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Tim Griffin, the controversial former interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, is back on the public scene — and eager to kill an increase in the severance tax on natural gas. Earlier this month, he established Arkansas Coalition of Concerned Taxpayers, a group dedicated to defeating ballot initiatives that would tax the oil and gas industry. The group is registered with the Arkansas Ethics Committee as a ballot question committee. Mark White, a Bryant lawyer, is listed as treasurer.

Griffin said he will not lobby against the increase Gov. Mike Beebe has proposed to the legislature if there's a special session on that proposal. But if there's no legislative session and either Beebe or former gas executive Sheffield Nelson moves forward with an initiated act, Griffin said he'd fight it.

Griffin, a former White House political operative, has been working out of Little Rock for Mercury Public Affairs, a New York consulting firm, since resigning as U.S. attorney last June amid a controversy over Bush administration politics. He said ACCT might have life beyond the severance tax debate. “Going forward, I think there's room for a voice in Arkansas on issues other than the severance tax addressing tax structure and wasteful spending,” Griffin said.

Bisbee buzz

They don't call Republican Sen. Dave Bisbee the John McCain of Arkansas for nothing. He's known to have a bit of a temper. Ask Bill Adams, who, along with the term-limited Bisbee, is one of six candidates for Benton County judge. Adams says he was home watching Spongebob Squarepants with his kids last Friday night when he got an unexpected phone call from Bisbee, who attends the same church as Adams. Adams says Bisbee was hopping mad about an e-mail he had sent calling Bisbee a tax-and-spender for his openness to the severance tax. “He yelled at me for about half an hour,” Adams said. “He said he was going to come after me personally and bring up my past.” Adams, who ran unsuccessfully for judge in 2006, has already been down the mud-slinging road. It arose over his admission that he'd tried marijuana in his younger days.

Bisbee declined to discuss the details of the call. “It certainly wasn't a true representation of my record,” he said of the e-mail.

Central controversy

Central High School Interim School Superintendent Linda Watson has ordered a limit on Central's freshman class next year.

In private e-mails obtained by the Times, Board member Larry Berkley has objected to the reduction and says it has caused needless anxiety for parents of 82 students (49 black) on the waiting list.

Watson's response said an increase in enrollment in upper grades requires a 650-student freshman class limit. It was as high as 744 at one point last year. But senior class enrollment will be down 60 next year. Some school district residents fear the reduction is part of a strategy to diminish Central's role as a magnet for high-achieving students, both black and white. Whatever the intention, many parents believe that it will prompt an exodus to private and charter schools, rather than to other Little Rock School District high schools.

“If the motivation is to build schools that have been weak, it's not going to work,” Berkley said.

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