As Little Rock City Hall turns: Exploring candidate, easing up on marijuana, Arts Center bonds | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, March 3, 2018

As Little Rock City Hall turns: Exploring candidate, easing up on marijuana, Arts Center bonds

Posted By on Sat, Mar 3, 2018 at 7:40 AM

News from Little Rock City Hall:

click to enlarge 'EXPLORING' Candidate Racop.
  • 'EXPLORING' Candidate Racop.

* CAMPAIGNING: Russ Racop,
the busy blogger who's announced as a candidate for Ward 6 City Board against incumbent Doris Wright, has formed a committee to "explore" a race for city board that he has already announced. He said the action was cleared by Circuit Judge Tim Fox's ruling against the city in its lawsuit attempting to shut down exploratory committees by Warwick Sabin and Frank Scott Jr., candidates for mayor against Mark Stodola.

Under city ordinance, candidates may not directly raise campaign money until July 1. But the state exploratory committee statute overrides that, the Ethics Commission and now a court have ruled.

Racop also challenged Doris Wright to swear off money from real estate developers and the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC. She probably won't and it's a good illustration of how ineffective the campaign limitation is in keeping special interest money out of city races. In theory, the short fund-raising window was to prevent campaign handouts tied to pending City Board votes throughout a city director's term. But the moneyed interests can make up for it when the time comes. Take Wright.

In 2014, she quickly raised $4,400 between Aug. 26 and Sept. 20  — $1,000 from the realtors PAC, $1,000 from the chamber PAC, $1,000 from apartment developer William Richardson, $750 from two officials of the Collier real estate business and $500 from then-City Director Stacy Hurst. This was the only report Wright filed in 2014 n advance of the November election. If she raised more, the county clerk has no report of her spending on file. She easily beat a challenger that year. Does she have carryover money to use against Racop, as Mark Stodola does? Impossible to tell from filings. I'm guess Racop will look into that.

* MARIJUANA: City Director Ken Richardson informs me he's pressing City Attorney Tom Carpenter to finish drafting a resolution for the next regular City Board meeting that would set a "low priority" for enforcement of marijuana law against adults. As yet, no ordinance appears on the session set Tuesday night to firm up the agenda for the regular city board meeting the following week.

This probably isn't going anywhere, but the subject is worth discussion particularly as the advent of adults in possession of legal medicl marijuana draws near. During an exchange of notes in recent months, Carpenter told Richardson:

Please note that the memorandum is going to suggest that this ordinance is not legal and constitutes a violation of the separation of powers among other things. I know that other cities have these, and outside of Arkansas I suspect that the cities have full home-rule authority by constitutional amendment which permits such activity. But, this is not a resolution of what the City would like to see done - as has been the case with comments to Congress, or the Arkansas Department of Transportation - but, puts into place an ordinance that directs certain actions the City does not have the authority to direct, or refers to offices that do not have the authority to take actions the ordinance directors - i.e., the City prosecutor. These are legal issues, though, and right now I understand that you wish to move forward with your ordinance.
* ARTS CENTER BONDS: Tentatively set for the March 20 City Board meeting is an ordinance to issue bonds backed by the city tax on hotel rooms. No details are provided, but I presume this is the issue that will be used to finance improvement to the Arkansas Arts Center. The city and center officials have said the amount won't exceed the $37.5 million mentioned as the cap in a campaign to get voters to approve the two-cent tax. I learned last week that, thanks to an increase in hotel rooms in the city, tax revenue is coming in higher than anticipated. I've also been told that this additional revenue, which could support more bonds, will NOT be used to expand the borrowing, but instead be applied to accelerated repayment of the borrowing. As yet, no draft ordinance exists that spells any of that out.

The tax was approved two years ago. Plans for the Arts Center work have been unveiled. As yet, no specifics have been forthcoming on the promised "match" of private contributions to the effort. Though the center uses city property and buildings and the city controls appointments to its governing board, governance as a practical matter is open only to the well-to-do. Board members must contribute $5,000 annually and commit to raising or contributing an additional $5,000.

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