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Former Pope County judge challenges local casino ordinance

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 12:55 PM PST

Jim Ed Gibson, the former Pope County judge who gave lame-duck approval to Mississippi casino operators should they apply for a license in Arkansas, has asked that a lawsuit against him over his letter of approval be dismissed.

Gibson notes he's no longer a county judge. It's also worth noting that rules for casino licenses likely will render his letter meaningless by saying local approval can come only from local officials in office when an application is made.

But Gibson also tries to shoehorn arguments that a local ordinance aimed at discouraging a Pope County casino is unconstitutional. He argues it's unconstitutional to add a burden — a local referendum — not provided for in Amendment 100, which expanded casino gambling. He argues further that the ordinance requires approval by a majority of registered voters, a nearly impossible burden and beyond a constitutional rule that says only majorities of those voting are required for ballot measures. Based on turnout in the election that passed the local casino ordinance, a 95 percent vote would have been necessary to meet the standard.

I'm not sure this case as filed can reach the constitutional questions about the local ordinances.

But for your reading pleasure, here's Gibson's motion, which also includes many laudatory remarks about the Mississippi casino operators.

By the way: My efforts to get communications to and from Gibson about the casino during his final days in office — communications that I've been told could be interesting — have been fruitless so far. Ben Cross, the new county judge, wrote me in response to my FOI request for Gibson records that they are under Gibson's "custody and control."

He said the county judge's office was "virtually barren when I took office." Gibson has not answered my calls and emails.

Draft casino rules to be considered Thursday

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 11:54 AM PST

The state Racing Commission, which will regulate casino gambling under the new Amendment 100, meets at 11 a.m. Thursday and is expected to begin a 30-day comment period on rules regulating licensing and casino operations.

Byron Freeland, attorney for the commission, said the rules are modeled in many respects after rules in Nevada, long home to legal gambling. But an attorney who's been following the process says many of the rules on licensing were adopted on suggestions from Arkansas attorneys for groups interested in operating casinos here.

What's not currently available is a purely independent assessment of casino regulation.

In case you're interested, here's the latest draft going before the commission tomorrow.

Wednesday: Headlines and the open line

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 11:27 AM PST

Wednesday: A news roundup by video and the open line.

Little Rock Chamber to announce study of program to better prepare high school students

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 10:36 AM PST

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, a major force in the state takeover of the Little Rock School District four years ago, says it will announce an initiative Friday to help high school education in the four public school districts in Pulaski County.

The chamber will join leaders of the Little Rock, North Little Rock, Pulaski County and North Pulaski districts on Friday to announce a chamber-funded study (amount not yet revealed) on use of Ford Next Generation Learning, a project of Ford Motor Company. A release said the chamber was committed to improving student achievement and better preparing them for college and careers.

To give you some idea of the Ford project, here's an article from Kansas City about its use there. Students continue to be taught core curriculum, but also choose "academies" within schools that focus on preparation for college or careers. In the high school there:

The academies launching in fall 2019 will be science and industry, business and technology, and public services. Several programs will fall under the umbrella of each.

The science and industry academy will offer agriculture science, construction and architecture, and engineering. Under the public services umbrella is an education pathway, health services, a bio-medical track, and a public services path, including law enforcement and public safety. Business and technology programs will include marketing and management, accounting and finance, and information technology.

A similar description comes from Virginia with academies aimed at meeting needs of business. And, yes, the idea has drawn some questioners, such as here.

Here's Ford's own website for the project.

Let's hope the program is more productive than state control of the Little Rock School District has proven. To date, the Chamber has been silent on return of voter control to the Little Rock School District. 

State Police Lt. Brant Tosh suspended for personal use of state employees, vehicles

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 09:32 AM PST

Last month State Police Director William Bryant gave Lt. Brant Tosh of Jonesboro, commander of the Troop F criminal investigation division, a seven-day unpaid suspension for rule violations. The agreed action says Tosh also may not seek promotion for a year.

The complaint against Tosh dates back more than a year. He's been defended throughout by his father, Republican state Rep. Dwight Tosh, a retired State Police captain.

The fact that Tosh was disciplined at all despite the political connection is noteworthy. Whether another trooper would have held onto a job given the facts established by the  investigation is another question.

Here's the full file, including disciplinary, provided to me in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

In summary, the report says a review board found:

Lt. Tosh used his administrative assistant for work unrelated to Arkansas State Police business during the time she was compensated by the state. He also used the services of the inmate assigned to ASP headquarters in Jonesboro for his personal benefit. Lt. tosh drove his state vehicle to a school board conference in Little Rock that was unrelated to agency business in December 2016. A Company F agent performed work on a boat belonging to Lt. Tosh during hsi work day on more than one occasion. It was agreed upon by personnel working at headquarters in Jonesboro that Lt. Tosh is typically present in the office approximately twenty hours per week.
Part of the allegations concerns work Tosh had done by agency workers related to his work as a member of the Valley View School Board.

A review board upheld complaints that Tosh, among others, didn't properly record comp time for employees and used the State Police vehicle not only to attend a State Board of Education meeting but also used an agency truck to go to this farm for other than official business. He used his agency computer and e-mail for non-official business, including having a State Police administrative assistant enter birthdays of Valley View school employees and manage a 5K run. He also used his position to help a student get an age waiver for a driving permit; to get a State Police officer to work on his boat on state time; to get another officer to appear in uniform and use a state vehicle to escort a funeral of a friend and got a friend of a special agent to put a camo design on a golf cart without compensation.

The review board said Tosh, at a minimum, used poor judgment in the case of a work-release inmate used to do repair work on Tosh's personal leaf blower and repair a daughter's lamp.

The board also heard complaints about Tosh's demeanor toward other employees. The review board report also noted Tosh had admitted a policy violation in an interview with a captain that he'd denied to the review board.

Tosh has completed his suspension and remains Troop F CID commander. The length of the investigation apparently stems in part from inquiries into additional allegations made by other employees. They are not part of the final report because Tosh chose to settle the case based on the initial findings of the review board last February.

Survey: Arkansas schools hostile to LGBT kids

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 06:21 AM PST

GLSEN, a group that works to promote safety in schools for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer students, says its annual survey shows Arkansas schools are unsafe for such students.

Nationally, the report says progress for LGBTQ children has slowed, the report said. The survey has been done for 20 years. This year's survey reached 23,000 students aged 13 to 21, with the largest number in high school grades. The full report is here.

Based on Arkansas responses, the group said the majority of LGBTQ students in Arkansas face hostile environments and attend schools without resources to help them. Its findings:

The vast majority of LGBTQ students in Arkansas regularly heard anti-LGBTQ remarks.

87% of LGBTQ students reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks in school, and 77% reported regularly hearing negative remarks about transgender people.

Many students also regularly heard school staff make homophobic remarks (36%) and many regularly heard school staff make negative remarks about someone's gender expression (46%).

Most LGBTQ students in Arkansas experienced bias-based victimization at school.

79% of LGBTQ students experienced verbal harassment at school based on sexual orientation, and 56% experienced verbal harassment at school based on gender expression.

Most LGBTQ students never reported incidents of school victimization to school staff (61%) and only 25% of those who reported incidents said it resulted in effective staff intervention.

LGBTQ students reported that they also experienced victimization at school based on disability (28%), race/ethnicity (24%), and religion (44%).

Most LGBTQ students in Arkansas reported discriminatory policies and/or practices at their school.

Nearly three-quarters of students (73%) experienced at least one form of anti-LGBTQ discrimination at school during the past year.

Nearly half of LGBTQ students (48%) in Arkansas were disciplined for public displays of affection (PDA) that did not result in similar action for non-LGBTQ students.

Over 2 in 3 transgender students (67%) were unable to use the school restroom aligned with their gender, and 2 in 3 transgender students (65%) were prevented from using their chosen name or pronouns in school.

Some LGBTQ students reported being unable to wear LGBTQ-supportive apparel (22%), being unable to form a GSA (20%), and being unable to bring a same-gender date to a school dance (21%).

Most LGBTQ students in Arkansas did not have access to in-school resources and supports.

Only 4% of LGBTQ students attended a school with a comprehensive anti-bullying/harassment policy that included specific protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

Only 2% reported that their school had a policy or official guidelines to support transgender or gender nonconforming students.

Fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) were taught an inclusive curriculum that had positive representations of LGBTQ people, history, or events.

Only 2% reported receiving LGBTQ-inclusive sex education at school.

21% of students reported having a GSA or similar supportive club in their school.

This would be greeted as good news by many in the Arkansas legislature. "Religious" lobby groups fought anti-bullying legislation precisely because it might give comfort to students in sexual minorities. State law provides protection for discrimination against LGBT people on the pretext of "religious" belief. Because WWJD? Harass them, right?

Where is Mike Maggio? And other timely concerns in public corruption probe

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 05:55 AM PST

The whereabouts of Mike Maggio, the former Conway judge serving a 10-year bribery sentence, have fueled increased talk that new developments might be imminent in the public corruption investigation in which he was charged. The known facts:

* The online federal prisoner lookup system continues to indicate Maggio is "not in Bureau of Prison custody." His 10-year sentence ends in 2026. He has not been freed. So where is he?

* Dec. 17, without explanation, Maggio withdrew a post-conviction appeal for release from prison while he argued that he'd had poor legal counsel in pleading guilty (a plea he attempted unsuccessfully to withdraw.) He was not in Bureau of Prison custody at that time and that situation continues, three weeks later.

* Maggio went to prison for taking bribes to reduce a verdict in a nursing home negligence case from $5.2 to $1 million dollars. He said he did it in return for campaign contributions arranged by former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker from nursing home owner Michael Morton. Neither Baker nor Morton has been charged. Both have said the contributions were merely legal contributions to a good judicial candidate. Morton has conceded the timing didn't look so good.

* The statute of limitations for most federal crimes generally is five years. Come Jan. 28, it will be five years since the last PAC campaign contribution flowed into Maggio's campaign account.

Rumors have been circulating this week that the U.S. attorney's public corruption team may have new charges coming in its investigation, which has included not just Maggio but a raft of unrelated charges of legislative and campaign contribution misdeeds. Think Jake Files, Jon Woods, Micah Neal, Hank Wilkins, Eddie Cooper, Rusty Cranford, Jeremy Hutchinson and assorted others.

Maggio was hammered with a 10-year sentence because he reneged on an agreement to cooperate honestly with prosecutors. He was assigned to a high-security prison in Kentucky. After almost 18 months there, with a long road ahead, he might be more inclined to cooperate. He could not do so while challenging his conviction, but his habeas corpus petition has been withdrawn. (Stipulated: His credibility would be rightly subject to impeachment should he ever reach a witness stand.) To talk with authorities, he'd need to be closer to their offices. This is sometimes accomplished by transfer of an inmate to a jail or prison outside the BOP system — including county jails in Arkansas and, often, a privately operated facility that contracts with the federal government near Memphis. The marshal's service frequently uses the privately operated facility at Mason, Tenn., to hold prisoners in their care, and they make regular runs back and forth.

The Maggio case has long fascinated court watchers. He's serving 10 years for taking a bribe nobody has been charged with arranging or giving. He was also not the only recipient of money in a broad campaign effort that aimed to elect a number of judges in 2014. Others not named here participated in the campaign planning and also provided advice to Maggio after he landed in trouble, first for ill-advised commentary on an Internet website.

In short, many people have cause to wonder where Mike Maggio is and what he's doing (or saying) these days.

I've gotten no response from Maggio's lawyer and others on what, if anything, might be up.

Medical Marijuana Commission meets today

Posted: 09 Jan 2019 05:08 AM PST

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission will consider a consultant's scoring of dispensary applications at a meeting at 4:30 p.m. today at the 1515 Building. The meeting is to be live-streamed on Facebook.

Perhaps the thousands hoping to use the drug will get an idea when it might be available in 2019, long after voter approval in November 2016.  I can tell you that word is already circulating about alleged anomalies in the scoring of the applications. The process for cultivation permits was such a mess it was challenged in court and led to use of an outside consultant on the dispensary permits.

Meanwnhile, over in Oklahoma, thousands more people can readily obtain marijuana for a wider range of maladies only six months after approval of a voter initiative.

UPDATE: Trump: same old same old. Arkies regurgitate

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 07:07 PM PST

And of course, without proof, Arkansas congressmen regurgitate mass-produced GOP talking point that "facts" and a non-"crisis" demand billions in spending on a wall for "security." UPDATED with Arkansas reactions from the GOP talking point factory:


Humanitarian crisis? Family separation policy, anyone?
Hostage taker? Isn't that the one holding government hostage for a tantrum?

Again with the fact-deprived "crisis."

But the fact-checking shows GOP numbers DO lie.
There's that crisis again from Dr. No.
No Tom Cotton tweet as yet.

B.J. Wyrick is new vice mayor of Little Rock

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 05:02 PM PST

In the first city board of directors meeting of 2019, B.J. Wyrick, city director for ward 7, was elected as the new vice mayor of Little Rock.

The board of directors began an executive session at 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, and they were in executive session up until the 6 meeting, which was sparsely attended and lasted for less than 10 minutes.

Mayor Frank Scott said a resolution approving the liaison appointments of the directors to various committees would be included on the Feb. 5 board of directors meeting. He also said that going forward, "persons wishing to address the city board during citizen communication will be required to submit a yellow card to the city clerk prior to the official start of the meeting."

Persons wanting to speak for or against an item on a meeting's agenda will also need to submit a white card to the city clerk prior to the official start of the meeting in which the item will be voted on by the board, according to Scott.

"This is a change," Scott said. "This is different. We will support free speech in the allotted 30 minutes time, with three minutes per individual, during the citizens' communication."

Scott almost ended the meeting before Wyrick's nomination for vice mayor, asking for a motion to adjourn after he finished speaking about the white and yellow cards. He then asked for a nomination, the board voted, confirming Wyrick's new position. 

Little Rock announces re-entry services available around King holiday

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 02:52 PM PST

The Times Brian Chilson was on hand for the press conference kick-off for the Jan. 19 event.

"We all understand that we have brothers and sisters that are reentering society," Mayor Frank Scott said. "We have to make sure that we focus on workforce development for them, for economic development for them, to make sure we have welcoming arms for them ..."

LITTLE ROCK (Jan. 8, 2019) – The City of Little Rock announced on Tuesday the services that will be available during the Rights After Wrongs day of service event to be held Saturday, Jan. 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Arkansas Workforce Center, 5401 S. University Ave. in Little Rock.

For the third year, the city's Racial and Cultural Diversity Commission has teamed with a network of attorneys, social service organizations, nonprofits, educational institutions, public and private entities and volunteers in the spirit of service to provide residents returning from incarceration with a variety of needed resources and assistance.

Ericka Benedicto, Diversity Program Manager for the City of Little Rock, said the event is a way to honor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

"What better way to honor Dr. King than through action. By coming together in the spirit of unity and service to do something for others," she said. "That's what Rights After Wrongs is – a day of service that will provide a variety of resources to returning citizens and people in transition."

During the event returning citizens will have access to such services as:

Job readiness assistance (attendees can get help with and print resumes on site)
Employment opportunities (potential employers will be interviewing)
Legal consultations in English and Spanish
Assistance with sealing criminal records
Leniency court (Pulaski County misdemeanors, outstanding fines and failure to appear cases only)
Health screenings and flu shots
Arkansas Driver Control information on reinstatement of driving privileges
Free tail light repair

Those planning to seek assistance with having records sealed will need to make an appointment by calling the Center for Arkansas Legal Services at 1-800-950-5817 between 9 and 11 a.m. or 1 and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. These attendees must be present at the event by 9:30 a.m. and should also bring a copy of their Sentencing Order (also called Judgment in Disposition) and a copy of their ACIC report from the Arkansas Crime Information Center.

Shocker! Asa insider Duncan Baird tapped to head agency Asa controls, Public Employees Retirement System

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 02:52 PM PST

Told you so. Former Republican legislator Duncan Baird has been picked as the new director of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System.

After he lost a race for treasurer, he landed a top budget job in Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Department of Finance and Administration. Then Asa got the legislature to change the makeup of the APERS board so his people would control it. Then it forced out long-time director Gail Stone. Then it took applications. Then, Baird made the group of finalists. Then, whodda thunk it?, he got the job.

That DFA job he's leaving seems likely to be in familiar hands. They just hired defeated Republican legislator Charlie "Colt 45" Collins to a newly created job to stand by at DFA until Baird moved up.

To the victors and all that .... I'll stipulate Baird seems to be a solid sort and well thought of as a numbers cruncher.

Michael Wickline broke the news for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He says Baird was approved on a voice vote of trustees. His pay will move up to $149,000. Since Baird made almost $124,000 at DFA, I'm guessing Collins, hired at $95,000, might be looking at more money when his expected promotion is announced. Government transformation is Asa's middle name.

UPDATE: Coincidentally, the D-G reports that the same day the Republican-controlled board of APERS hired Baird they approved a raft of legislative proposals that will reduce benefits to future public retirees and also end the guaranteed 3 percent COLA for current retirees. I'm guessing Baird will approve of these moves. (The new COLA would track rises in the Consumer Price Index rather than compounding at 3 percent a year.) Other proposals would reduce interest earnings on employee contributions from 4 to 2 percent; make employees contribute 6 percent, rather than 5 percent, to retirement; lengthen from three to five years the average highest paid years in the pension formula, and reduce the multiplier for years served from 2 to 1.8 percent. All this is to increase te financial soundness of the system. The changes would apply to new employees and those at work less than five years, exceot the COLA change would appy to all.

Lyons: Not so fast on impeachment, Democrats

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 02:49 PM PST

Gene Lyons writes in his weekly column that the Democrats could assure four more years of Trump with a premature move to impeach the president. "Self-discipline is definitely in order," Lyons says, though a strong case can be made that Trump has earned impeachment.

It's too early for the i-word

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 02:43 PM PST

What an outrage! A Democratic woman talking like a Republican man! President Trump should march right into the House of Representatives, grab this Muslim wench by her [expletive deleted] and deport her to whatever bleep-hole country she came from. What an outrage! A Democratic woman talking like a Republican man! President Trump should march right into the House of Representatives, grab this Muslim wench by her [expletive deleted] and deport her to whatever bleep-hole country she came from.

Never mind that Trump has himself used the same offensive phrase to describe whole nations — such as China — in campaign speeches. The real offense was that Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat of Palestinian descent, also used the I-word with respect to Trump's political survival.
Impeach the mother-abuser, she said, sort of.

Too bad Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn't say it. The entire GOP congressional delegation would have spontaneously combusted.

Speaking of whom, is she like a total fox, or what? It's clear my fellow old white dudes in the GOP caucus think so. She makes them crazy. That college video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing was supposed to embarrass her. Um, no. Instead, Republican men worry their wives might catch them watching the thing on their phones.

Meanwhile, in the interest of bipartisanship, a timely bit of advice: Trading insults with a smart-aleck New York City bartender is a good way to make a public fool of yourself. Boys, she's heard it all before, and she's got more witty putdowns than the late Don Rickles. Try to get over her.

But back to the adult portion of this column.

Sure, Ocasio-Cortez has gotten more attention than a congressional freshman deserves — partly due to New York media provincialism, also because she gives good TV. It's the way of the world. Democrats elected a lot of impressive women in 2018. Hopefully, we'll hear from more of them in time.

And yes, Tlaib's outburst was both ill advised and premature, although Trumpists objecting to profanity aren't real persuasive. Particularly not Trump himself, who said the Detroit congresswoman "dishonored herself." Don't you love it when the world's biggest vulgarian plays at being a stuffed shirt?

I sent my wife a parody Trump tweet the other day: "I have a 12-inch penis and the biggest skyscrappers. I can call A-10 Warthog strikes."

She thought it was real. After all, why wouldn't it be?

Anyway, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacted coolly to impeachment talk. Tlaib, she said, "does not speak for the Democratic caucus." Most establishment Democrats, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), took the same line.

Many Democratic candidates took their cue from Pelosi during the 2018 campaign. They stressed practical issues like health care, voting rights, infrastructure and jobs, letting voters' disgust with Trump take care of itself.

"We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report," Pelosi also said. "We shouldn't be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn't avoid impeachment for a political reason."

Exactly right. The worst thing Democrats could do would be to force a premature impeachment that would do little more than satisfy cable TV's need for political melodrama without persuading voters that they can actually govern. In my opinion, it would also be Trump's only real hope of political survival, much less of re-election come November 2020.
Self-discipline is definitely in order. Because while we hear a lot about the passions of Trump's cult-like "base," less gets said about how Democrats feel — a cohort already considerably larger, and growing. The 2018 mid-term elections showed that. And real-world issues aside, the single strongest emotion uniting them is sheer contempt for Trump and Trumpism, his pro-wrestling style, authoritarian spectacle.

David Leonhardt has laid out the case for removal in a powerfully restrained column headlined "The People vs. Donald J. Trump."

"He has repeatedly put his own interests above those of the country. He has used the presidency to promote his businesses. He has accepted financial gifts from foreign countries. He has lied to the American people about his relationship with a hostile foreign government.

"… He has called for the prosecution of his political enemies and the protection of his allies. He has attempted to obstruct justice. He has tried to shake the public's confidence in one democratic institution after another, including the press, federal law enforcement and the federal judiciary."

Trump's lies about and his oddly subservient relationship to Vladimir Putin alone justify his removal. Only last week, the president gave an account of Russia's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan so bizarrely at odds with history that even the Wall Street Journal was horrified. "We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American president," editors wrote.

It was straight-up Kremlin propaganda. Strange, very strange.

But most Americans aren't there yet. The worst thing Democrats could do would be to force things prematurely. Hearings, definitely. However, regularizing impeachment as a partisan weapon could have the opposite effect intended, weakening rather than strengthening the Constitution.

What's needed are a few courageous Republicans. Because once the dam breaks, it will come a flood.

Another charge, a small one, from Preferred Family fraud probe

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 02:21 PM PST

The attorney general's office announced today another charge related to alleged fraud by a former employee of Preferred Family Healthcare, the former provider of services tied up in multiple criminal charges and investigations. This one was small change, relatively speaking.

Kandice Robinson, 33, of a mental health therapist, is accused of billing Medicaid for $4,950 for services not provided between Aug. 15 and Nov. 1, 2017. She's been charged with a felony count of Medicaid fraud. The attorney general's Medicaid fraud divison has picked up a continuing investigation of a federal probe that has already led to federal convictions and additional charges. Here are some of the most notable, with other charges pending in state court.

According to online records, a warrant in the case was issued in November and she was arraigned Dec. 18. Today's news release didn't explain why the charge was announced today.

Big box retailers seek to slash property taxes; local governments suffer. Yes, it's happening here

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 02:07 PM PST

The New York Times wrote this week about an aggressive effort by big box retailers to slash property taxes by claiming lower values on their properties because of the impact of online retailing. Yes, it's underway in Arkansas.

With astonishing range and rapidity, big-box retailers and corporate giants are using an aggressive legal tactic to shrink their property tax bills, a strategy that is costing local governments and school districts around the country hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

These businesses — many of them brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Target, Kohl's, Menards and Walgreens that have faced fierce online competition — maintain that no matter how valuable a thriving store is to its current owner, these warehouse-type structures are not worth much to anyone else.

So the best way to appraise their property, they contend in their tax appeals, is to look at the sale prices on the open market of vacant or formerly vacant shells in other places. As shuttered stores spread across the landscape, their argument has resonated.

To municipalities, these appeals amount to a far-fetched tax dodge that allows corporations to wriggle out of paying their fair share.

We are talking BIG money. Take a single example from Pulaski County. In 2017, Walmart challenged its property tax on 10 properties in Pulaski County, using the dark store argument, the assessor's office said. The county court denied that claim Jan. 2 because it was filed too late. But Walmart is back this year to challenge the 2018 assessment and that appeal is still under consideration. Joe Thompson, deputy assessor, says Walmart and other retailers have regularly contested assessments before, but the new wrinkle  is the claim to use "dark stores" to lower value of open stores.

The table below shows the impact only in Pulaski County for 10 properties of Walmart. Appraised in 2018 at a cumulative $145.5 million, Walmart is seeking a reduction in the appraisal to $93.6 million.

Property taxes are assessed on 20 percent of appraisal. Millage rates differ across the county, depending on the rates set by school districts (the biggest recipient) and local governments. But a reduction of value of more than a third of the existing appraisal would have a similar percentage impact on tax receipts.

According to the assessor's figures, the Walmart/Sam's Club property taxes would drop cumulatively by almost $600,000 in Pulaski County alone. Most of that money, about two-thirds, would come out of school districts. Mutiply this by dozens of stores statewide and it adds up, particularly if other retailers join the parade. The biggest cut in Pulaski, for property of the Supercenter and Sam's at Bowman and Chenal, would slice the cumulative appraisals of those stores from more than $30 million to $16.7 million, cutting property taxes, about two-thirds for the Little Rock School District, by $130,000 a year.

Kat-chicken, Kat-pickles, Kat-fish: Robinson does it again

Posted: 08 Jan 2019 10:27 AM PST

Food writer and former Arkansas Times Eat Arkansas blogger Kat Robinson has released her third fifth book: "Arkansas Food: The A to Z of Eating in the Natural State," she's announced.

The 290-page book (available both in hardcover and paperback) answers such questions as: Why are fried chicken and spaghetti paired in the Ozarks? Who created the fried pickle? How do you make chocolate gravy? It also includes a treatise on buffalo fish (there are three types, we learn) and the fact that you can get buffalo at the Lassis Inn in Little Rock. It includes hundreds of listings, images and recipes and retails for $29.99 (paperback) or $39.99 (hardcover). You can order it on Kat's website or pick it up at WordsWorth Books & Co., Barnes and Noble or Honey Pies Bakery and Cafe in Little Rock and at other eateries around Arkansas.

An excerpt from the introduction:

Arkansas is a stubborn, hang-on-by-your-teeth subsistence land that adapts to weather, new folks and the lay of the land. Its cuisine isn't Southern or Appalachian or Midwestern, though elements of all of these things are evidenced by our communal meals. Its regional specialties are tied tight to its geographical holding place; my own experience of country fried venison and sugared rice as breakfast was certainly as strange to my Delta friends' dinners of wild duck and rice as theirs was to me. Searcy County's chocolate rolls, an expected everyday dessert when visiting my brother's side of the family, seems far more exotic now that I realize they're found nowhere else.
The book is the second under Robinson's own imprint, Tonti Press.