau and who oversees Central Arkansas newspapers for Stephens Media said in response to a question about the Little Rock bureau: “We are still a Stephens Media operation. The ‘local' papers in NWA will still be getting anything we produce.” The bureau will continue to supply material to other Stephens newspapers and those, such as the Times, that purchase such material as John Brummett's columns.


Smoking and drinking

Tobacco and alcohol will be on the agenda of the University of Central Arkansas Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 6.

• Re tobacco: The legislature required all college campuses to go smoke-free by Aug. 1, 2010. A resolution before the UCA Board would make the entire UCA campus and all university vehicles smoke-free a month early, July 1.

• Re alcohol: Current UCA policy allows alcohol use only in the president's home and during mass at Ferguson Chapel. A new policy would give the president of the university power to grant exceptions when it is in the “best interests of the institution” to do so. Information filed with the board agenda noted that there'd long been interest in serving alcohol at “certain events” at the Brewer-Hegeman Conference Center and during intermissions of performances at the Reynolds Performance Hall.

The occasional campus wedding reception would benefit now and again from some bubbly, The Insider helpfully adds.


Rank speculation

We had one weird day last week. Street talk of the political sort flowed freely. The convergence of it seemed worth noting, though we'd caution taking much of it at face values. Among the rumors:

• National Democrats, fearful that U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln is vulnerable, were said to be talking up super-popular Gov. Mike Beebe as a candidate for Senate. Why take a demotion? was the Insider's thinking. The rumor gained such currency that Beebe's people finally issued a statement saying he was indeed planning to run for re-election in 2010.

• Former Wal-Mart exec (and thus jillionaire) Don Soderquist was another name bandied about for Senate, on the crowded Republican side. A privacy-loving Wal-Martian offer himself up to the indignities of a political campaign? The Insider bets not.



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