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Fighting words 

Minutes from meetings of the Little Rock Public Education Foundations board, liberated recently by an FOI lawsuit filed by attorney John Walker, have been making the rounds, and the records of one meeting in particular have gotten City Manager Bruce Moore in a little hot water with the Classroom Teachers Association.

During the May 22, 2006, meeting, Superintendent Roy Brooks gave an update on the district’s contract negotiations with the teachers union, and said the union already had a strike team in place. According to the minutes, Moore, a member of the PEF board, “asked what steps are in place if we don’t have a contract on July 31? He thinks it would be devastating to start the school year with a strike. Since we are a right-to-work state we don’t have to negotiate with anyone.”

Moore said the minutes didn’t accurately reflect what he was trying to say. “I was trying to put it in context that even though we’re a right-to-work state, it’s important not to start the year with a strike,” and that it was in fact important to negotiate with the CTA, Moore said. He said his own track record with the unions that represent the city’s police, firefighters and public works employees shows he’s not anti-union.

(Brooks, on the other hand, went on to say at that meeting that a strike “may not be the worst possible thing” for the district.)

Moore said he’d heard from CTA President Katherine Wright Knight about the comments, and hopes he “alleviated any concerns” she had.

Sticky fingers

News that the former Pulaski County comptroller, Ron Quillin, had been arrested for stealing $42,000 from the county raised a number of questions.

Not immediately answered by authorities were the precise tactics he used to steal the money, though Prosecutor Larry Jegley mentioned that Quillin pocketed unspecified county rebate checks. Nor have authorities revealed how he spent the money.

Bigger questions loom. A UALR task force has been studying county finances so it can make a recommendation on solving the overcrowded jail. Quillin’s financial projections missed the mark badly in recent years. Might they be even more suspect now and a bad base for task force recommendations?

Dr. Charles Hathaway, who’s leading the UALR study, said the Quillin arrest “further damages the credibility” of the county on finances, but shouldn’t affect his group’s work, due to be released in July.

Part of the group’s criticism will be the poor way in which the county made projections for future revenue (based on previous budgets, not revenue) and failed to account for all revenue. There will be a number of recommendations in these areas, Hathaway said.

Finally, there are questions about whether the county should have picked up problems in Quillin’s past before hiring him for a financial position. Multiple sources say Quillin had an encounter with the law in Clark County over bad checks in years past, but we weren’t able to nail down the specifics at press time.

Elephant in the corner

The parties involved in the creation of the National Elephant Center, which has worked with Scott and Heidi Riddle to purchase their elephant sanctuary on 320 acres near Quitman, are bound by a confidentiality agreement that restricts their confirming that the purchase has gone through.

But Mark Reed, director of the Sedgewick County Zoo in Wichita and chair of the National Elephant Center board, and John Lenhardt of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida are saying they hope to have something to say by Friday of this week.

The National Elephant Center would provide zoo management training and research into elephant reproduction. Groups that want zoos to abandon elephant exhibits have strongly objected to the latter goal.

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