Little Rock City Director Kenneth Richardson is preparing to put other members of the City Board on the spot. Do they dance strictly to the tune of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce? Or do poor folks also count?
A blog reader last night mentioned and I’ve since received a copy of Director Richardson’s memo asking City Attorney Tom Carpenter to draft an ordinance that would prohibit spending of any city money on legal action to take residential property for the Little Rock Technology Park through eminent domain.
Richardson also wants the city to demand full compliance with the state FOI law and for financial interest statements of board members to be filed at a central location. He wants Tech Park money (virtually all from city taxpayers) deposited in a local bank. Key phrase:
Emphasizing that no city revenues, whether traceable to sales tax revenues or otherwise, may be provided to or expended on behalf of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority, whether directly or indirectly, for the purpose of displacing any residents of a residential neighborhood within the City of Little Rock.
The neighborhoods targeted for removal for the Chamber’s taxpayer-financed tech park voted overwhelmingly against the sales tax that has provided $22 million for their doom (and documents show the chamber expects nearly double that amount to be spent eventually in taxpayer money). Will only their elected representative stand up for them? I’d predict Richardson, should he bring this to a vote, musters no more than four votes of the 11 possible, counting the mayor (as one of the 11, not as a no vote). Two is more likely. I’d expect the mayor to push hard for his Parisian dining partner and Chamber exec Jay Chesshir’s vision of a neighborhood denuded of homes for the glory of an office building.
There’s another way to do this. The Central Arkansas Library System acquired property nearby for a children’s library without exercising eminent domain. The library is, of course, also building a facility with obvious benefits to the neighborhood. The neighborhood is being served, rather than just being viewed as an impediment by the silk stocking crowd that now controls their destiny. (I know: just wait for the trickle-down on the trickled-upon when this tech park is realized. Just don’t let the boosters point you to Richmond, Va., as a success story. Its park didn’t enjoy a similar city subsidy and it’s hurting and begging for new subsidies now.)
What if you acquired small chunks of land voluntarily and included some neighborhood improvements — bike trails and amenities that might attract the young techsters, as well as housing rehab — as sweeteners? Start small and build as demand dictates. What if the board with decision-making power represented the entire public, instead of three of seven direct from the Chamber of Commerce and all fellow business establishment travelers from the Heights and Chenal Valley (plus Death Star Bob Johnson from Bigelow)? Maybe it would then enjoy the record of success and trust that the library system enjoys.
Bobby Roberts for mayor. Meanwhile, Richardson’s memo: