Favorite

Little Rock's shadow government 

I exchanged several notes with Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola last week about his disappointment over Pulaski Tech's rejection of a proposal to move its culinary school downtown. He still thinks he had better cost estimates that proved the plan could work on available money. He insists he holds no ill will against Pulaski Tech as it moves toward a property tax election, but adds that he wants to know details first. Which is fair.

Inevitably, though, our conversation turned to the divide in Little Rock — the one between rich and poor and black and white. It's best illustrated by the city's shadow government, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Stodola says he can't understand my obsession with the topic. I can't understand why he can't understand.

When Stodola jetted off to Paris, it was Jay Chessir, CEO of the Chamber, who shared the publicly financed haute cuisine at Stodola's table.

When Little Rock passed a sales tax, it was a committee set up, financed and administered by Chessir and his employees that ran the show. They did so without disclosing their involvement on campaign papers and without the campaign committee reporting in-kind contributions from the chamber for its administrative support and Chessir's time.

The chamber wrote the law that set up the new technology park authority. Through that law, the chamber effectively controls the governing board, including a designated seat for Chessir. The sales tax the chamber puppet committee promoted provided $22 million to the technology authority. The tax passed, but was trounced in the neighborhood in which the Chessir-created, chamber-controlled and city-financed board intends to expropriate dozens of homes of lower-income minority citizens.

Chessir successfully fought disclosure of how the sales tax campaign money was spent. I'd like to know, for example, if they hired any neighborhood "consultants" to help with the campaign. Chessir has also successfully fought disclosing how the chamber spends the $200,000 in taxpayer money that Stodola insists on providing the agency for putative economic development work. It's a sham deal. It is a taxpayer subsidy to work the chamber was already doing. The city itself once did it with public employees whose work WAS transparent.

The chamber was in the thick of the effort to move the culinary school downtown from the southwest location. Working class stiffs in Southwest Little Rock, including a city director whose opinions had not been sought, weren't happy about the implied disrespect.

The chamber continues to support at-large election of city board members, a process that favors wealthy neighborhoods and depresses influence of the city's black/Latino majority. It likes the system so much, a chamber employee has worked to impose at-large elections on the Little Rock School Board, too. This fits with the chamber's unsuccessful effort six years ago to take over the School Board. Defeated at the polls, it has turned its attention to supporting the charter school movement (a movement littered with failure) and using its mailing list to trash the Little Rock School District. How this encourages economic development is beyond me.

The chamber was established to maximize members' profits, which means minimizing pay, benefits and access to the courts for members' employees and customers and the public at large. This is legal, of course, even laudable to some. I'd be less obsessed about it if my tax money wasn't paying for it. See now, mayor?

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Speaking of...

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016
  • Trump: The Obama of 2016?

    Conner Eldridge, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman, launched an assault on Boozman Monday morning rich with irony and opportunity.
    • May 5, 2016
  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017

Most Shared

  • Take yourself there: Mavis Staples coming to LR for Central High performance

    Gospel and R&B singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, who has been inspiring fans with gospel-inflected freedom songs like "I'll Take You There" and "March Up Freedom's Highway" and the poignant "Oh What a Feeling" will come to Little Rock for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High.
  • Klan's president

    Everything that Donald Trump does — make that everything that he says — is calculated to thrill his lustiest disciples. But he is discovering that what was brilliant for a politician is a miscalculation for a president, because it deepens the chasm between him and most Americans.
  • On Charlottesville

    Watching the Charlottesville spectacle from halfway across the country, I confess that my first instinct was to raillery. Vanilla ISIS, somebody called this mob of would-be Nazis. A parade of love-deprived nerds marching bravely out of their parents' basements carrying tiki torches from Home Depot.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Charter secret

    These are hard times for those who believe in traditional public schools, run by democratically elected representatives, open to all on equal terms.
    • Aug 17, 2017
  • Mayoral thoughts

    On free wi-fi, football and more.
    • Aug 10, 2017
  • Crisis at 60

    The city of Little Rock, the school district and the National Park Service last week announced extensive plans for events in September to mark the 60th anniversary of the Central High desegregation crisis.
    • Aug 3, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

August

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • On Charlottesville

    Watching the Charlottesville spectacle from halfway across the country, I confess that my first instinct was to raillery. Vanilla ISIS, somebody called this mob of would-be Nazis. A parade of love-deprived nerds marching bravely out of their parents' basements carrying tiki torches from Home Depot.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: On Charlottesville

    • I've allowed myself "to educated". Cheap shot, I'll admit; but, proofreading might be a skill…

    • on August 19, 2017
  • Re: Charter secret

    • Max uses the words irony, logic etc. All the arguments and reasons he uses to…

    • on August 19, 2017
  • Re: On Charlottesville

    • Then allow your self to educated. Living as white, is not condescending a lot of…

    • on August 18, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation