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Popular Brinkley barbecue restaurant busted for suspected video gambling machines

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 01:23 PM PDT


Gene's Bar-B-Que & Restaurant
in Brinkley has been raided by special agents with the First Judicial District Drug Task Force on suspicion of illegal gambling. Ten video arcade machines and cash were seized from the popular barbecue joint.

From the Drug Task Force's Facebook page:

On Thursday evening, April 19, 2018, special agents with the First Judicial District Drug Task Force executed a Search Warrant on Genes Bar-B-Que & Restaurant located in Brinkley, Arkansas wrapping up a month long investigation after receiving a formal written request from the prosecuting attorney to conduct an investigation for the crime of Keeping a Gambling House. Seized as a result of executing the Search Warrant were ten video arcade machines and cash. Several patrons located inside the illegal casino were interviewed and released. The Arkansas State Police assisted the DTF in executing the Search Warrant. The investigation is continuing. Keeping a Gambling House is a Class D Felony.

Walmart tests new dress code, will allow employees to wear blue jeans at some stores

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 12:08 PM PDT

Walmart is experimenting with a new dress code at a small number of stores, Bloomberg reports:

Walmart sells more blue jeans than anyone, but its in-store employees couldn't wear them while on the clock — until now.

The nation's biggest private employer is testing new dress codes in a small number of U.S. stores, hoping that more relaxed standards could help it attract and retain staff in a tight labor market.

Employees in some of Walmart Inc.'s 4,700 stores will now be allowed to wear shirts of any solid color, rather than just blue or white, according to an employee manual obtained by Bloomberg News. Blue jeans are also permitted — as long as they're solid blue — whereas previously only khaki-colored or black denim pants were allowed. Visible facial tattoos are forbidden for those hired after April 14, the manual said.
I'm shocked that Walmart didn't issue a press release claiming that the relaxed dress code was only possible thanks to the Trump tax cut.

It's unclear whether the pilot program will expand to other stores. Walmart previously changed its dress code in 2015, allowing employees to wear black or khaki denim pants and letting those with more physically demanding jobs wear t-shirts instead of collared shirts.

Gallery guide: New shows, Argenta Art Walk

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 11:50 AM PDT

Tonight's the third Friday of the month, which means that you can see lots of art on and off Main Street in Argenta, which is holding its after-hours Art Walk from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Read more about Art Walk and see collaborative art by Chris Swasta and Matthew Castellano here.

Also new in Arkansas galleries:

The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (401 President Clinton Ave.) is has opened "Howard Simon: Art and Illustrations," a show of work by the woodcut artist who was for a time the husband of and illustrator for author Arkansas author Charlie May Simon.

Boswell Mourot Fine Art, 5815 Kavanaugh Blvd., opens an exhibition of new work by Arkansas artists Kellie Lehr and Elena Petroukhina tomorrow, April 21. There will be a reception for the artists from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Hearne Fine Art Gallery, 1001 Wright Ave., is showing "Then and Now," mixed media and illustration by Frank Morrison, in conjunction with the Arkansas Literary Festival. There will be an artist's reception for Morrison at 5:30 p.m. April 26.

M2 Gallery, 11525 Cantrell Road, is showing work by artists from Austin, Texas, in a show called "ATX2LR."

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville opens two shows tomorrow, April 21: "The Garden," about the intersection of art and nature, and "The Beyond: Georgia O'Keeffe and Contemporary Art," work by O'Keeffe and 20 other contemporary artists. One of the artists in "The Garden," Jessica Pezalla, has spent the week installing a large-scale paper floral work at Crystal Bridges.

The Historic Arkansas Museum (200 E. Third St.) has opened a show of photographic works by Esther Nooner, Kristoffer Johnson, Helen Maringer, Kaia Hodo and Grace Ann Odem called "The Medium is the Message: Experimental Photography in Arkansas."

UA Pulaski Tech's 10th annual "Student Art Competitive" goes on exhibit today in the Center for Arts and Humanities.

Up in Mountain View, John Kirkpatrick will give a demonstration of his woodworking skills from 10:30 am. to 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, April 21, at the Arkansas Craft Gallery, 104 E. Main St.

The Chancellor Hotel in Fayetteville is featuring work by the members of the artist's collaborative group The Fenix.




State's pre-K enrollment beats national figures but stagnant funds threaten future

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 11:38 AM PDT


A new state-by-state report on preschool education from Rutgers University's National Institute for Early Education Research says Arkansas's per-child investment in pre-kindergarten education declined significantly over the past eight years when adjusted for inflation, even as the researchers gave the state relatively high marks for its pre-K program standards.

The report, distributed by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, shows 50 percent of 4-year-olds and 35 percent of 3-year-olds in Arkansas are enrolled in state-funded pre-K, Head Start or special ed programs. Those figures are above the national average (44 percent of 4-year-olds and just 16 percent of 3-year-olds), but they also show the state is a long ways from universal access. Total pre-K enrollment was 20,285 in 2017.

Here's the institute's two-page fact sheet on Arkansas.

Unlike K-12 education, in which all children are guaranteed admission to public schools, access to pre-K varies from community to community and encompasses a hodgepodge of programs. The Arkansas Better Chance program — the state's primary means of delivering pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds for families below 200 percent of the poverty line — has seen its funding stagnate since 2010.

That year, the state spent $6,189 for each enrolled child. In 2017, it spent $5,472 per kid, the report says. Those figures are expressed in terms of 2017 dollars. The Arkansas legislature has made incremental increases to the ABC budget over the past eight years, but not nearly enough to keep pace with inflation.

Enrollment for the state's 4-year-olds declined over the same period, from 42 percent in 2010 to 31 percent in 2017. However, enrollment for younger children rose: 11 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in pre-K in 2010, rising to 19 percent in 2017.

Arkansas did meet eight out of 10 benchmarks set by the researchers, on such measures as class size, health and vision screenings and curriculum standards. But overall, the researchers warned, "state investment is not keeping up with our children and families' needs."

On a related note, I should belatedly mention recent news of a new research initiative from the Walton Family Foundation that will investigate what factors determine whether a pre-K program helps prepare kids for kindergarten. The foundation is best known for its controversial forays into K-12 education, where it funds charter schools and often pushes policies that promote the interests of charters. The Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell reported on the Walton initiative earlier this month.

Fayetteville students participate in national school walkout day

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 11:20 AM PDT

Stacy Ryburn at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that around 30 students gathered in front of the Washington County Courthouse today for National School Walkout Day, a protest against gun violence on the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Thousands of students across the country participated in the event, walking out of class at 10 a.m. in their time zone. After observing a moment of silence for shooting victims, many held rallies, protests, or other events.

Any readers know if there were students participating in Little Rock or elsewhere in the state? Will update this post if so.

Ryburn reports that the kids held signs and were greeted with mostly supportive honks.

Via Twitter, some photos and videos of the scene from Ryburn:

 

Jon Woods tried to direct marijuana money to Ecclesia College

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 10:36 AM PDT

The bombshells continue in the federal corruption trial against former Sen. Jon Woods, who federal prosecutors allege took kickbacks from from state money he guided to Ecclesia College and a mental health agency.

On Wednesday, testimony indicated that former Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux (later Chief of Staff for Gov. Asa Hutchinson and now a lobbyist) may have been implicated in the broader scheme to direct money to Ecclesia College. A director of a Hot Springs development district testified that he was pressured by Lamoureux approve faulty applications for grant money to be sent to Ecclesia.

Yesterday, legislative working papers previously made exempt from the FOIA were made public indicating that Woods had attempted to insert himself in the drafting of the ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in a manner that would have directed yet more money to Ecclesia. The Arkansas Blog has reported on this scheme several times. David Couch, a lawyer who was a key player in the push for the medical marijuana amendment, stated on the record that Woods had participated in the drafting of the initiated amendment and that an initial draft by Woods had included a provision to direct some proceeds from a marijuana tax to colleges with a particular work-study designation that Ecclesia has (in the end, the provision did not wind up in the amendment). Ecclesia is the only college in the state with such a designation, so this would have funneled money directly to the tiny religious school in Springdale.

The working papers made public at the trial yesterday appear to confirm the scheme described by Couch's statements and Max Brantley's reporting.

Matthew Miller, assistant director of the Bureau of Legislative Research testified yesterday that he prepared a draft resolution at Woods' request to legalize medical marijuana, reports Doug Thompson at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, who has been offering excellent coverage of the trial from the courtroom. There was essentially no chance that the legislature was going to refer a medical marijuana amendment, so Woods was presumably using the resources of BLR to draft language that he could then bring to Couch (I just spoke with Couch, who said that was his understanding of what happened). Further testimony from Miller this morning indicates that this was indeed why Woods brought the matter to BLR.

Slipped into the requested BLR language, as well as Woods' draft suggestions to Couch, was a provision that some of the tax revenues from medical marijuana would go to grants for federally recognized "work colleges," an unusual designation that seven liberal arts colleges in the U.S. have, as part of the "Work Colleges Consortium."

According to the consortium website, "Work Colleges offer students enhanced learning opportunities by integrating Work, Learning and Service throughout their college experience. Students earn a valuable degree plus important life and professional skills." The program is distinct from the need-based federal work-study program; at work colleges, the program is for all students, who typically work 8 to 15 hours per week and receive support from the college for their work and integration of relevant jobs into their academic study. It sounds like a nice program (amusingly, some of the consortium members are polar opposites of Ecclesia, such as the famously hippie college Warren Wilson).

But the key for Woods' alleged schemes to funnel money to Ecclesia wasn't the program itself, it was the fact that it was such a rare designation. Because Ecclesia, which joined the consortium in 2005, was the only "work college" in Arkansas, Woods could try to push state funds exclusively to Ecclesia without ever naming the school in legislation — or a constitutional amendment. For example, in 2015, Woods managed to get a bill passed that created an account at the state's Department of Higher Education for grants only available to colleges in the "Work Colleges Consortium." A slush fund, in other words, just for Ecclesia.

Ultimately, no state money was budgeted to that account, but this was the account that Woods aimed to use to route marijuana money to Ecclesia. In the draft amendment that Woods worked on with Miller and Couch, he tried to include a provision that would designate a certain amount of the tax revenue generated from medical marijuana to go into that fund.

Couch said that Woods, a longtime supporter of medical marijuana, had expressed interest in helping with an amendment as far back as 2013 or 2014. When Couch read the provision about the "work college fund," he was perplexed. He had no idea what a "work college" was. He investigated and realized that this just meant money would be going straight to Ecclesia. At that time, Couch had no idea there was an alleged kickback scheme involving the college, but he quickly concluded that this was a remarkably narrow and irrelevant use of the revenues. The provision was nixed from the amendment. Couch said that there were numerous efforts by various lawmakers to include narrowly tailored handouts to pet projects or special interests and at the time he chalked this up as an attempt at run-of-the-mill political grease. Couch said that in addition to wanting the revenues to go to a broader set of educational institutions, he was particularly leery of a handout to a "church that was probably fundamentally opposed to what I was doing."

In the end, the amendment that actually made it to the ballot designated half of the revenues to a broad fund for vocational and technical training, with other revenues designated to various departments and to the state's general revenue. The General Assembly later passed a law altering the distribution of revenues, doing away with those designations and sending all money to general revenue after the operating expenses for the medical marijuana bureaucracy are paid for (the ability for the legislature to change the distribution of revenues was, ahem, baked into the amendment).

According to testimony yesterday, Thompson reports, Ecclesia was in financial distress and in dire need of a windfall of state money. The college received $700,000 in state grants between 2013 and 2014, with Woods responsible for directing $500,000 of that via an alleged kickback scheme.

Two alleged co-conspirators, Oren Paris III, president of the college, and former state Rep. Micah Neal, have already pleaded guilty. Also on trial is Randell Shelton Jr., a friend of Woods and Paris who allegedly participated in the scheme. Paris pleaded guilty less than a week before the trial began, suddenly flipping from co-defendant to cooperating with the government.

Thompson reports that testimony yesterday from BLR staff and legislative working papers also suggested that Woods had worked on other bills to aid the college's bottom line:

Staff testified Woods directed them to work with Paris on higher education bills and with Shelton on bills on recycling roofing shingles. Shelton, Paris and Woods held a financial interest in a shingle recycling business, court records show.
One hopes that federal prosecutors presented the evidence on Woods' alleged marijuana shenanigans knowing that the story would hit the papers on 4/20.

Federal judge halts Cantrell Drug's distribution business until remediation plan complete

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 08:57 AM PDT

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker entered a consent decree of permanent injunction against Cantrell Drug Company, a compounding pharmacy in Little Rock, as well as Cantrell Drug CEO James McCarley.

The order prevents the compounder from "manufacturing, processing, or distributing drugs until they comply with specific remedial measures," according to a press release from the office of Cody Hiland, the U.S. attorney for Arkansas's Eastern District. Those measures include inspection of Cantrell Drug's facility by an independent expert to "ensure that defendants' manufacturing and distributing of drugs will be in conformity with current good manufacturing practice."

In March, federal prosecutors filed suit to halt Cantrell Drug's production operations, citing evidence of unsatisfactory conditions found by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspection last year.

Here's the consent decree.

And here's the press release from the government:

DISTRICT COURT ENTERS PERMANENT INJUNCTION AGAINST ARKANSAS COMPOUNDING PHARMACY AND ITS CEO TO PREVENT DISTRIBUTION OF ADULTERATED DRUGS

WASHINGTON - The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas entered a consent decree of permanent injunction against defendants Cantrell Drug Company (Cantrell), and James L. McCarley Jr., Cantrell's co-owner and Chief Executive Officer. The injunction permanently enjoins the defendants from distributing adulterated drugs in violation of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The entered permanent injunction stems from a complaint the Department filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on Feb. 28, at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That complaint alleged, among other things, that the defendants distributed adulterated drugs in interstate commerce.

As part of the permanent injunction, defendants cannot resume manufacturing, processing, or distributing drugs until they comply with specific remedial measures. Those measures include submitting a remedial plan to FDA, which will provide for an independent expert to conduct inspection(s) of defendants' facility, ensure defendants implement all recommended corrective actions, and ensure that defendants' manufacturing and distributing of drugs will be in conformity with current good manufacturing practice. The permanent injunction provides that defendants cannot resume manufacturing, processing, or distributing drugs until FDA notifies them in writing that defendants appear to be in compliance with the ordered remedial measures.

"Compounding pharmacies have a responsibility to ensure that they process drugs in a manner that meets the legal standards necessary to ensure the safety and quality of such drugs," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department's Civil Division. "The Department of Justice will continue to work with FDA to ensure that doctors and patients can rely on the protections in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act."

According to the complaint filed by the Department on Feb. 28, defendants' drugs were adulterated because they were prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have been contaminated or may have been rendered injurious to health. The complaint also alleged that defendants' drugs were adulterated because defendants failed to comply with current good manufacturing practice regulations.

Cantrell initiated voluntary recalls of drug products in 2016 and 2017. The 2016 recall, initiated due to lack of sterility assurance, involved 29 lots of unexpired sterile drug products. The 2017 recall, also due to a lack of sterility assurance, encompassed all lots of unexpired sterile drug products that Cantrell had compounded and distributed between Feb. 16, 2017, and July 19, 2017.

"The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is designed to protect the public health," said U.S. Attorney Cody Hiland for the Eastern District of Arkansas. "This enforcement action demonstrated our commitment to ensuring that when deficiencies are identified, they are properly addressed."

"As a public health agency, the FDA is committed to fully implementing the regulatory framework set forth by Congress that helps ensure compounded drugs are made under appropriate production standards," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. "FDA is committed to taking action against compounders who do not comply with the requirements set forth in federal law."

The government is represented by Trial Attorney Raquel Toledo of the Civil Division's Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney Shannon S. Smith of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas, with the assistance of Associate Chief Counsel, Litigation, Jennifer Kang of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of General Counsel's Food and Drug Division.

Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-edar. 

Guitarist Ed Gerhard's lyricism lands on spellbound ears at The Joint

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 08:50 AM PDT


Acoustic guitarist Ed Gerhard played for a full house at The Joint Theater & Coffeehouse last night as part of the Argenta Acoustic Music Series. Essentially, once a month, fellow guitarist Steve Davison brings an acoustic guitarist of renown to the Argenta venue where he or she can be heard with minimal distraction in a small room that's acoustically outfitted for intense listening. I've been in the audience for formal classical recitals that were less hushed and still.

Gerhard's delivery is au naturale; he sits in a chair atop an elevated riser, surrounds himself with his guitar, his Weissenborn and a few accoutrements - a small mixer, an electronic tuner, a hot microphone and a nail file for mid-show maintenance of the long, acrylic-capped fingernails that double as picks on his right hand. He's too bereft of pretense to have a shtick, really, but if he has one, musically speaking, it's to take tunes like "The Water Is Wide" and render them in sweet, meterless phrases, stretching silences and giving shape to each line. He's consummately musical in his approach, landing on the next note in the phrase just a millisecond before the last one's done ringing, creating a seamless legato. He does not noodle. He does not make a habit of playing lots of notes in quick succession.

We caught the second half of his concert, in which he applied that lyricism to "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live," with a shout out to Ry Cooder for his version and a nod to fellow guitarist David Lindley for having done the piece before Gerhard could get around to it; a medley of The Beatles' 'If I Fell" and "In My Life" introduced as "a couple of old British ballads"; Gerhard's own "On a Pennsylvania Hill" and others. His stage patter is intimate and clever; he introduced his version of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" by admitting that though he was not especially religious, he was assuredly "sky-curious."

Appreciated: a fleeting reference to "Beavis and Butthead" that nobody in the audience seemed to get, his writerly description of the Argenta Acoustic Music Series as having created a "nice fire in a wet world," the way he floated his hands above the Weissenborn (an acoustic Hawaiian lap slide) as if he were charming notes out of a theremin. Unappreciated: his cheap shot at hip-hop, which went over swimmingly with the baby boomer contingent nonetheless. For me, too, I missed the bite and strum of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" when rendered by Gerhard (and I'd swear I heard the first two chords of Mitchell's "Amelia" before he started in; bait-and-switch!) Judging by the enthusiastic applause for "Both Sides Now," though, I was clearly in the minority.

Gerhard has the ear and the finesse to reach up and adjust a tuning peg mid-song, he can quote Leo Kottke ("The only thing you'll get from a tuner is an opinion") and ancient Chinese poetry in the same breath and he can do otherworldly things with six strings. If that sounds like your cup of tea, check out the rest of the year's lineup.

Arkansas's unemployment rate holds steady in March; still slightly below national figure

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 07:34 AM PDT

The Arkansas unemployment rate was unchanged from February to March at 3.8 percent, the state Department of Workforce Services said this morning in its monthly jobs report.

That's slightly below the national figure of 4.1 percent, the agency said.

The state's official jobless rate has been below the 4 percent mark since mid-2016.

Here's the full press release.

Isaac Henry faces controversy over residency in state House race in North Little Rock

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 07:05 AM PDT

Speaking of residency disputes in House races: KARK reports on some oppo research that has been making the rounds that Isaac Henry, a candidate for House District 37, may actually be a resident of another district. He has connections to two homes, but KARK reports that, at least by outward appearances, he seems to live with his family in a home that is in a neighboring district.

Henry, a former assistant to North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith and the current director of the city's Fit 2 Live program, is facing off in the Democratic primary against Jamie Scott of North Little Rock, the director of youth services for Pulaski County. Current Rep. Eddie Armstrong announced last fall that he would not seek reelection for the seat, which includes parts of North Little Rock, Maumelle and Jacksonville.

Henry and his family live — at least a good chunk of the time — in a house that his wife Tameka owns in North Little Rock that is located in a neighboring district, District 38. He and his family also spend time, he says, at a house owned by his uncle in District 37, where Henry is registered to vote (however, his voting status is listed as inactive, presumably because he did not return the voter information card sent to that address).

KARK reports that one of the properties seems to be more of a home:
The one in District 37 appears to have no inhabitants, with a blanket stuffing a shattered window and no answer at the door or from neighbors.

The house in District 38 looks like a family lives there, with a basketball hoop sitting in the driveway. After a knock went unanswered, a neighbor answered our question.

"Isaac Henry: great guy, nice guy, family man," said Charles Mitchell, who lives across the street.

However, Mitchell cannot vote for Henry.

"If he ends up moving in the other district, I guess that's where they'll need him at," Mitchell said. "But in the meantime, he's a great neighbor."
While this doesn't prove anything, it is unavoidable in watching the video footage to notice that the District 38 property looks significantly nicer and larger than the District 37 property (see pictures below).

Henry told KARK that both homes are residences, describing an office in the District 37 home as his campaign "war room." He said the family splits time between the two homes, and sleeps in the District 37 home around half the time. Henry gave them a tour of that home: 
A couch and TV furnish the front room, his office takes up the next and behind curtains, are three bedrooms. He filled the first with supplies, the second with a bunk bed and the third with a bed. ...

"I spend the majority of my time here honestly," he said. 
Scott could try to file a lawsuit to get Henry off the ballot, but there has been no indication that she will do so. I suspect that if this was a battle between a Democrat and a Republican, this accusation would wind up in court, but things get stickier when you have an intra-party squabble in a primary. While there is no evidence that Scott or her campaign directly shopped this around, it does seem like someone has concluded that the best way to approach this issue is to litigate in the media rather than the courtroom.

Scott released the following statement to KARK:
This race is about the people who live in House District 37; it is not about me or my opponent. Since the day I announced my candidacy for the House of Representatives, I have focused on running a positive campaign to improve education standards, build up our infrastructure, and bring good-paying jobs to District 37. I take this work seriously. That is why I have filed timely reports and met all legal requirements. I spend every moment I can making calls, knocking on doors, and meeting voters. District 37 is my home and when this campaign is over, I want to represent every resident of the district.
The Arkansas Constitution demands that members of the General Assembly must be residents of their district for at least one year preceding their election. The particulars of Henry's situation do seem to leave room for a legal challenge. The lawsuit that was filed against Rep. Marcus Richmond yesterday, for example, argues that residence has been established by the courts as meaning a permanent home and domicile. The law on voter qualification (a separate but plausibly related issue) states that a person can only have one domicile at a time and "a change in domicile is made only by the act of abandonment, joined with the intent to remain in another place." A lawsuit could argue, as it does in the Richmond challenge, that Henry must sell and abandon the home in District 38 and have no intent to return in order to establish the District 37 property as his residence.

In 2000, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that J.F. Valley was ineligible for the ballot in a Democratic primary in a somewhat similar residency challenge lodged by his opponent, State Rep. Arnell Willis:
"The focus here is on the word "resided."   In Charisse v. Eldred, 252 Ark. 101, 102-03, 477 S.W.2d 480, 480 (1972), we said that, "[i]n determining qualifications of voters and public officials, the word 'residence' has usually been treated as if it were synonymous with 'domicile' and dependent to some extent upon the intention of the person involved."  "The determination of residence is a question of intention, to be ascertained not only by the statements of the person involved, but also from his conduct concerning the matter of residence."  Phillips v. Melton, 222 Ark. 162, 164, 257 S.W.2d 931, 932 (1953)."
That case ended up hinging on testimony of various utility company representatives and so on. If a lawsuit was filed against Henry, the case would presumably probe his "intention...from his conduct concerning the matter of residence." I'll leave it to the legal experts to parse whether his 50-50 argument splitting time between two homes would fly. I imagine such a lawsuit would include this quote from his neighbor in District 38: "If he ends up moving in the other district, I guess that's where they'll need him at. But in the meantime, he's a great neighbor."

Here's the Henry family's home in District 38:


Here's the home in District 37 that Henry listed as his residence in his candidate filing:


Residency disputes in House races: GOP seeks to remove Morgan Wiles from ballot, Democrats seek to remove Rep. Marcus Richmond

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 05:59 AM PDT


Disputes over residency are erupting in a few House races, with each party's attorneys bringing a lawsuit this week aiming to try to oust an opposing candidate from the ballot.

The executive director of the state Republican Party filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Pulaski County Circuit Court to remove Democrat Morgan Wiles from the ballot, alleging that he does not live in the district. Wiles is challenging incumbent Rep. Richard Womack (R-Arkadelphia) for the District 18 seat, which includes parts of Clark, Dallas, Garland and Hot Spring counties.

An attorney for the state Democratic Party, meanwhile, yesterday filed a lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of a citizen in District 21, which includes parts of Garland, Montgomery, Perry, Polk, Sebastian, Scott and Yell counties. The suit asks that Rep. Marcus Richmond, the Republican incumbent, be removed from the ballot, alleging that he used the address of a dog breeding registry he's affiliated with to try to sneak into the district when he actually lives in a different district. Richmond, who was recently tapped to be the GOP House Majority Leader, is being challenged by Democrat Stele James of Gravelly.

Election season!

Here's the detective work the oppo squads turned up for the courts: The GOP lawsuit states that Wiles listed his permanent address as a location on 9th St. in Mountain Pine, but his name does not appear on the current property tax records for that address. The current owner is someone named Arvie Wiles, according to the lawsuit, a fact I mention mostly because that is a delightful name. The lawsuit states that on voter registration records, Morgan Wiles' address is listed as a Hot Springs location that is not in the district. That property was purchased by Morfe Properties in 2016.

Wiles is CEO and co-owner of Morfe Properties, the parent company of Morfe Manufacturing, which has a major footprint in Mountain Pine, where Wiles grew up.

The gist of the suit is that Wiles doesn't own the property he listed as his residence (that would be Arvie, presumably a family member), but his company owns a property that was listed as his residence on his previous voter registration. This seems like thin gruel to me, but who knows. Wiles told the D-G he had copies of the lease and utility bills at the Mountain Pine property (where he presumably rents), and that he has lived there off and on for seven years.

The Democratic Party predicted the lawsuit against Wiles will be dismissed. Yesterday, an attorney for the party brought a different lawsuit on behalf of Michael Forrester, a registered voter in Scott County, in District 21, against Rep. Marcus Richmond.

The lawsuit alleges that Richmond has not been a resident of the district but rather resides with his wife at a house which they own together on Lady Bug Lane in Harvey, at an address located in District 74. Richmond has tried to squeeze himself into the district using the address of a dog breeding registry business that he is affiliated with, according to the lawsuit, even as he lives in and pays taxes on his actual family home in another district.

Richmond is registered to vote at an address in Harvey on S & G Circle Lane, which is in the district and which Richmond listed as his address on his candidate filing. But the lawsuit alleges that Yell County land records show that Richmond does not live in or own the land at that address. The S & G circle property instead serves as an office building for America's Pet Registry, the family-owned business where Richmond served as CEO until his wife took over. The property is owned by Sheila and Garry Garner, who are also affiliated with the company. The dog business building, according to the lawsuit, is not Richmond's residence at all.

"The land records prove there is no such residence at 10509 S&G Circle Lane that Marcus Richmond resides in, owns or pays taxes upon as his family home and residence," the lawsuit states. "Instead, Marcus Richmond owns and pays taxes on
his family home in Scott County in District 74."

Further muddying the waters, for his part, Richmond told the D-G that he moved into the district in 2013 to an entirely different location, in Gravelly, where he and his wife live in a house they rent on Highway 28. They periodically go back to the family home they own in District 74 for business purposes because they get better cell reception there, he said. However, Richmond listed the dog business building as his address on his candidate filing with the Secretary of State's office, not the rental property in Gravelly.

The Arkansas Constitution demands that members of the General Assembly must be residents of their district for at least one year preceding their election. The lawsuit against Richmond argues that residence has been established by the courts as meaning a permanent home and domicile. Because the law on voter qualification states that a person can only have one domicile at a time and "a change in domicile is made only by the act of abandonment," the lawsuit argues that, "To have had changed his permanent home and domicile, Marcus Richmond must have had sold and abandoned his District 74 home, and intended to never go back to the District 74 home. ... It is Richmond's burden to prove he sold and abandoned his family home and never intends or did go back to his family home."

On the topic of Richmond's dog business that the lawsuit alleges was used for a dummy address, readers of this blog will recall that Richmond has used his power in the legislature to fight efforts to regulate dog breeders — what he called "an Animal Rights extremist agenda" (Arkansas of course is well known for horrific puppy mills). Here's more on Richmond's company, which has existed since 1992 to provide a stamp of approval for breeders who don't follow American Kennel Club protocol.

Richmond has also made headlines for his clamorous support of legislation to stop Sharia Law from coming to Arkansas. Though that problem doesn't exist, Richmond said it was worth passing legislation to fight it to stop even the possibility of innocent children being kidnapped out of Arkansas. He also said, "I can assure that in places like Pakistan, places like Saudi Arabia, and many of these other countries, there is nothing there that is civilized," then raged that they were very bad drivers. He's a character.

DHS warns of end to entire at-home services program for disabled and elderly if court enjoins rule on allocation of hours

Posted: 20 Apr 2018 04:00 AM PDT


On Thursday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen heard arguments from the Arkansas Department of Human Services and Legal Aid attorneys representing seven plaintiffs who allege DHS failed to follow state rulemaking requirements when the agency devised a new method of allocating home care hours to certain disabled Medicaid beneficiaries.

Both parties are seeking summary judgment, and the judge said a written ruling would come within the next ten days. Griffen also denied an attempt by the nonprofit Disability Rights Arkansas to intervene in the case. (Both Legal Aid and DHS had opposed DRA's bid for intervenor status.)

The case concerns a Medicaid waiver program called ARChoices — created by merging two previously distinct waiver programs, one for physically disabled beneficiaries and one for the elderly — to receive services in their homes, rather than in an institution such as a nursing home. Such "home and community-based services" are typically much cheaper than institutional care and are usually preferred by recipients.

In 2016, DHS began using a new method of allocating service hours to recipients of the program. Rather than a subjective assessment performed by a nurse, the agency began using a computer algorithm to determine the number of "attendant care" hours an individual needed per week. (Attendant care includes helping beneficiaries bathe, dress themselves, cook and clean, use the bathroom and other basic activities of daily life.)

DHS said in a letter to beneficiaries that they would "continue to have the same services." Yet soon thereafter, many found their hours severely cut from the number they received previous years, as Jacob Rosenberg detailed in an article for the Arkansas Times in October. DHS has said some beneficiaries saw their hours increase under the new rule, while others saw their hours decrease. Beneficiaries sued in state and federal court. (The Verge, a national tech and science news website, took a deep dive recently into the ARChoices issue that explained the technology behind the algorithm and profiled one woman whose hours were slashed after it went into effect.)

The plaintiffs — several low-income people with profound physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis — argue DHS did not follow the proper process for rulemaking, which must include legislative review and a public comment period. They want the new rule enjoined and attendant care hours returned to 2015 levels for all ARChoices beneficiaries who have seen their hours cut since the new methodology was implemented.

DHS says it followed the proper rulemaking process. But in its recent filings, it also argues that the plaintiffs' requested injunction would spell the end of ARChoices itself, because such waiver programs require approval from federal Medicaid authorities at CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Servies. In a brief in support of its motion for summary judgment, the agency says:
DHS cannot currently provide Medicaid waiver services to Medicaid participants, including attendant care, under the former waivers because the waivers were either terminated or now operate under new terms and conditions, as currently approved by CMS. Consequently, judicial invalidation of the current ARChoices waiver rule would be catastrophic for the approximately 8,300 participants currently receiving ARChoices services, including the Plaintiffs. 
DHS further argues that the separation of powers doctrine would prevent the judge from tailoring his order to prevent such an outcome, in the event he sides with the plaintiffs. "As already explained in the arguments above, a Circuit Court is without authority to fashion a remedy that directs a state agency to create a new public benefits program, revive a terminated public benefits program, or order the promulgation of a rule," the DHS brief states.

If Griffen does find in favor of the plaintiffs, DHS argues, he should "deny the injunctive relief requested so the agency may continue to provide Medicaid [home and community-based services] waiver services to the over 8,300 disabled and elderly Arkansans through the approved ARChoices waiver.

Legal Aid attorney Kevin De Liban said the DHS argument was unfounded. "I don't see any basis for DHS' position. We're not asking the judge to invalidate the AR Choices program," he said — only the rule that created the new, algorithm-based methodology for allocating hours. There's nothing in the state's waiver from federal CMS that says the state agency has to stop providing services just because this rule is invalidated, De Liban argued.

"I think that would be purely a punitive choice on their part … and that would be absolutely disastrous for the people who depend on those services," he said, arguing that the state could merely return to its method used before January 2016, in the previous waiver programs.

Here are the dueling briefs filed by both parties in advance of Thursday's hearing:

*Brief in support of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment
*DHS cross-motion for summary judgment
*Plaintiffs' response to DHS' motion
*DHS' reply to plaintiffs' response

Griffen last year issued a temporary restraining order that applied only to the seven plaintiffs in the case. That order reinstated those specific plaintiffs' hours to pre-2016 levels but did not affect other ARChoices beneficiaries. If the hour-allocation rule itself is enjoined, though, it would apply everyone in the program. De Liban said the outcry over the change has been enormous. "At Legal Aid we've had roughly 150 of these cases over the last two years, he said."

After Griffen issued the temporary restraining order, the state appealed to the state Supreme Court, but the justices affirmed the circuit judge in December. But even if the plaintiffs succeed, the case at hand only concerns the means by which the rule was created — not the underlying issue of the algorithm itself. De Liban acknowledged that DHS could create a new rule that followed the proper process. But, he said, it would receive vastly more scrutiny the second time around.

"They can do the process differently and arrive at the same result … but this time it's not going to pass in the dead of night," De Liban said.

Belated Thursday open line

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 05:44 PM PDT

Oops. Here's your late evening open line.

We're down some staff and had to skip the video headlines today — soon to return.

Police arrest another suspect in Power Ultra Lounge shooting

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 03:42 PM PDT

The Little Rock Police Department has issued warrants for a Memphis man in connection with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting. Cordero Ragland, 26, is in custody in Memphis, but will be extradited to Little Rock. He faces five counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by certain persons and tampering with evidence, according to the LRPD.

Ragland was a bodyguard for rapper Finese2Tymes the night of the July 2017 shooting, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

Tyler Jackson, 19, of Little Rock and Kentrell Gwynn, 26, of Memphis and another bodyguard to Finese2Tymes, have previously been arrested in the shooting, which left almost 30 people injured.

Ten Commandments monument returns to state Capitol next week, Rapert says

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 03:21 PM PDT


A new Ten Commandments monument will be erected on state Capitol grounds next week, Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) reports on his Facebook page. Rapert sponsored the enabling legislation and created the American History & Heritage Foundation to pay for it.

Chris Powell, a spokesman for Secretary of State Martin, said the monument would be installed on April 26. He said he didn't know at what time.

The first monument was installed June 27, 2017, but destroyed less than 24 hours later when a man driving a Dodge Dart rammed it. The man accused of destroying the monument was declared unfit for trial and was committed to the State Hospital.

The new monument will be surrounded by concrete bollards to protect it from anyone who has the same idea.

As of April 19, the American History & Heritage Foundation's gofundme page had raised almost $86,000 toward a $100,000 goal. The page's description said around $18,000 was needed to replace the first monument. Among the donors is Pure Flix, the Christian film and TV studio behind the "God's Not Dead" series. The company gave Rapert's foundation $25,000. Rapert has said that excess money would be directed to foundation-approved projects.

Several groups have promised to sue once the monument is re-erected.



Tractors stolen from Scottie Pippen's farm

Posted: 19 Apr 2018 01:34 PM PDT

The AP reports that more than $50,000 worth of farm equipment was stolen from a Hamburg farm owned by former NBA star Scottie Pippen. Two tractors were stolen from the farm, which Pippen owns with his brother. The Pippens are offering a $2,500 reward.

Pippen is originally from Hamburg and played basketball at the University of Central Arkansas before a Hall of Fame career in the NBA.

I hope that Pippen's farm equipment turns up. And I hope that he won't think it too unlovely that I am going to use the sad news to tell my own Scottie Pippen story.

Pippen was one of the greatest defensive stoppers in the history of the NBA, and also one of the league's most famous penny-pinchers. In the service industry, he was known as "No Tippin' Pippen." He reportedly once even tried to negotiate down the price  charged by strippers at New York's Penthouse Executive Club.

Around fifteen years ago, I was out late drinking at Midtown Billiards in Little Rock, which was the sort of thing I did quite a lot fifteen years ago. It was a dull night, but I thought I'd have one more drink. I walked up to the bar to order my drink and looked down toward the front door and...in walked Scottie Pippen!

But there was a problem when he got to the bouncer inside. Midtown charged five bucks to get in. That was too much for Pippen, who began to haggle. I got my drink and ambled over to watch. At first, Pippen insisted that he and his buddies shouldn't have to pay at all. Then he tried to get a discounted price. Again, the cover was five bucks. He was indignant, insistent, unrelenting. He haggled with the same tenacious flair that he used to shut down John Stockton in the NBA Finals. But Midtown wouldn't budge: $5.

It occurred to me — one beat too late — that I could pay for Scottie Pippen to get in to Midtown. I fumbled around in my wallet but before I could get out my cash and holler, "Scottie, I got you!" he was gone, a wild Bull seeking cheaper deals in the Little Rock night.