- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

It’s time for state senator to resign position

Times Record, Aug. 27, 2017.

State Sen. Jake Files has made it abundantly clear that giving the public straightforward answers about taxpayer funds intended for a still unfinished city sports complex is a not a priority for him. With newly released details of the investigation by the FBI, his previous answers to basic questions appear a woven web of confusion, and it is unraveling.

Files, R-Fort Smith, is the subject of an FBI investigation regarding missing state grant funds allocated for the construction of a sports complex at Chaffee Crossing. He is also being sued by the city of Fort Smith to finish the long-overdue project and return the grant funds. We understand innocent until proven guilty, but the number of contradictions and misinformation he has shared should make it hard for voters to trust he is on their side in representing them in state government.

Like all of us, Sen. Files has limited time in a day. We want our lawmakers focused on governing and representing us. But in this case, his first priority needs to be providing clarity and immediate transparency to citizens on various questionable accounts. Until this has happened, everything else is a second priority for him, and frankly, for all of us who trusted his leadership here in Fort Smith.

It’s because of this ongoing investigation for possible wire fraud and money laundering, as well as other legal distractions, we believe the time is right for state Sen. Jake Files to resign from office.

File has announced he will not run for re-election next year, but voters need a trusted leader in their state government before his term runs out.

City officials severed the contract with Files and Sebastian County Election Commissioner Lee Webb for the sports complex after many delays. Now, the city itself is being sued for unpaid work by the subcontractors Files and Webb hired.

Voters agreed to pay higher taxes to fund this project back in 2012. For years, residents have been paying their hard-earned dollars in dreams of a sports complex that has yet to come close to fruition. City officials put their trust in Files and Webb to make it happen, handing over more than $1 million of taxpayer money to them. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority donated land, and other work and services were provided for free.

Why the complex hasn’t been completed yet is deeply troubling.

Last week, an affidavit that details allegations of fraud and money laundering against the lawmaker was unsealed. There are many aspects in the document that raise eyebrows, including testimony from a contractor that Files instructed her to deliver cash and a cashier’s check from the state General Improvement Fund grant directly to him. The contractor - Dianna Gonzalez, who was the winning bidder for water line work at the sports complex - testified that Files had her open a bank account so the grant funds could be wired to it, then deliver $14,000 cash to him along with a cashier’s check in the amount of $11,931.91 made payable to FFH Construction, Files’ company.

Gonzalez states in the affidavit that she watched as Files counted out $4,805 for payment to employees, gave her $1,978.42 in “reimbursement” as well as a $1,500 “Christmas bonus,” then saw Files place the remainder of cash and the cashier’s check in his pocket. None of the water line work at the sports complex has been completed.

That the FBI decided to investigate is not surprising. Red flags were everywhere with regards to the GIF grant, and testimony in the affidavit confirms that bids are fraudulent, at least according to the two companies that Files claimed put out bids on the project. (In fact, both companies state that they don’t do water line work at all, which is the type of work the grant was allocated for.)

The Times Record has asked Files repeatedly for any documents, phone records or other information that could clear up seemingly straightforward questions on water line bids. He has not done so. The public shouldn’t have to wait for the FBI to provide clarity on this confusing web of information.

Files’ legal troubles don’t end with the sports complex. He also has been sued as a defendant with FFH Construction for more than $1.2 million in payments for loans made to him since 2013. Files gave a deposition June 28 in Fort Smith to lawyers for First Western Bank and co-defendants Arvest and First National Bank. On recommendation from his attorney, Files invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege.

In April, a Fort Smith director filed a theft by deception report against Files, accusing him of stealing $33,200, according to the police report. Files is accused of failing to perform roofing work, and when he was asked for the money back, he said he didn’t have it, the report states.

Keep in mind that Files has served as on such legislative committees as Senate Revenue and Taxation, Joint Budget and Auditing, which seems highly inappropriate considering the current situation he is in.

While it’s important to note that the state senator has not been charged with a crime, it’s equally important to remind him that no one is above the law. If there was an easy explanation that would clear up all the allegations made against him, he should have provided by now, but an explanation does not appear to be forthcoming.

We have lost trust in the state senator. Files has said he won’t run for re-election in 2018, but he must do more than that. He should step down immediately.

We’re all short on time, and this lawmaker needs time to give his constituents, and now the FBI, some clear answers. His priority and focus should be clearing up this mess, and earning back trust - if he can - before attempting to be our representation in government, or anywhere. The Fort Smith area deserves better.

___

Guns in unlocked vehicles often end up in criminals’ hands

The Jonesboro Sun, Aug. 27, 2017.

If you ever wondered how so many guns get into the hands of felons and other would-be criminals, look no farther than the unlocked vehicles in your neighborhood.

For some strange reason - one that even a genius couldn’t logically explain - lots of folks with guns in their vehicles leave them unlocked.

We report on this odd, yet disturbing, occurrence weekly in The Sun.

While some of the gun thefts have occurred during home and pawn shop burglaries and some have been stolen by thieves breaking into vehicles, many of the 1,225 guns stolen in Jonesboro during the past five years were simply purloined by criminals from unlocked vehicles.

That’s right: unlocked cars, trucks and vans in your neighborhood with guns in them.

The best term to describe this continuing trend: careless stupidity.

Perhaps the most disturbing consequence is that many of those stolen weapons could wind up being used in the commission of violent crimes.

It’s counterproductive to purchase a weapon to protect yourself from crime only to leave that weapon in an unlocked vehicle where it is stolen and then later used to commit a violent crime.

Authorities also confirm that stolen guns are often traded for illegal drugs, winding up in the hands of drug dealers who use them to protect their sales territory.

So how do we put a stop to this head-shaking trend? Well, law enforcement officials say punishing those who have guns stolen from unlocked vehicles would only serve to thwart victims from reporting such crimes.

Publishing the names of those who have guns stolen from unlocked vehicles would have a similar chilling effect.

So, how do you fix stupid?

Comedian Ron White would tell you that you can’t.

Maybe those who tote a gun around in their vehicle should consider how that gun could be used in a violent crime against one of their loved ones. What if a thug stole a gun from your unlocked vehicle and then used it as protection while breaking into your home? What if you or someone in your home confronted that now armed burglar?

What if a child got into your vehicle, found the gun and accidentally shot himself or a playmate?

In 2015, a small Connecticut town’s police department charged a man with reckless endangerment after he informed authorities that his loaded .38-caliber revolver had been stolen form the glove compartment of his unlocked truck.

However, authorities around these parts say that’s not an effective way to address the problem.

Trumann Police Chief Chad Henson, whose small city tallied 155 stolen guns in 2016, told Sun reporter Stephen Simpson it’s a gun owner’s prerogative to leave a gun in an unlocked vehicle.

“I don’t think there should be a fine because it’s a free country,” Henson said. “It think this is a personal decision that must be made by the gun owner.”

Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd, whose department recorded 87 weapons stolen during the past 12 months, said there are situations where gun owners can’t take a firearm inside a building and are forced to leave it in the vehicle.

“I think this is a personal decision that must be made by the gun owner,” Boyd said, echoing Henson.

Too many people in Northeast Arkansas are far too careless about gun ownership, but there doesn’t seem to be a will to remedy this dangerous situation.

Cassie Brandon, a spokeswoman for the Jonesboro Police Department said the status quo will continue.

“We have and will continue to try to educate the public on responsible gun ownership to stem this issue,” she said.

Maybe there’s nothing more that can be done. Maybe Ron White is right.

___

‘Dixie’ suspended

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aug. 28, 2017.

Now word comes from Midland, Texas, and from Lee High School, no less. (Yes, it was named for that Lee.) The powers that be at the school say they’ve suspended the use of the song “Dixie” during ball games. The band won’t be allowed to play it. These days, with so many taking either real or pretend offense at anything they can get their eyes on, it may be useful to remember the words of a president named Lincoln, as he entered Richmond one day in 1865. He provides the best defense of this little song. As he stood before the people, victory all but assured during The War, he was in a boisterous mood:

“I see you have a band of music with you. I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I presented the question to the attorney general, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”

And the band played on.

___

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