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Metroplan sees revisions to 30 Crossing plan. They want 10-lane gulch

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 01:26 PM PST

met today and learned of changes in the highway department's planning for widening Interstate 30 through downtown Little Rock.

A full explanation of the plan with accompanying drawings won't be available until an environmental report is complete, but Barry Haas, who's been following the progress closely as an advocate for a better alternative, wrote a summary of the meeting and sent along materials distributed today.

He said the department is now focusing on two options for the bigger concrete gulch — both so-called six-lane projects with two so-called collector/distribution lanes in each direction (10 lanes in all in the heart of downtown).  It has dropped two eight-lane conventional freeway models. The discussion this morning, Haas said, indicated the six lanes would be built below grade compared with collector lanes and city streets.  Changes are still possible as an environmental assessment continues. But if the below-grade plan survives (without any plan for buiilding park over it as some far-thinking cities have done) it truly will be a wider concrete gulch. And analysis of late shows, it won't ease traffic congestion, which isn't much of a problem now except for brief rush-hour periods.

The plans under consideration end direct access to Ninth Street from freeway lanes; making Fourth Street one-way eastbound and keeping Capitol two-way.  The collector lanes would be narrower and include other elements (curbs, sidewalks, trees) to slow traffic to make it clear they are not interstate lanes.

The highway department continues to insist it's in the right in using extortion tactics (blocking spending of federal highway money on regional projects) to force a speedy change in Metroplan's long-range traffic plan to accommodate its desired expansion. Many, including Metroplan staff, disagree with that interpretation and say no change in the plan is necessary until the environmental assessment is complete. Highway Director Scott Bennett, who recently instituted the spending blockade, was not present.

The Metroplan Board also approved a resolution endorsing the so-called "split diamond" design for an exit in downtown Little Rock.

It's unclear to me from what Barry provided how below-grade freeway lanes might affect the talk of a park from Cumberland Street to the Clinton Library with the elimination of the Highway 10/Second Street exit.

The plan does not — and will not — make any provisions for the immense impact on the downtown street grid of a new way of dumping freeway traffic into the street system. That will be the city's responsibility, state officials have said. Nor does it consider the new demand that the work through downtown, between the north and south terminal interchanges, will create on all the freeways that feed into that 6-mile stretch, particularly the Mills Freeway (I-630).

Here's the full highway department slide presentation.

Get your wine at Edwards Food Giant on Cantrell in the Tanglewood Shopping Center

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 01:10 PM PST

Planning a fine dining experience in your own kitchen? Edwards Food Giant has you covered. Your favorite wines have arrived at your neighborhood grocer on Cantrell in the  Tanglewood Shopping Center.

The wines

Francis Coppola
Layer Cake
Dead Bolt
Ravens Wood
Gnarly Head
Dreaming Tree
William Hill
Root: 1 Chateau Julien
Dark Horse
Yellow Tail
…many more!

And for the complete experience, pair your wine with a filet mignon from the deli counter.

Wednesday: The open line and news roundup

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 12:22 PM PST

Here's an open line. Also the daily roundup of news and comment.

A call for support of solar energy at PSC hearing

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:32 AM PST

The Arkansas Public Policy Panel has issued a call for supporters of clean energy be heard at the state Public Service Commission tomorrow as it considers a request from electric utilities to reduce benefits for people who use solar power.

Said the Policy Panel:

Electric utilities are pressuring the Commission to reduce the amount of money that small consumers are credited when they generate excess energy, which will make those systems less affordable to most consumers. We think that consumers should earn the full retail rate for their excess energy that they pay when they need energy from utilities. ....

Net-metering is a utility industry term for a billing mechanism that allows customers who generate their own electricity from solar power or windmills to push electricity back out onto the grid when they have excess and receive credit from the power company for that electricity. Since net metering when into effect in 2000, customers have been credited the retail rate of electricity, or one-to-one kilowatt- hour. Due to pressure from electric utilities the PSC is considering reducing the compensation a customer receives for generating power. A reduction in compensation for net-metering would stifle advancements in clean energy upgrades on personal property.
The panel argues that keeping the retail rate helps give people more control over electric bills, encourages investments in clean energy and reduces strain on the electricity distribution system.

Here's an easy link to submit a comment to the PSC.

The utilities claim the rate needs to be reduced to cover the cost of serving those customers. Entergy Arkansas is making some major investments solar-generated power itself.

Another Democrat announces challenge to Charlie Collins

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 11:20 AM PST

Denise Firmin Garner, a familiar name in philanthropic and civic circles in Fayetteville, announced this week as a Democratic candidate for state House of Representatives from District 84. Republican Rep. Charlie Collins, who forced concealed weapons onto college campuses against the will of every governing board in the state, will be seeking re-election.

This makes a Democratic primary for the race.  Adrienne Kvello, a Fayetteville lawyer, announced earlier. She pointedly noted Collins' gun legislation and his participation in the funneling of state taxpayer money to Ecclesia College in Springdale, a still-running scandal with a criminal prosecution component of two other legislators.

Garner's formal announcement is Dec. 13. But you can get a feel for her progressive politics on her Facebook page, including a note today about pending efforts by congressional Republicans to slice support for higher education.

Garrison Keillor fired by Minnesota Public Radio

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 09:39 AM PST

Garrison Keillor has been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of improper behavior.

The news came in a statement from Keillor. He says it's complicated.

MPR has issued a statement, which says the behavior relates to acts when Keillor was producing Prairie Home Companion, a jobe he left in July 2016. The impact is significant:

MPR will end its business relationships with Mr. Keillor's media companies effective immediately. By terminating the contracts, MPR and American Public Media (APM) will:

* end distribution and broadcast of The Writer's Almanac and rebroadcasts of The Best of A Prairie Home Companion hosted by Garrison Keillor;

* change the name of APM's weekly music and variety program hosted by Chris Thile; and,

* separate from the Pretty Good Goods online catalog and the website.
Keillor gave an account here. He says he put his hand on a woman's bare back, she recoiled, he apologized. This article notes Keillor wrote a column defending Al Franken this week. He wrote:

"He did USO tours overseas when he was in the comedy biz. He did it from deep in his heart, out of patriotism, and the show he did was broad comedy of a sort that goes back to the Middle Ages. ... Miss Tweeden knew what the game was and played her role and on the flight home, in a spirit of low comedy, Al ogled her and pretended to grab her and a picture was taken. Eleven years later, a talk show host in L.A., she goes public with her embarrassment, and there is talk of resignation. This is pure absurdity and the atrocity it leads to is a code of public deadliness. No kidding.

Benton County prosecutors drop Amazon Echo murder case

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 08:31 AM PST

40/29 reports that prosecutors in Bentonville have dropped prosecution of a murder that received national attention for efforts to use information from an Amazon Echo as evidence.

This means the dismissal of a murder charge against James Andrew Bates, charged in the 2015 death of Victor Collins. He was found dead in a hot tub in Bates' home. A medical examiner's report said he seemed to have been in a fight and died from strangulation and drowning.

Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith told 40/29 he plans for the case to be dismissed without prejudice, because the evidence can support more than one reasonable explanation.
The charge could be refiled.

During the pre-trial process, a judge issued a search warrant for all Amazon recordings from an Echo device in Bates' home during the time under investigation. That spurred coverage of the implications for a new way for authorities to dig into personal privacy, though prosecutors said it was no different from being able to search phone or bank records.

Pothole alert: Law firm maps every one in Little Rock

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 05:20 AM PST

OK, I'll bite for this promotion by the law offices of Alan Levar. They've compiled and put on the firm webpage a map with every pothole in the city of Little Rock in 2016 and also provided some summary data.

For example:

Intersections with most potholes

Rahling Road & Pebble Beach Drive | 6 potholes reported
Baseline Road & Geyer Springs Road | 6 potholes reported
West Roosevelt Road & South State Street | 5 potholes reported
South Mississippi Street & South Rodney Parham Road | 5 potholes reported
Gamble Road & Kanis Road | 5 potholes reported
North Chicot Road & Mabelvale Pike | 5 potholes reported

Streets with most potholes

W. Markham St – 41 Potholes
N. Rodney Parham Rd – 26 Potholes
S. University Ave – 23 Potholes
Geyer Springs Rd – 20 Potholes
Cantrell Rd – 19 Potholes

Note that if you go to the weblink to view the map you'll get a popup asking if you'd like some legal help.

Matt Lauer fired UPDATE

Posted: 29 Nov 2017 04:22 AM PST

The Today show opened this morning with news that anchor Matt Lauer had been fired by NBC over sexual allegations. Much more to come.

"Inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace," given as the reason.

The New York Times reportedly had been looking into Lauer, but its report this morning so far provides no details of that, if so.

UPDATE: Variety emerges with details. Not pretty.

Giving Tuesday: Support journalism

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 04:38 PM PST

It's Giving Tuesday, a day to think about worthy causes amid holiday excess.

There are many good candidates. My pet causes are Lucie's Place, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and The Rep.

I also like the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network. You can read about its work here. It's about serious journalism — education, health care, child welfare and juvenile justice have been big picture projects supported by contributions to the nonprofit organization.

Newspapers and their staffs are dwindling here and everywhere. This is a good way to support an independent source of valuable reporting. Through news partners that publish the work,  it reaches a big Arkansas audience.

You can go straight to PayPal for a contribution here.

A batch of sealed indictments have fueled the political speculation mill

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 03:05 PM PST

What's it all about?

Shown here are images of some recent criminal docket listings in Arkansas federal courts. At right are listings from the Western District between Nov. 13 and Nov. 20. Below are listings from the Eastern District between Oct. 30 and Nov. 20. Could they be related to speculation that further indictments are expected in the public corruption investigation in which one state representative, Micah Neal, has pleaded guilty and another, former Sen. Jon Woods, goes on trial in Fayetteville next week? A number of filings in that case remain under seal and attorneys in that case have said they expect other indictments.

The U.S. attorney's office has not responded to my request for a comment, but I don't expect one. Indictments are often filed under seal and released when defendants are arrested and arraigned. But the burst of activity seems atypical. For the week ending today, for example, a grand total of two criminal cases (both identified) have been filed in all federal courts in the state.

A veteran criminal lawyer agrees the activity is striking. He notes, too, the gap in case numbers, with a batch dating to early in the year and some more recent. Maybe it's a bunch of bootlegging and welfare fraud cases. Or maybe it's something more exciting. In time, all will be revealed.

A particularly tasty bit of speculation deals with legislation written where only certain businesses would qualify for the lucrative state work (no, not the recent education consulting boondoggle engineered by a gubernatorial staff member.)

You might remember there's been a great deal of speculation about sealed cases filed around the time of Paul Manafort's indictment in Washington, D.C. in the Russian influence peddling case. I mention that only because we are still awaiting further details there, too. Anybody you know been acting nervous lately?

Federal judge dismisses suit by Memphis firm ousted from probation business in Jonesboro

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 02:29 PM PST

Federal Judge James Moody has dismissed a lawsuit by The Justice Network, a for-profit Memphis outfit that lost a long-running and lucrative probation services arrangement in Craighead County after the election of new judges.

We featured District Judges Tommy Fowler and David Boling as visionaries for cleaning the judicial house of The Justice Network. Their probation services meant fines and fees and a cycle of debt for many misdemeanor offenders.  The judges came up with a stopgap amnesty program. They allowed offenders to reset payment plans, entered new probation orders and deleted the Justice Network while forgiving court costs and fees.

The Justice Network sued in federal court to recoup fees it lost. It said its contract overrode the judges.

Judge Moody tossed their lawsuit out of court today. Moody said the judges were personally immune from lawsuit because they were acting in their official capacity.  He also dismissed the claim against Craighead County and the cities of Bay, Bono,
Brookland, Caraway, Cash, Egypt, Lake City and Monette. He said the judges were state employees and no liability could be stretched to the cities and county.

Finally, the judge wrote:

Plaintiff's remaining claims for unjust enrichment, ratification and supervisory liability also fail. No supervisor or employee relationship exists between the judges and the City and County defendants. Plaintiff failed to state any facts which would support a finding that the City or County defendants had any authority or control over the judges. And, the probation services at issue were provided to the probation clients. Plaintiff has failed to state facts which demonstrate that the City or County defendants received something of value to which they were not entitled by the forgiveness of a debt owed by the probation clients to the Plaintiff
The Justice Network can appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tuesday's open line

Posted: 28 Nov 2017 01:31 PM PST

Today's open line and the daily news roundup.