The ad hoc Committee for Arts and History will have a press event at noon Tuesday in support of a Feb. 9 special election vote on Little Rock on pledging sales tax money to a bond issue to expand and improve the Arkansas Arts Center as well as spend some smaller amounts on the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and the surrounding MacArthur Park.
The Little Rock City Board and the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission have already raised the hotel tax by two cents on the dollar to pay for arts center improvements. That tax will remain in effect and be split by the convention bureau and parks if the bond issue election fails. Approval of the bonds would clear the way for an issue of an estimated $37.5 million, most for the Arts Center. This is a plan worked out after long study that included a briefly considered idea to move the center to North Little Rock.
The news release didn’t identify specific members of the committee or provide information about how much money it would spend and from what sources.
The announcement touts a “public/private partnership” on the work. Arts Center officials have vowed a dollar-for-dollar match from private sources. As yet, no specific pledge from any source of any amount has been made, however. It’s unclear if any of those details will emerge tomorrow. Some questions remain, too, about how the work would proceed if there are open questions about the size of any private match.
The idea of special elections is to target proven supporters of an issue and hope a larger electorate, often presumed reflexively anti-tax and anti-borrowing, won’t turn out. The city could have chosen to put the bond issue on on the March 1 primary election ballot, when party primaries, judicial elections and presidential nominating contests should provide a much larger number of voters.
I have left a message with questions. The news release came from the Markham Group, which has done campaign work on some previous city election issues, notably a sales tax increase orchestrated by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
UPDATE: The committee has filed its organization papers with the Ethics Commission. Officers are Gary Smith, chair; and Stacy Hurst, Chauncey Holloman and Ron Fuller, co-chairs.
UPDATE II: I”ve asked, but not yet received an answer, to the question of what unseen people decided who’s lead the campaign to divert taxpayer money to the arts center. I was told an as-yet uknown amount would be raised in “private” money to pay for the campaign, but my question about sources was answered by a response thtat it would be revealed in time on campaign reports.,
An Arts Center member objected to use of the nonprofit institution’s mailing list to solicit political support. I still don’t have an absolutely direct question of whether that list is being used, but a spokesman said “arts cent4er supporters” had been invited to tomorrow’s news conference. Have those who objected to use of their addresses in a political campaign been removed? No answer.
The spokesman said legal counsel had checked about the propriety of expenditure of a nonprofit effort on a political campaign.
No word if Hurst, head of a state agency in the Hutchinson administration, would take leave to provide service to a political campaign.
And what about the promise of private money and how plans will proceed absent a firm commitment:
If and when the bond issue passes, we will reaching out to many to help. We have had, are having ongoing discussions with individuals, organizations and foundations who are very much in favor of this.
In other words, same old LR business establishment baseball. If we think you need to know something, we’ll tell you. If not, not to worry. Trust us. What could go wrong. (Think tech park fiasco, for starters, brought to you by some of the same forces at work clandestinely here.) Transparency is simiply NOT a hallmark of city government, witness how this plan got sprung at the 11th hour by Mayor Stodola in the first place.