- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette, April 11, 2016

Senseless campus tragedy demands common decency, not political rhetoric

University of Texas students and its faculty were rocked last week when the body of a freshman student was discovered in a creek on campus.

The student, Haruka Weiser, was just 18.

The shock waves rippled to Texarkana when a suspect was arrested - a 17-year-old who grew up here. Meechaiel Criner was allegedly abandoned by his mother when he was very young and, according to his grandmother, had been under psychiatric care for most of his life. There were also allegations he had been abused in the foster care system and was a victim of bullying.

Haruka Weiser is dead, her family and friends left to grieve. Criner’s fate is up to the courts. But the political vultures of the gun debate are circling.

Police have said Weiser was assaulted and that there was obvious trauma to her body. But are so far the authorities are mum on the actual cause of death. Maybe that’s why we haven’t heard much of anything from those on the side of gun control. If there had been a gun involved, you can be sure they would be out in force.

No, in this case most of the opportunism comes from those who favor concealed and open carry. They have been issuing statements that this fatality might have been avoided if Weiser had been carrying a gun. They are using her death to criticize the university’s policies in anticipation of the campus carry law that is set to take effect Aug. 1.

That Weiser, at 18, was too young to legally carry a concealed weapon doesn’t seem to matter. Nor does the fact that most students are under the minimum age of 21. Or that this was the first homicide on the UT campus since 1966, when Charles Whitman went up too the top of the Texas Tower and opened fire.

Or that her loved ones have barely had a chance to grieve.

Why let anything get in the way of an opportunity to make noise and maybe grab a few headlines?

We strongly support the both the First and Second Amendments. But sometimes it’s important to understand a tragedy like this is more than just a chance to grandstand. Second Amendment activists have roundly and rightly criticized those who take advantage of mass shootings to call for more gun control. Well, using the same tactics to promote the other side is no better.


Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 12, 2016

Making room

A couple of weeks ago, the private nonprofit Northwest Arkansas Council issued a statement marking the U.S. Census Bureau’s updated population estimates for its home region. It was the kind of update that both confirms what many residents already know from experience and points to the challenges ahead.

The numbers reflect the changes happening within the area designated by the federal bean-counters as the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitian Statistical Area. It consists of Benton, Washington and Madison counties in Arkansas and McDonald County, Mo., just across the state border.

For those who have been here a while, the fact the region totaled 513,559 residents as of July 1, 2015, is astounding enough. Put another way, the statistics reflect the rapidity of the changes: From 2014 to 2015, Northwest Arkansas grew by an average of 31.5 new residents every day.

The average since the 2010 census has been 26.3 residents daily. If a population clock was displayed on the top of Fayetteville’s Mount Sequoyah, its numbers would be changing so fast the electronic sign would violate the city’s sign ordinance.

The numbers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, ranks the region No. 25 in the country in terms of population growth between 2010 and 2015. And the pace appears to be picking up.

At the same time, some of the region’s largest communities are grappling with ways to reduce or prevent sprawl, the spreading of development across the landscape. That, in turn, is revealing the growing tensions between communities as they have been vs. the communities as they may need to become in the future.

Towns are seeing this in the form of planning regulations that promote or allow development that will change - and already is changing - the look and feel of Northwest Arkansas.

Last week, Bentonville planning commissioners approved by a 7-0 vote the rezoning of properties downtown in such a way that the maximum number of dwelling units allowed grew from 18 to 48 per acre. That means a building that could be 80 feet tall. It should come with little surprise that nearby neighbors are concerned.

“Part of the beauty of this town is the neighborhoods we’ve created, and what they’re asking to do is change the feel and flavor of this town,” said Shelly Stoker, who along with her husband said they had invested a lot of money to restore a nearby historic home.

Other neighbors said they were concerned with additional traffic in an already congested area and how the larger development will fit in with the nearby traditional homes.

No doubt key to the applicants’ victory was this: The change fit the city’s adopted land-use plan. You know, the kind of government document that few pay attention to until someone is proposing a development nearby, and then it’s too late.

Cities and their residents are also trying to find a comfort level with so-called in-fill development that attempts to maximize using every possible inch of properties.

In Rogers, the debate over how close to property lines a developer could build sparked a clash among neighbors, the professional planning staff and the city’s Planning Commission. Allowing zero-setback development, critics charge, could “destroy” some of the single-family neighborhoods of the city. The city rejected the new setbacks, but Mayor Greg Hines has said there’s still a possibility the city could reduce setbacks as development continues in the dowtown area.

In Fayetteville, the City Council last week voted 7-1 to allow homeowners in the city to build larger accessory dwelling units, as the city refers to them. These are considered separate but complete “housekeeping units” with their own entrance, kitchen, sleeping area and bathroom. These might be apartments over detached garages or a small cottage in the back yard of a single-family home. The council changed the maximum size from 600 square feet to 950. Aldermen also allowed those units to be built on properties smaller than 5,000 square feet.

Until 2008, such secondary living quarters on properties required only a conditional-use permit, which city staffers said was often a contentious discussion when established neighborhoods were involved. That year, however, the city adopted provisions to allow property owners a right to develop secondary housing if the property met a set of minimum conditions. Now, in a move pressed by Alderman Matthew Petty, those minimums are being reduced further.

Fayetteville’s top priority, according to its adopted “City Plan,” is to “make appropriate infill and revitalization our highest priority.” Other goals include the reduction of suburban sprawl and support for “attainable” housing.

What’s all this mean? It means Northwest Arkansas is going through what it’s been going through for years - growing pains. But rather than spreading out, there is increasingly a push to pack more people into the municipal footprints that already exist. Density is the trend, and it’s changing the debate before planning commissions and city councils.

The shift toward higher-density policies is about handling more people without necessarily growing the costs to taxpayers for the infrastructure necessary to support them. It’s about developing places for people to work and live without consuming more and more of the region with urban sprawl. And, yes, it means the Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville and other towns of the future are going to have somewhat different looks and feels than they’ve had in recent decades.

Is it good or bad? The reality is it can be both. It’s just different.

But it’s also why residents must pay attention and be involved when city leaders are going through those acronym-heavy, usually consultant-led processes of “vision casting” for the future. Because the resulting visions aren’t just collecting dust on a shelf. They’re having real impact in real neighborhoods affecting real people.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 12, 2016

The way it’s done

For hundreds, even thousands, of teachers and principals across the state, those must’ve been some hoppin’ school assemblies. You know how kids act an hour before the last bell rings for summer? The adults got a taste of that kind of cheer, hope and anticipation a few days back.

The state’s Department of Education announced which schools would be on the receiving end of that $7 million reward. Yes, reward. For the best scores on 2015’s state exams.

Some schools will get money for outstanding grades. Some for outstanding improvement. And a few for both.

As if teachers and principals are human, too. And are not only motivated by money, but by recognition for a job well done. When your school is listed in the paper as among the best, or most improved, in the whole state, that’s some slap on the back.

Something like 194 schools across the state will divvy up $7,023,382.28 for being in the top 5 or top 10 percent in student achievement. But we only say “something like” because some schools are on the list twice. Imagine that. Not only topping the list of best scores, but also for making substantial improvements. Somebody bottle that.

Schools in the top 5 percent will get $96.99 for every student in the school. Those in the next 5 percent (at 6-10 percent) will get $48.50 per student. And the money can be spent on employee bonuses, equipment, temp employees or pretty much whatever plan the school can get approved.

And the teachers and principals were giddy.

So much for what the teachers’ unions, or at least their bosses, have been saying all these years: Teachers don’t go into the field for money, and they should all get the same large raises every year. Lest we distinguish between good teachers and the other kind. It’s called leveling down. Even though what education needs right now is higher expectations, not lowered ones.

Who knew that educators were people, too? With a very human and very healthy desire to be recognized for their hard work. Recognized tangibly. Just like any other dedicated professional, artisan, mechanic or laborer.

Well, some of us knew educators were people too, and knew it all along. We also knew that money talks. Here’s hoping it says even more over the years as this rewards program becomes more and more popular.

And something tells us it will.

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