Monday, June 1, 2015

Judge Pierce refuses to reconsider ruling against city payments to chamber of commerce

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 5:01 PM

JUDGE MACKIE PIERCE
  • JUDGE MACKIE PIERCE
Pulaski Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce has refused requests by the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock that he reconsider his ruling that annual payments to chambers of commerce were unconstitutional.

Times columnist Ernest Dumas provides a report fron the courtoom:

Judge Pierce conducted a 35-minute hearing on the motion of the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock that he reconsider his ruling that the cities’ annual appropriations to the chambers of commerce and their affiliated groups violated the Article 5, Section 12 of the state Constitution.

At the end, he denied the motion and reiterated his ruling that the appropriations to the chamber groups were unlawful and that the contracts the cities began preparing several years ago to cover the expenditures were not valid contracts.

Judge Pierce had issued a partial summary judgment Jan. 5 in the suit brought by the Arkansas Public Law Center [a nonprofit board on whose board both Dumas and I sit]. He said there were no material issues of fact to be decided. Tom Carpenter and John Wilkerson, the city attorneys, disputed that holding, saying it was based on the plaintiffs’ assertion that the chambers were doing the same things they were doing before the cities began appropriating the money and that the money had no material effect on what the chambers were doing. They said that the Metropolitan Alliance and the North Little Rock Economic Development Commission, the entities that received municipal subsidies, depended on the taxpayers’ subsidy. The Metropolitan Alliance is run by the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce with money from several other local governments.

The Little Rock Chamber gets $200,000 a year from the city and the Metropolitan Alliance $150,000, and North Little Rock sends the Economic Development Corporation $265,000 a year. Judge Pierce ordered the payments to cease.

Sonia Rios was the attorney for the APLC and the plaintiffs, Jim Lynch, Tony Orr and Glenn Miller.

Many other Arkansas cities have been subsidizing their local chambers, some of them since the mid-1990s.

A constitutional amendment placed on the 2016 ballot by the legislature in April would repeal the provision of the constitution that prohibits such appropriations

The judge directed the winning attorneys to prepare a claim for attorney fees.

Appeals are likely, though the decision, in addition to barring payments by Little Rock and North Little Rock, casts a pall over payments all over the state in the meanwhile. In Little Rock — and most other cities — the payments for economic development assistance merely pay all or part of salaries of private organizations that have long been doing that sort of work, without public accountability or access to their records. They often work on political agendas more in keeping with those of business special interests than voters at large.

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