I heard last night from an organizer of the residential neighborhoods that are the first choice of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and its cutouts on the Little Rock Technology Authority Board about the recent choruses of kumbaya being hummed at some show meetings — utterly without authority or consequence — in which neighbors have been allowed to air concerns to select members of the authority board about potential taking of their homes.
His skepticism is informed, first, by a long history with City Director Joan Adcock, of late a declared friend of the neighborhoods, but not to be trusted based on her long record. He also added:
I am not in the least bit convinced that we “have won.” The Kumpuris/Adcock legislation passed by the Board was an attempt to keep us quiet until after the elections. Today’s article in the Democrat-Gazette about the Tech Park’s housing committee just confirms my belief that Mary Good and Co. are moving ahead with their plans to build the park in one of the three sites.
Furthermore, landlords — including recent buyers who smelled a windfall from acquiring rental property soon to be condemned — have been organizing tenants to speak up for neighborhood acquisition. They hope to build the groundswell of supposed “neighborhood support” that could give the Authority cover to turn back to condemning that property.
Structurally, nothing has changed, though the city board has encouraged the Tech Park poobahs to look for other sites and a nominal search is underway. A Board unanswerable to the public still calls the shots. It was intentionally set up by law to have authority above the city, above the county, even above the entire state itself.
See this attorney general’s opinion issued Wednesday in response to a question from Sen. Joyce Elliott. Does the Authority have to comply with state purchasing law? It does not. It might have to submit budgets to participating agencies, but it doesn’t have to seek approval for the budget or anything else. Said the opinion:
… the legislature [through a law written by the LR Chamber] has expressed its intent that the Research Park Authority Act “be liberally construed to accomplish its intent and purposes and shall be the sole authority required for the accomplishment of its purpose.” This section further states that “[i]t shall not be necessary to comply with the general provisions of other laws dealing with public facilities and their acquisition….” Although I cannot definitively opine to this effect, I believe it may reasonably be contended based upon this provision alone that the state’s purchasing requirements do not apply to an authority created under the Research Park Authority Act.
The Authority is a law unto itself. Anybody who thinks it won’t ultimately act that way hasn’t watched its creation and its sponsors’ secretive, unaccountable role in wangling a $22 million gratuity from the city of Little Rock to build an office building in a city broken out with empty office buildings. Why, indeed, must neighbors still be forced to talk about being moved into public housing if acquisition of their homes is really off the table?
I’ll believe neighborhood bulldozing is dead when the Authority buys another site. Not before. They won’t be condemning central city residential property without a lawsuit, that much is clear.