- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Jan. 15, 2017.

Winter will soon be over, and with spring comes baseball and softball seasons. Unfortunately for Fort Smith, it doesn’t look like a long-planned sports complex will be complete by then, and the city wants to know why.

A new sports complex will be a great thing for Fort Smith. But city officials’ frustrations over its delay are understandable for many reasons.

The city agreed to put $1.6 million into the River Valley Sports Complex in March 2014, with a planned completion date of June 2015. The city wants to see it completed, and rightfully so.

The $1.6 million the city is contributing comes from a quarter-cent sales tax voters approved in March 2012.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors this month received an update on the sports complex at Chaffee Crossing. The project was approved in 2014 after the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority deeded nearly 63 acres for the complex in June 2012. The complex is being constructed at the corner of Roberts Boulevard and Taylor Avenue at Chaffee Crossing.

The complex, being developed by Lee Webb and Jake Files, is an estimated $4.3 million facility being built using funding the city has already committed, along with donations and in-kind services. Many of the companies working on the sports complex are donating their services or working at a reduced rate. The Army Reserve, for example, donated about $1 million worth of work.

City directors have expressed their frustrations over the delays. The original completion date has long since passed, and now the project has no firm completion date at all.

The Parks and Recreation Commission voted in December to require the partners to provide an update on the project’s progress, after two extensions were granted - one in June 2015, the other in April 2016.

Webb this month told directors that the sports complex should be completed by this summer, but did not have a specific date. Problems with the weather, as well as the project’s reliance on donations and free services, have contributed to some of the delays, developers have said in the past.

“There are a lot of people frustrated. It’s going on three years,” Ward 4 Director George Catsavis said during a study session.

Some officials believe the city should pull the plug on the project and go a different direction, but we feel it’s a project worth finishing, especially with so much already invested. As Ward 2 Director Andre Good said, “We have money invested. We have land invested.” It’s time the city sees something come of its investment.

With Chaffee Crossing already booming (and there’s much more to come), we think it’s the perfect home for a first-class sports complex, one that will attract teams from all over the area.

Sports tournaments are a big draw these days, with teams from all age groups participating in travel baseball and softball games each weekend throughout the spring and summer. Fort Smith could be at the center of these types of tournaments, drawing teams from around the state as well as from Oklahoma, Missouri and beyond. Travel ball families bring with them money for food, lodging and more.

Players from this area deserve a new place to call home as well. We imagine coaches, parents and kids have looked forward to having a new facility to use for baseball and softball. As families continue to move into Chaffee Crossing, a sports complex would serve as an ideal hub of activity for them.

It’s unfortunate the project has dragged out as long as it has. The city wants answers - and we do, too. The city must continue its push on developers to get the answers it seeks and to make sure this project, long in the making, becomes a reality.

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Jan. 16, 2017

It’s enormously challenging for a new mayor, county judge or president to take the reins of government and make a smooth transition into office, especially when the departing executive is a member of a different party than the incoming one.

We have no doubt there will be hiccups, to put it kindly, in the change from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, if nothing else perhaps a few missing “D’s” and “T’s” from computer keyboards in the White House. But it’s been encouraging to hear the president’s pledges to do everything possible to smooth the path as Republicans - or at least what passes as Republican in the world of Donald Trump - sweep into the executive offices, displacing thousands of Democrats who, until November, had been ensconced in their certainty of at least four more years of a Democratic presidency. That didn’t work out.

At the federal level, such a transition is a gargantuan task. But across the country, smaller versions are happening in local government. In both Benton and Washington counties, residents are watching as new chief executives take over at the county courthouses.

Barry Moehring is Benton County’s new top administrator. In his case, it’s no change of party, but he did defeat the incumbent in last spring’s primary. He’s come into office with specific changes in mind, chief among them a new approach to decision-making about managing the county’s road improvements and maintenance. Experience as a justice of the peace on the Quorum Court has no doubt eased his move to the full-time role, but he nonetheless came in ready for change. He eliminated two top positions in emergency management and combined those duties in a new public safety administrator, for which he hired Saline County’s director of emergency services. In the process, Moehring has detailed the changes and explained why he’s making them.

That’s a contrast to what’s happening in Washington County, where Joseph Wood became the first Republican to hold the county judge post in decades. He’s taking over from a Democrat whose tenure unquestionably had its rough spots. So changes among department heads in Washington County shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, either.

It has been harder in Washington County to see Wood’s vision as he fired four department heads. He said he was building a better team that will improve county services, but specifics have been harder to come by. He used a four-member “transition team” to interview and make recommendations about 17 department heads. An employee who coordinated Quorum Court activities and had been with the county since 1979 quit, saying Wood was listening to people “who have no knowledge of county operations or ordinance requirements” and wasn’t doing what he promised.

Wood hired his campaign manager to fill that post.

A justice of the peace from Wood’s own party described the transition as “unusually volatile.”

The former county judge’s chief of staff, who was county attorney for 32 years, claimed county policies required Wood to advertise the positions he was filling, but Wood’s new county attorney, former GOP judicial candidate Brian Lester, said that’s not the case since the positions were never technically “open.” That’s an explanation only a lawyer can appreciate.

Another GOP candidate, Dwight Gonzales, is Wood’s choice for building maintenance supervisor. Gonzales ran for state representative in Fayetteville but could not unseat the Democratic incumbent.

Lester, responding to a reporter’s request for resumes of these new public employees, didn’t produce them and said the county may not have kept them.

As we noted, transitions are naturally periods of change that can be uncomfortable. But if Wood’s replacements are part of a team that will make county government better, wouldn’t he want to shout their qualifications from the rooftop? Wouldn’t his government have at least a basic resume in hand before hiring someone?

It’s no problem that Wood is instituting changes within the top personnel he’ll expect to get things done for county taxpayers. That’s the way these things go. But amid criticism, Wood should attempt to be the best salesman for the changes he’s making, giving Washington County constituents as much insight as possible in what the changes portend in affecting the kinds of changes to county government he wants.

Wood and Moehring are just a couple of weeks into their terms, which we hope will be successful for the sake of the people they represent. In time, we hope the transitional changes will settle in, questions will be answered and the focus of county government can be fixed on serving the people exceptionally well.

___

The Jonesboro Sun. Jan. 17, 2017

It’s a sad commentary on the state of public education when teachers have to spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each school year to purchase items for their classrooms and students.

If schools can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new turf for football fields and sports equipment and buy $82,000 Steinway pianos, then there ought to be enough money to fulfill basic classroom and student needs.

Free transportation, free breakfast, free lunch, free snack, free after-school care, free school supplies and yet teachers are still spending an average of $530 each school year out of their own pockets.

That’s according to a recent study by Scholastic, an education publishing company, that surveyed 3,694 teachers.

It’s a shame.

Worse, teachers working in high-poverty schools spent 40 percent more than their counterparts in low-poverty schools - an average of $672 to $495, the study found.

When a child doesn’t have a decent pair of shoes, school supplies or other basic needs, what’s a teacher to do? Their passion has led them to a field that doesn’t always adequately recognize the importance of their endeavors and preys on their compassion.

As we all know, teachers don’t make a lot of money, yet they are responsible for educating the next generation of workers and leaders. Having to fork out hundreds of dollars each year to decorate classrooms and provide school supplies and, in some cases, clothing and shoes for students shouldn’t be a teacher’s responsibility or burden.

House Bill 1014 would create the teacher’s classroom investment deduction to provide for an income tax deduction up to $500 for teachers who purchase items for their classroom and student needs. Educators currently can deduct up to $250 off their taxes, so $500 would be an improvement.

While we do support the bill, we think schools should take care of the matter themselves. Teachers should be given a $500 stipend each year from their school to spend on such expenses. Schools should earmark a percentage of reserve funds to buy items for students in need of clothing and shoes. Those expenditures should be determined by the principal with input from the teacher.

The biggest problem, according to Northeast Arkansas teachers, is that more and more children are in need.

Sometimes, families fall on hard times despite parents’ best efforts to provide. Then again, more and more parents aren’t living up to their responsibilities, but that’s not the child’s fault. An ever-growing entitlement society is also partially to blame..

Still, that shouldn’t be put on teachers. Teachers are hired to teach, not raise other people’s children.


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