- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A collection of recent editorials by Arkansas newspapers:

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Harrison Daily Times, March 10,2015

Legacy of Spock lives on

Among those most saddened to learn of the death of Hollywood legend Leonard Nimoy on Feb. 27, no doubt, were Trekkies - the rabid, often-times colorful fans of the Star Trek franchise.



Nimoy played the most iconic Star Trek character, the brilliant, stoned-faced, pointy-eared Mr. Spock, a human-alien hybrid.

It was reported that when the news of Nimoy’s passing reached the Long Beach Comic Expo in California, thousands of attendees observed a moment of silence, throwing up the Vulcan salute. (For the uninitiated, along with being half human, Spock was a Vulcan. The Vulcan salute splits the fingers to create a V).

One wonders what Nimoy, who was 83, would have thought of that Comic Expo display, as the actor was known to have had a love-hate relationship with Spock, and the Star Trek juggernaut in general. Consider this: Nimoy’s 1977 autobiography is titled “I Am Not Spock,” while his second autobiography, published in 1995, is “I Am Spock.”

It’s not difficult to understand why Nimoy wrestled with his fictional persona. While Spock made him rich, famous, Nimoy was much deeper than any one character. In fact, he was a true Renaissance man; his creative pursuits including directing, poetry, singing and photography.

Nimoy wrote of his complicated relationship with Spock in his 1977 book, stating:

“I went through a definite identity crisis. The question was whether to embrace Mr. Spock or to fight the onslaught of public interest. I realize now that I really had no choice in the matter. Spock and Star Trek were very much alive and there wasn’t anything that I could do to change that.”

So, he learned to embrace it.

In 2009 and, again, in 2013, Nimoy reprised the role of Spock in Star Trek films, and the actor would include “LLAP” - Live long and prosper, Spock’s signature line - in each of his Tweets.

On Feb. 23, Nimoy sent this message - his final one - out to his 1.1 million Twitter followers:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.”

Four days later, Nimoy was, in Star Trek parlance, “beamed up,” and the world lost a unique talent, and a deep man.

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 15, 2015

A serious probe is needed in Harris case

As controversies go, the biggest challenge in the saga of state Rep. Justin Harris’ decision-making in the lives of two little girls is figuring out who’s telling the truth.

As childhoods go, it is nothing short of heartbreaking that the adults in the girls’ lives have failed them so miserably, stacking the odds against them in so many ways emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In their brief lives they have experienced too much pain and, yes, abandonment. Our hope is that the worst of their lives is now behind them and healing can somehow bring joy, trust, safety and security into their world. That must be everyone’s priority.

What’s the point?

Serious claims by and about state Rep. Justin Harris and about the Arkansas Department of Human Services demand a serious investigation.

From a public policy standpoint, however, there are questions that cannot be dismissed. This sad tale involves allegations of political sway in adoption proceedings, of a state agency engaging in thuggish behavior, of an adoptive family disciplining children harshly, of an adoption system incapable or unwilling to respond to a family in crisis, and of political retribution.

What’s true and what’s not? Because this involves the Arkansas Department of Human Services and its care of minors, the interactions are excluded from public view. That’s understandable for the benefit of the children, but it also allows the question of bureaucratic ineptitude to fester unanswered.

Harris and his wife, Marsha, made a sacrificial decision to adopt the girls, which we commend. The girls’ mother was in such a dire situation, had heard the Harrises wanted to adopt and reached out. They agreed.

Harris has said he wanted to handle the adoption outside the DHS-supervised system, but the agency refused. Harris describes an antagonistic relationship, saying the agency “fought us the whole way.” He says it’s because he, as a state legislator from West Fork, holds them accountable.

But adopt they did. As Harris tells it, the family’s situation deteriorated in the months thereafter. He describes one girl as violent and threatening, while others — including a couple who cared for the girls before the Harrises — said the girls have some mental health issues, but nothing so dangerous or threatening as Harris has said.

But it was too much for the Harrises. They told reporters they sought out help from the DHS, but were threatened with criminal charges of child abandonment if they tried to give the girls back. According to Justin Harris, the state agency even threatened to take the couple’s three biological children.

In a practice most Arkansans have learned of only in recent days, the Harrises opted to “rehome” the girls to another family they trusted. It’s a move that’s entirely legal, although legislation has now been filed to change that. The father in the girls’ new family, however, is now in state prison on a rape conviction involving one of the girls placed into the Harrises’ care.

Revelations about this adoption gone wrong have led to more claims. A baby-sitter says the Harrises kept the most troubled girl locked away for hours at a time, monitoring her by video camera in her bedroom. The former baby-sitter says the couple believed the girls were possessed by demons and even went so far as attempting an exorcism. The Harrises deny that.

The details of this adoption process and the Harrises’ care for the girls raise troubling questions. It’s impossible to tell with accuracy how all this played out. The DHS says it cannot defend itself or provide any information specific to the Harris case, yet they have a state lawmaker making serious charges about how they go about protecting children and providing assistance to adoptive parents.

Some say Harris should resign as a result of the decision to “rehome.” Officially, only Democrats have called for resignation. State party leader Vincent Insalaco made the premature suggestion that appeared to be driven solely by political rancor between the parties. Then last week, House minority leader Eddie Armstrong, a Democrat from North Little Rock, said Harris “should consider” resigning because his situation has become “a complete distraction” for the House. His comments came after Harris skipped a meeting of the committee he’s vice chairman of and failed to appear in chambers for voting.

Insalaco’s comment was just politics, and it’s a shame he attempted to politicize the situation. Armstrong raised real concerns, but not even he called for resignation yet.

That time may come. But should Harris be vice chairman, or even a member, of a committee specifically geared toward protecting the state’s children and overseeing an agency he’s at such odds with? This situation suggests it’s unwise.

Arkansas cannot undo what has happened, but it can learn from it. The circumstances call for a formal investigation, preferably one in which an agency or official with full investigative powers can nail down witnesses statements and evaluate records. The public and our elected leaders need to know whether it’s true that:

The Department of Human Services threatened Harris with criminal charges of abandonment for trying to terminate an adoption that wasn’t working.

This agency threatened Harris’ custody of even his own biological children.

The agency was pressured by Harris to allow an adoption against the advice of some of its own professionals. Harris is the vice chairman of state House of Representatives’ Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs, which oversees the DHS.

Who should investigate? A local prosecutor? State police? A grand jury? Who has authority to start up an investigation? We don’t know the answer, but this involves major accusations about an agency operated under the executive branch. That puts some burden on the governor to figure it out. What about it, Gov. Hutchinson?

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Texarkana Gazette, March 16, 2015

Annual event spotlights need for open government, access to public information

Back in 2002, some members of the Florida Legislature apparently decided that the good folks who elected them were getting a bit too nosy about what was going on in the state capitol.

So they decided to offer legislation that would restrict the public’s access to some previously open records.

They might have gotten away with it. Many in the public would probably have never known.

But newspapers in the state decided to fight. They banded together and declared “Sunshine Sunday,” publishing articles and editorial against the proposals.

It took three years_but about 300 bills to restrict information were voted down in the Legislature, largely because of the media attention.

In 2005, the American Society of Newspaper Editors took the idea nationwide and extended it to seven days. Sunshine Week was set for mid-March to coincide with President James Madison’s birthday.

We in the news businesses mark Sunshine Week, which began Sunday and runs through Saturday. And we encourage everyone to think about the importance of open government and open access to public information.

Because it’s not just journalists who benefit from such access.

Members of the public at times have reason to request public information. And to file Freedom of Information Act requests from all levels of government, local state or federal.

Yes, there are some things that must remain secret in the interest of national security. But the people of this great nation do not have to accept a government that operates in the shadows. Our government officials must be accountable for their actions. Public awareness is a big part of that.

Sunshine Week is about that awareness.

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