- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Feb. 26, 2017.

The portions of a ballpark at Chaffee Crossing that are complete stand as a reminder that the project is very much incomplete, almost five years after planning for it began.

Why it’s incomplete is complicated.

We’ve written before about how the city and its residents deserve answers on the long-awaited ballpark. Now that even more questions have surfaced about how funds were used and contractors were chosen, it’s time for the parties involved to provide clear, straightforward answers.

And it should not be so hard to give - what should be routine - answers to the public.

The basic questions at hand are whether the proper bidding process was followed and if the funds spent for this unfinished project were mishandled.

A bidding process exists to ensure that taxpayers are getting reputable contractors at a fair market price. In this case, two separate contractors who were listed on the bid say they never bid on the work.

One of the project’s developers, State Sen. Jake Files, said this is not true.

We aren’t sure the motivation these contractors would have to lie, but regardless, it should be easy enough to prove if they are mistaken about their involvement.

The winning bid was to a contractor who apparently didn’t have a license and no one can seem to find - Dianna Gonzalez.

If this deal is all on the up and up, we’d love to understand. We invite Gonzalez, Sen. Files and the other contractors named on the bid to come together in a room with the news media. Those involved need to explain the clear, straight-forward details so that the public is no longer confused about the use of taxpayer funds on a long overdue project.

Frankly, we’re all long overdue an easy explanation that everyone can agree on. We think everyone’s had enough of the finger pointing. If there is evidence to clear up this matter, it’s time to produce it.

Because there are so many unanswered questions on this long, drawn-out project, many aspects of the project seem increasingly curious.

For example, the bids that were submitted for the waterline job all end in 91 cents: $47,545.91; $54,145.91; and $60,165.91. Materials for the water line job were quoted in April 2015 at $12,845.91; and on Dec. 30, the city of Fort Smith wired $26,945.91 to Gonzalez as part of the $46,500 state General Improvement Fund grant from the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District.

A letter sent in January from WAPDD Executive Director Sasha Grist to City Administrator Carl Geffken shows her concerns with the three quotes received for the GIF grant. In addition to an out-of-date quote from J&B; Supply for materials, Grist noticed the address for Gonzalez is “not a valid address” and all three quotes list the same order number, 2430582.

Red flags are everywhere. We are unclear on where it all went wrong, who can clear up the confusion and who will lead the city to a resolution that gives residents what they wanted - a sports complex to be proud of.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that taxpayers paid for and wanted a sports complex that may never get completed. They’ve given $1.08 million in funds through a quarter-cent sales tax for parks and recreation. In addition, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority’s donation of land totals about $1.1 million, and Chaffee Crossing so far has nothing to show for it.

While the contract has finally been terminated, the developers were not held accountable for the project and were allowed too much time to drag out its completion.

It saddens us to think of this project that could have brought in tourism dollars and gave a place for kids and families to come together. Now it sits unfinished, as we all sit waiting for what should be simple answers.

What happens with the ballpark now is the major question that should be addressed sooner rather than later. Taxpayer money has been spent on the project, and scrapping it altogether doesn’t seem to be the right thing to do. Neither does allowing the project developers to walk away when money is owed, claiming that is no longer their problem.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Feb. 27, 2017.

It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the Angel of Death’s bony hand scribbling out his shopping list for a visit to the nearest supermarket here in Arkansas. “Hmm, lessee now … a loaf of bread, quart of milk, and enough midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride to kill at least eight men.” Stir, do not shake, and the cocktail is complete. Sure, the Constitution of the United States, complete with its Bill of Rights, outlaws cruel and unusual punishment, but what if said punishment has become cruel and usual? So let’s party! Set out the best silver and invite the guests of dishonor. There should be no need for a chaser if all goes as well as expected, or, to be more precise, as ill as expected. Here’s to Death!

An ancient legal code, long outdated since it was handed down from above, looks positively advanced compared to today’s in Arkansas, for it limits retribution to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. And it consigns those convicted of taking another’s life to their own penal colony administered by a priestly caste. How things have changed since Old Testament days, at least here in the oh-so-advanced state of Arkansas, where both its attorney general and governor sound eager to get on with the job of taking life rather than protecting it.

At last report, an official with this state’s prison system, the appropriately named Solomon Graves, says he knows nothing about any attempt to find a new batch of the deadly drug for the state’s larder. But a spokesperson for the governor, one J.R. Davis, says the Department of Correction will indeed try to whip up a new batch of the stuff, which should suffice for current needs and assure the condemned of a long if not eternal sleep. Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream! For isn’t life itself but a dream? “La vida es sueno,” as the Spanish playwright wrote. A dream that should be lived so as to prepare ourselves for the grand awakening. But the pertinent law in this case is scarcely poetry. It’s more like satire, as the omniscient, omnipresent state does its best to keep the condemned alive long enough to kill them with a fine regard for law.

In their 18-page minority opinion, the two dissenters on the country’s highest court - their Honors Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer - conclude that “science and experience are now revealing that, at least with respect to midazolam-centered protocols, prisoners executed by lethal injection are suffering horrifying deaths.” Even as this state’s political leaders celebrate their success at making Arkansas one of those states that ought to be marked with a skull and crossbones in any graphic depicting states that embrace the death penalty.

Lest we forget, those prisoners challenging this state’s death penalty have names and loved ones, too, and can suffer just as excruciating deaths as those they killed. Will this mutual danse macabre never cease? Not till one generation speaks out at last to say: Enough! Choose life. Just as the dissenters on the high court did. It may take a graduate degree in chemistry to figure out the intricacies of this case, but the injustice of this ruling should be clear to anyone with a sense of irony.

This is what justice has come to in these United States of America - which may be the world’s leader in executions per capita, or at least the West’s leader. How’s that for a rate of productivity to brag about? When our still new president said he’d revitalize this country’s economy, that may not have been what he had in mind. For life is not only better than death, it may be more economical, too, considering the cost of unending appeals.

The price of the death penalty isn’t measured in just dollars and cents, but in anguish and suffering. Yes, choose life. It’s not only better but cheaper.

___

Texarkana Gazette. Feb. 27, 2017.

More than 700 temporary and term employees at Red River Army Depot can exhale now.

It recently was reported that their jobs were at risk because of President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze. Time was quickly running out on the contracts for the jobs and it was unknown whether the freeze would keep them from being renewed.

RRAD officials - along with a host of federal, state, and local politicians and community leaders - worked to get an exemption for the workers. The jobs were not only vital to the area economy, but to keep work at RRAD running smoothly. But nothing was certain. And those workers had to be on pins and needles.

Thankfully, acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer gave his OK for the exemption. So for now the jobs are safe and the workers can relax.

For now.

But this is an indication of what will be coming down the road. The president has promised to cut government spending by trillions of dollars over 10 years. That’s a lot of money. A lot of cutting.

By and large the American people support such cuts. That includes those of us here in the Twin Cities and around the Ark-La-Tex. Many believe the government is bloated and that too much money is spent wastefully. Many also think the government employs far too many people.

Yes, most believe that. Until the cuts hit too close to home. Then they fight like the dickens.

We have to do the same. Yes, we accept the concept of “shared sacrifice” but the reality is usually something very different. Other communities will be fighting hard to keep federal jobs. That’s just the way it is. Some will win, some will lose. The sacrifice will not be shared equitably.

We want to be among the winners.

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