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No ABC leader 

Quote of the week

"I was sick and I wanted to leave," Sen. Bill Sample (R-Hot Springs) told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette when asked why, at a legislative subcommittee meeting, he made a motion to reject restrictions proposed by the state Plant Board to limit the use of the controversial herbicide dicamba. The Plant Board had proposed a ban on the in-crop use of dicamba from April 16 to Oct. 31 after receiving more than 1,000 complaints from dicamba damage to crops, trees and more. The Plant Board will reconsider its proposal in January.

Another big arts gift for UA

The University of Arkansas announced a gift of $40 million from the Windgate Charitable Foundation of Siloam Springs to expand the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences' Hill Avenue Sculpture Complex as the Windgate Art and Design District.

The gift will allow the university to build new art and design classrooms, studio space and "potential new gallery space" near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Hill Avenue. It follows the $120 million gift from the Walton Charitable Foundation to the university to renovate its Fine Arts Center and substantially beef up the UA's art education within a new School of Art.

The university is doubling its art programming budget over the next five years, representing another $16 million investment above its previous arts budget. That all adds up to $166 million invested in arts education and creation in Fayetteville.

No ABC leader

Arkansas Baptist College is without a president. Dr. Joseph Jones, who led the campus for about a year, said he had resigned the job Friday in an email to the Board of Trustees' executive committee. Sunday, he said, the Board sent him an email saying he had been terminated "for cause," but it listed no cause. As a consequence, he said he had hired legal representation. He declined further comment.

Dr. Kenneth Harris of Arkadelphia, chairman of the board, said Jones was terminated last week "for cause" and issued a brief prepared statement. It said the board had "lost confidence in Dr. Jones' leadership and judgment." It said the firing was "predicated on his lack of transparency with the Board on issues that could place the Board and the institution at significant risk of financial and legal jeopardy."

The college has been coping with financial difficulties since a major growth spurt under the leadership of former President Fitz Hill. Enrollment grew and so too did campus facilities, in part thanks to some significant private donations, but when Hill departed it was still on uncertain footing, despite a major federal loan that paid off private lenders and bought the college time to right its finances. Enrollment has fallen and the college is under federal monitoring that delays transfer of federal student payments. 

Bill Walker, a new member of the board and a former state legislator and state agency leader, said the final issue that led to board action was the college's falling behind on payment of federal withholding, a serious issue we "have to correct." He confirmed the November payroll was paid late and the December payroll, due to be paid at the end of the month, may be late, too, unless the college can arrange a short-term loan to cover it. Walker said college "overhead" had to be reduced because of the smaller enrollment, but he also said he hoped to see a return of the recruiting effort of Hill's days as president. Walker also said Jones declined an offer to be allowed to resign rather than be fired.

Howard freed

Former death row inmate Tim Howard was released from Varner Supermax Unit prison last week after 20 years in prison, 14 of them on death row.

The state Parole Board voted last month to parole Howard, who had been imprisoned since 1997 after his conviction for the slayings of a Little River County couple and the attempted murder of their child. Howard has maintained his innocence and has had an unblemished prison record.

Howard had previously been denied parole in 2015 despite a retrial that made him immediately eligible. Howard spent 17 years of his incarceration in isolation.

The Parole Board voted 5-0 on Nov. 20 to grant parole to Howard. Several conditions were placed on parole, including an employment plan, periodic drug testing, no association with victim or relatives, maximum supervision for the remainder of his probation by the Department of Community Correction, a curfew if he is not at work, school or church and community service work if he is not employed. He also may not return to Sevier or Little River counties.

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