Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mayor Stodola's secrets

Posted By on Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 2:11 PM

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Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola crushed token opposition in Tuesday's election. You'd think he'd be cheery. But he hasn't seemed too chipper in recent exchanges with me.

Perhaps it's because, I've been asking him about:

1) What he plans to do with an enormous amount of carryover campaign funds. His last pre-election report showed him sitting on $90,000. His 30-day post-election report will include more expenditures, but also more fund-raising. City ordinance doesn't allow carryover of campaign money. It must be refunded to donors, given to the city general fund or it may be given to charity. Several city directors say Stodola has expressed an opinion that this restriction might be unconstitutional (dubious, since the state law is similar) and he also, according to several directors, has expressed an interest in repealing the restriction. That would be pretty grabby and naturally give rise to wondering why Stodola would want to have a political slush fund, other than the obvious benefits of a political slush fund. To prepare to run for Congress in two years, maybe? Who knows.

Stodola wanted to know why I was interested. He said he would follow the law and give the money to charity as he had before. This, however, was before I told him I understood he contended the law was unconstitutional. He then said he'd merely inquired to the city attorney about the law because a city director candidate's report of carryover money had raised the question. He said he "contended" nothing. He, however, has not responded to my further question, based on comments from other city directors, about whether he'd like to repeal the ordinance. The idea will meet resistance, I gather. I should hope so.

2) Stodola is prepared to take a trip to China in the next few days with the Sister Cities Commission. Curiously, he won't confirm the trip, talk about the details or respond to my question about who's paying. Somewhere in city hall, presumably, is a document reflecting the mayor's travel plans. An FOI request so far hasn't produced a response from the mayor, the city manager's office or the city's paid information officer.

3) Stodola, a beneficiary of Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC money, also has refused to respond to my FOI request for details on how the chamber has spent the city's $200,000 handout to be an "independent contractor" on economic development. (I happened to write on that subject this week.) The city refuses to ask for information on which employees are paid and how much; on what types of publications and research the city has financed; on what type of "minority business" the city money has financed. The Chamber says it's exempt from the FOI, though it's contract with the city requires it to obey the FOI as applicable. I believe it's clearly applicable to these requests under a Supreme Court decision involving a private contractor with the UA. I've asked also for a record of the "unique services" the chamber provides for the taxpayer's $200,000. An FOI request to the city manager on this did get a response, of sorts. There was no record of any communications between the chamber and city officials or other record of services rendered, I was told. They do have on file the standard report the chamber sends to all members.

Welcome to transparent government, Mark Stodola/Little Rock Chamber style. Tea Party anyone?

UPDATE: Ah. so. The city's public information officer has provided a news release. Stodola is leading a "trade mission" along with his buddies at the LR Regional Chamber of Commerce and state officials. Here are the details he grudgingly supplied after all my yammering. He's still not saying who's paying for his trip; whether any city money shipped to the chamber is being spent on this or whether the city is incurring any other costs for the trip, a return of a visit to Little Rock by people from sister city Chanchung. No wonder he's not insisting that the Chamber fulfill the FOI terms of its contract. Wouldn't do to make his traveling buddies uncomfortable.

UPDATE: Another city contractor cheered my complaint about the Chamber. This 501-C3 has had a city contract for services and was required to make specific and detailed reports to the city — thus open to public inspection — for all its work and spending. Why don't we require the same accountability for the fat cats? I'll tell you why. Because they can't provide it. This $200,000 handout is a general subsidy, pure and simple. The independent contractor ruse is a fiction to step around constitutional prohibitions on the likes of this.

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