I wrote recently about a state agency head, Bill Walker of the Arkansas Department of Career Services, who’d picked a building for consolidation of the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services Division that happens to be owned by an LLC headed by his friend and fellow Mike Beebe supporter, Richard Mays, a Little Rock lawyer and former legislator.
Walker spent several hours last week explaining the rationale for the move and wondering why I’d see anything amiss. I was not alone, however. I learned bells had gone off in the negotiating process at the Arkansas Building Authority because Mays’ future ownership wasn’t disclosed when the lease negotiations first began. Rent there is going to increase to about $782,000 a year when the building is expanded for more of Walker’s offices.
Walker said friendships are routine in state business deals (true, which doesn’t mean appearances are unimportant.) He also said he and Mays believe they are being singled out because they are black. Walker even defended the deal on the ground of race. He said there were only a bare handful of black investors benefitting from state real estate business and he thought black ownership should be encouraged.
Turns out Walker had helped black ownership — Mays specifically — more than I then knew.
It’s the same set of circumstances as with the 525 W. Capitol Avenue building, soon to be expanded for Walker’s Rehab Division. In 2008, Walker’s department negotiated a lease for a building that a Mays-related LLC bought after the state lease was completed.