North Little Rock sets an example for Little Rock on economic development | Arkansas Blog

Monday, June 11, 2018

North Little Rock sets an example for Little Rock on economic development

Posted By on Mon, Jun 11, 2018 at 6:50 AM

North Little Rock may be bringing its expenditures on economic development into city government, a welcome move for transparency and accountability. Little Rock should take note.

Jake Sandlin reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning that North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith wants to spend the city's economic development money in-house, rather than contract with an outside agency.

This is good news. A constitutional amendment shaped by the felonious then-Sen. Jon Woods overrode a court ruling about spending of city money on chambers of commerce and other private agencies. Cities may now legally send money to outside agencies which are 1) unaccountable by law and 2) often use the city money to help pay the salaries of people who lobby against the broad public interest. That's the case in Little Rock, which sends $300,000 annually to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Thank it for Little Rock no longer having a democratically controlled school district and state law detrimental to workers, not to mention giveaways of tax dollars to well-heeled corporations.

Todd Larson will continue as North Little Rock's economic development director, but his work will be open to public view. He'll be paid directly by the city. He'll still share an office and coordinate with the private North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. But I thought this was interesting.

Because the new law requires that so many of our activities would need City Council approval, it seemed to us it would be a little more efficient for economic development to be part of city government in contracting and asking for approval of things," Larson said.
We know from Little Rock experience that any review and approval at the city government level is just for show. The Little Rock chamber's reporting on its effort is a cheerleading report, with no meaningful examination of its work or expenditures.

Perhaps if Little Rock had a mayor-council government it would be less beholden to the city power structure, led by the chamber, which tends to control the at-large seats on the city board and unduly influences the mayoral race.

Little Rock needs mayor-council government, just like North Little Rock. Add this as another illustration why.

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