- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, June 22, 2014

Protecting whistleblowers

Back in 2006, Edward Lane was director of the Community Intensive Training for Youth Program at Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City.

During the course of his duties he discovered something was wrong. A state legislator was apparently employed by the program and receiving a check_but was not doing any work.

It was a no-show job. One that paid more than $170,000 over three years.

Lane fired the lawmaker.

Well, the FBI took note and Lane was called to testify before a grand jury. The lawmaker, Suzanne Schmitz, was indicted and Lane subsequently testified in two criminal trials.

The first ended in a mistrial. The second ended with a conviction.

All well and good. Lane saw a crime being committed, he took action, the wrongdoer was punished.

But she was not the only one. After the first trial, Lane was among 29 program employees fired by the college president, who cited budget cuts. But 27 of the employees were rehired just a few days later. Lane was not among them.

So he took the matter to court.

He lost in district court and before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

Why? He was a public employee and therefore he was not testifying as a “citizen,” so he was not protected by the First Amendment.

Yes, seriously.

Fortunately, Lane pressed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Thursday, the court found in his favor.

“The mere fact that a citizen’s speech concerns information acquired by virtue of his public employment does not transform that speech into employee_rather than citizen_speech,” Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for a unanimous court, adding that any other ruling “would place public employees who witness corruption in an impossible position, torn between the obligation to testify truthfully and the desire to avoid retaliation and keep their jobs.”

It’s an important decision, one that protects whistleblowers who report and testify against wrongdoing in the public sector. This is step forward for good and accountable government. We applaud the court and hope this ruling gives more public employees_whether on the local, state or national level_the confidence to come forward if they have witnessed illegal activities.


Southwest Times Record, June 23, 2014

I-49 builds bridge to the future

What are you doing Wednesday? How about taking a look at the future?

The future is going to be nearly visible when Dick Trammel, Ed Thicksten, Ivy Owen and Gard Wayt gather up all the state, county and local officials they can find along with representatives of chambers of commerce and business leaders and area residents and anyone willing who’s ever driven a car from Louisiana to Missouri to dedicate the “new” Interstate 49 from Alma to Missouri.

The group will meet at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the parking lot of Grace Church of Alma, a spot that Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Owen says has “a great view of I-49.”

That is to say, it has a great view of the future.

That’s how Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Commissioner Trammel sees it, anyway.

“Development of I-49 is the future for the next generation, and we hope this generation can make it happen,” Mr. Trammel stated in a news release. “I-49 is important from Bella Vista to Alma to Texarkana and all of Arkansas, and we need to work together to make it happen.”

Interstate 49, when complete, will comprise 1,700 miles of interstate highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada. A lot, like the stretch from Alma to Bentonville formerly known as Interstate 540, is already built and carrying traffic. An 18-mile stretch from Bella Vista to the Missouri state line is under construction. A six and a half-mile stretch across Chaffee Crossing is set to open in October.

The longest unfinished stretch is 185 miles between Fort Smith and Texarkana. (If you ever wonder how significantly I-49 will affect your life, imagine driving from Greenwood to Texarkana on an interstate. ‘Nuff said.)

But that’s not necessarily the biggest challenge the Interstate 49 Coalition and Executive Director Gard Wayt face.

By the yard, undoubtedly the most expensive and challenging piece of the I-49 puzzle remaining undone is that new bridge across the Arkansas River.

Thus, on Wednesday, community leaders will celebrate the signage that renames Interstate 540 from Alma north as Interstate 49. And they will grab that opportunity and all the media attention it garners to begin the I-49 Build the Bridge campaign.

And before you decide that’s a fool’s errand, take note of the guy heading up the effort: former state Rep. Ed Thicksten. Folks from Crawford County will tell you, that’s a force to be reckoned with. He knows how to get it done from his time in the Legislature, when funding for that newly renamed stretch of highway was appropriated.

And he knows the stakes: “I think we have boundless opportunities here to move the river valley forward just like northwest Arkansas, and that bridge across the Arkansas River can be the key to our success.”

So if you’re not doing anything else Wednesday, we recommend you join the crowd in Alma looking at the future.

We’ve just about built the road. Now it’s time to Build the Bridge. You want to be there when it happens.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 21, 2014

Congratulations to almost all

Let’s hear it for our Special Forces, the FBI and any and all others who helped in the arrest of a top suspect in the massacre of American envoys at Benghazi. The American eagle’s reach is still impressive. It seems we have not forgotten our enemies after all, or our dead—any impressions to the contrary notwithstanding.

It was only last August that this Ahmed Abu Khattala who’s now under arrest was bragging that he was still in his comfortable home, tending his garden as usual. He might want to have somebody else take care of the weeding and hoeing for a while. A long while. For he is now a guest of the United States of America aboard the U.S.S. New York, where he’s supposed to be singing like a bird.

This bird is now headed for a civilian courtroom instead of the brig at Guantanamo, Cuba - the ideal facility expressly built and maintained for such prisoners in the War on Terror, a war that dares not speak its name under this commander-in-chief. He prefers euphemisms like Emergency Overseas Operations, lest anybody get the impression that this country is still at war and its citizens still threatened by a global enemy.

Barack Obama, Eric Holder & Co. prefer civil to military trials for unlawful enemy combatants. Civil trials offer a venue in which considerations like whether the suspect has been read his Miranda rights/prerogatives or outfitted with a team of civilian lawyers might help him beat the rap.

None of this should be allowed to detract in any way from the fine job so many Americans in and out of uniform, whether operating out of CIA headquarters at Langley or in the field, have done in this case.

So hearty congratulations to our snoops and grunts and unknown heroes galore—and thank you. No medal or certificate can measure up to your real reward: the satisfaction of duty done. No matter how badly the politicians may now proceed to mess up your work from here on in.

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