Quote of the week
“Thank you, Arkansas.”
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Mike Beebe, in his final weekly radio address to the state, wrapping up eight years in the governor’s mansion. “I say farewell as your governor, but not goodbye as your friend and fellow Arkansan,” he concluded. “Let’s continue to move Arkansas forward, together.”
At least there’s no National Guard, yet
The Little Rock School District (LRSD) met with the State Board of Education (SBE) last week to discuss its six academically distressed schools. The SBE is mulling a takeover of the district, a drastic move advocated by many in the Little Rock business community. Attorney John Walker, the longtime advocate for African-American children in the LRSD, says a takeover would result in a new lawsuit. Tensions are high. At a later meeting of the LRSD board, a detail of 10 police officers were on hand in response to an alleged threat. (On what or whom was not stated.) The SBE will meet again on Jan. 28 to make a decision about the district’s future.
Respect it or else
Congressman Steve Womack of Northwest Arkansas is again proposing a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag. The irony of trying to criminalize a form of free speech in order to “protect” American ideals should be obvious. (It’s especially ill-timed in the wake of the Paris terrorist attack last week, in which Islamic fundamentalists murdered writers and cartoonists for mocking Islamic prophet Muhammad.) Free speech, including the offensive and obnoxious kind, is more sacred than any symbol.
We could use a 129 percent raise, too
Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel made about $73,000 a year in one of the most important elected offices in Arkansas. Is that too little to pay the state’s top lawyer? Probably so; it’s the lowest AG salary in the U.S. But should his successor’s compensation be increased to $165,000? So said McDaniel in a letter to the just-created independent citizens commission that will set pay increases for elected officials. That would make the Arkansas AG’s salary the third highest in the country, which would be fairly outrageous, considering the state’s per-capita income ranks 48th nationwide.
Fall of the dome
In its day, the Village Shopping Center on University and Asher was one of the busiest commercial spots in Little Rock, but it’s fallen into disrepair. An investment firm that purchased the property last week says it has plans for a “healing process” to revitalize the Village’s 153,000 square feet of retail space. That includes demolition of the landmark domed building that once housed Cinema 150.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on University Ave…
City Director Ken Richardson was arrested last weekend for driving drunk — he blew a .187 at the Pulaski County jail — and on a suspended license, no less. Richardson later issued an apology for letting down friends, family, the city of Little Rock and his colleagues on the Board. He said he was starting a “long journey” out of a “valley of darkness.”
“I will get the help I need, and I will stay the course,” Richardson wrote. “It will not be easy, but I am determined to do it.”
Mike Maggio, by the numbers
In a development that could have repercussions throughout Arkansas politics former Circuit Judge Mike Maggio pleaded guilty last Friday to federal bribery charges in U.S. District Court. The charges concern a 2013 damages suit heard by Maggio when he was preparing to run for a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
$5.2 million: The amount in damages that a jury awarded to the family of Martha Bull, a woman who died due to neglect in a Greenbrier nursing home owned by businessman Michael Morton.
$1 million: The actual amount of the award, after Maggio reduced the jury’s verdict by $4.2 million. He said at the time that the larger figure “shocked the conscience.”
$24,000: According to the U.S. Attorney in the bribery case, the amount that Morton gave to several PACs in 2013 — PACs that would help fund Maggio’s campaign. Text messages cited in court documents show that Maggio met with an intermediary — likely former Republican legislator Gilbert Baker — who “reminded Maggio that he would receive campaign financial support if he made the ‘tough calls’ while on the bench.”
10: The maximum number of years in prison Maggio could receive, along with a fine of up to $250,000. No word yet on whether Morton and Baker could face charges as well.