Campaign promises are one thing, money is another. That’s the takeaway from Rebekah Hall’s account of last night’s meeting of the Little Rock Board of Directors.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. had staff remove from the agenda proposed ordinances to change the method of electing city directors and to strengthen the power of the mayor to hire and fire the city manager and city attorney. Good.
Scott says he still intends to deliver eventually on his promise to change the city’s current system of electing three of 10 directors at-large, but the campaign for a city sales tax increase must come first. (I don’t believe a tax increase was among his campaign promises, though it was always evident that it would be required to shore up a weak budget.)
Here’s the thing: The citizen task force that came up with a plan to replace at-large directors with “regional” directors is just more of the same. The city should go to a straight mayor-council system with all ward directors or do nothing at all. The City Board clearly has few cheerleaders for this task force recommendation.
And who knows? What if Antwan Phillips, a key supporter of the mayor, succeeds in his race for an at-large seat on the board? He offers promise as a refreshing change from the establishment-dominated choices who generally win these expensive at-large election contests.
As for control of city manager and city attorney, Scott has already exercised existing powers in a manner sufficient to neuter independence those offices once had. They can’t talk to the press without telling him. He’s usurped many managerial prerogatives from the city manager. He’s exhibited a strong hand in directing the city approach to legal issues (think the Bradley Blackshire killing by police).
Scott doesn’t want the many questions presented by the government changes that were pulled last night to distract from the tax increase campaign. The tax increase will be hard enough.
Feel-good ideas like improved parks will be a headliner for the tax increase (not to the duffers who lost their golf courses, however). But voters deserve a lot more than they know now about how this $50 million government windfall will be spent. Might it offset skyrocketing garbage pickup fees that cover waning recycling, spotty general service and new add-on charges for special pickups? Just how much money does the mayor intend to set aside to subsidize the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce’s agenda? Will it buy more real estate for the “Tech Park” in a downtown hollowed out by the state’s improvident purchase of the Verizon Building? Will it continue real estate speculation at the Little Rock Port? Will the corporate lobbying team at the chamber of commerce get still more city taxpayer assistance every time locals buy groceries, money that in the past helped end democratic governance of the school district? Will we continue to pay to subsidize commuting costs for city cops who refuse to live in the city of Little Rock? Will the city throw support to public school-killing charter schools (publicly financed, privately operated, largely unaccountable)?
Yes, there are other fish for the mayor to fry before changing city government.