- JOYCE ELLIOTT: Resigned today from Promise Neighbotrhood leadership.
Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock today resigned her $80,000 job as executive director of a public-private consortium hoping to build a Harlem Children’s Zone-type cradle-to-job program for inner city Little Rock known as Central Little Rock Promise Neighborhood.
Elliott — and, unfortunately, the program itself — has been beset by questions raised about her hiring for the job with UALR, a state agency, as a paying agent. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette first reported that a 1999 state law prohibits the hiring of legislators by state agencies and universities are included in that definition. An alternate plan to have the city of Little Rock pay Elliott was withdrawn, apparently because of the city’s reluctance to become enmeshed in the controversy. Her situation has been complicated by Democrat-Gazette reports on small tax liens outstanding against Elliott. The Board of the Central Arkansas Library System, another partner, also expressed reluctance to stand in as paying agent because of the controversy that had arisen, library director Bobby Roberts said. The fear among many now is that the program itself could be permanently damaged.
UPDATE: See the jump for a news release from UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson on her departure. He said he hoped it wouldn’t impede progress of the project. There’s also a prepared statement from Elliott and from UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn.
Elliott will focus, instead, on trying to hold her seat in the state Senate. She faces a challenge from Rep. Fred Allen. She said the controversy undoubtedly would have a negative impact on her race. It’s impossible to ignore the politics in the situation. Her base of supporters undoubtedly will see her predicament as a sign of powerful interests aligned against her.
Dickson Flake, an influential businessman and member of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, is finance chair for Fred Allen. He’s also a prime mover of legislation that created the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, which is getting $22 million in city tax money thanks to a tax increase pushed in a clandestinely-waged campaign administered by the same Chamber of Commerce that now holds a statutory seat on the Authority Board, along with Flake. Elliott has challenged the Authority about neighborhood interests as it considers a site there for the technology park, a decision that could dislocate hundreds of people. Elliott has said, if re-elected, she’d push for legislation requiring financial disclosure by Authority members; an impact study for people affected by such projects, and legal representation for people in such affected neighborhoods to match the taxpayer-financed legal help the Authority Board enjoys.
Elliott’s opponent Allen also is supported by charter school backers Jim Walton of Bentonville, the Walmart heir and Arvest chief, and Jackson T. Stephens Jr. of Little Rock, heir to a portion of the Stephens Inc., fortune.
Of such support, Elliott said: “It’s not just coincidence. If I am re-elected I’ll be chair of the Education Committee. Powerful interests in this state do not want to see me in the legislature and definitely do not want to see me chair of the Education Committee.” She said she’d been told in the last legislative session that money would “roll down” to insure that she didn’t return to the legislature.
Her choice to run the Promise Neighborhood was announced with extensive press coverage almost eight months ago, but questions about whether she could be hired with UALR cutting checks weren’t raised until a week ago.