- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. May 16, 2017.

?It’s all set now?, literally etched in stone and ready to join the garden of the gods now taking the place of ?the? lush law?n? that once ran undisturbed down the Arkansas state Capitol’s hillside till it ?reached the curb. But that idyllic scene has disappeared over the years as one monumental mistake after another has obscured the view. You name the god and a graven image ?thereof may soon appear in his/her/its honor in this increasingly crowded tableau.? ?

Next in ?the waiting line may be Baphomet, a goat-like satanic figure with wings. For once the constitutional separation of church? and state? is breached, all gods are created equal when it comes to vying for a place on ?our state ?Capitol’s ?fast ?disappearing lawn. There’s now a proposal - from the Saline Atheist & Skeptic Society - to build ?still ?another structure? on the Capitol grounds: ?a brick wall, that would hide ?such? monuments from public view.? Which might be the decent thing to do if it didn’t involve building still another structure on the grounds to hide earlier ones. So does one folly succeed and exceed another.

Now ?a ?6-foot-tall stone monument etched with the Ten Commandments is ?to be ?installed on the state Capitol?’s? grounds ?next month, weather permitting. For the rain has been unrelenting of late. Two years of debate on the appropriateness of this replica of the Ten Commandments have come and gone since The Hon. Jason Rapert, that font of bad ideas, came up with his proposal to install a showy replica of the Big Ten as a kind of roadside attraction.

Has there ever been so much ado about a question that could have been resolved by just leaving beautiful enough alone? At latest count, some 700 comments have been phoned in by concerned citizens and 600 have arrived by snail mail. Having stood aside while the right to free speech was threatened by campus mobs calling themselves student protesters, the American Civil Liberties Union has been heard from, too. It’s threatening to sue if the monument to the Ten Commandments goes up in this state. Talk about selective outrage.

A group styling itself the American Heritage and History Foundation says it has raised the money to pay for building this memorial? to the Ten Commandments, so often observed only in the breach, and? pay for laying ?a foundation?? for the 6,000-pound ?monument.

Oh, yes, there are other impediments to erecting this monument on what may be the best known piece of real property We the People of Arkansas own. Consider the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which unequivocally states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”? That’s right: Even a law about an exercise of religion or forbidding its expression is constitutionally dubious. Talk about a Keep off the Grass sign, this one is spelled out in no uncertain terms in the very first Amendment.

What, the Hon. Jason Rapert worry? He’s the state senator from metropolitan Bigelow who defends placing this monument to the Ten Commandments on the Capitol grounds not as an act of piety but as one motivated by purely historical reasons. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court has an engraving of the Ten Commandments on its building and elsewhere within it. Talk about the triumph of civil religion over the real thing, Senator Rapert’s rationalizations sum it up. ?This is what comes of trying to downgrade an ac?t? of religious devotion to only a historical footnote.

This controversy is bound to be continued as other people with the very best of intentions produce the very worst of results. It was a German named Bismarck who said God protects fools, drunkards and the United States of America - but why tempt Him?

___

Texarkana Gazette. May 16, 2017.

If you recently ventured downtown and tried to travel Broad Street, you might have found your journey interrupted. Especially if you wanted to pass in front of the Bi-State Justice Building.

The westbound lane of thoroughfare was blocked off by a temporary chain-link fence as construction crews began the demolition of the old Kress variety store building.

Pedestrians were inconvenienced as well because the sidewalk was also blocked for safety reasons. The demolition is expected to take about 140 days.

S.H. Kress was a well-known brand of what were once called “five-and-dime” stores that grew up in the years after the F.W. Woolworth Company pioneered the idea. They offered a wide variety of merchandise at low prices, sort of a miniature Wal-Mart of their day. Indeed, Sam Walton got the idea for his stores while running a Ben Franklin - another popular chain still operating today - in Northwest Arkansas. Once five-and-dimes were ubiquitous in America. Now they are a rarity.

While most of these type of stores were utilitarian in appearance, Kress made a name for itself by building its stores with attractive and distinctive facades featuring classic or art deco architectural ornamentation. That’s what made the buildings prized as landmarks and repurposed for other uses in many communities.

The Texarkana Kress store was built in 1933. And while a bit less ornate than many of the chain’s buildings, it was still a lovely and unique structure. But since the store’s closing, it was allowed to fall into terrible disrepair. It was condemned in 1979 and has pretty much become unsalvageable.

That hasn’t stopped some folks from trying. Several efforts have been attempted to save the building, but to no avail.

Now the structure is finally coming down and another part of the city’s history will be lost. There was talk back in January about trying to save the facade. Now the word is they will try to save at least some parts of it. No telling how that will go.

Too bad we often don’t see the value of these old buildings until it’s too late. How many more times will we see this play out in our downtown?

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. May 16, 2017.

In a school district that’s quite familiar with Tigers and Wolverines, it was a Bobcat that dug the ethical hole into which the Bentonville School District’s facilities director fell.

Paul Wallace was suspended from his $92,820-a-year job from Feb. 27 to March 6 as a result of Superintendent Debbie Jones’ finding that Wallace “misused district funds and assets.” At first it was deemed a paid suspension, but Wallace accepted it as unpaid, negating the need for the case to go to the Bentonville School Board.

What did he do? According to the school district, he kept a heavy-duty excavator manufactured by the Bobcat Co. and rented using district funds at his home. Ostensibly, he also used it on his private property, according to a letter from Jones.

As controversies go, this isn’t Watergate. Acknowledging that, however, should not diminish how serious the ethical breach that led to Wallace’s discipline is.

It’s likely the first controversy over a government official misappropriating money, supplies or equipment took place about a week after the people of Mesopotamia figured out the basics of governing. “Borrowing” a tool acquired for the public’s benefit has a long history here in Arkansas. At times, it was considered just the way things were. Eventually, a mindset developed the more accurate treated such liberties by government employees for what it was: corruption.

In the grand scheme, the use of an excavator seems pretty small, but what’s troubling is the mentality behind it. A government employee has no more right to use government-funded supplies or equipment than any taxpayer. You know, the people providing the money that makes leasing an excavator for public projects possible.

Government culture is important. If there’s an attitude that good ol’ Sam, the head of a department, can borrow a road grader over the weekend to smooth out his home’s gravel driveway, then it’s pretty easy for Susie to justify driving a government vehicle with her family on a summer trip. And if Fred casually tops off his gas tank every Friday with a little gasoline from the Road Department’s fuel supply, it’s not really all that bad, is it, if Ted just orders a few more pieces of lumber than necessary for a county project so he can take some home to build a new shed?

A few days after Wallace’s suspension ended, he paid the school district $7,465.52 to account for his use of the rented equipment. Jones said his “voluntary repayment” factored into her determination of consequences for his conduct.

Why are we hearing about this now? Well, as the school district prepared for election requesting a millage increase, rumblings about these sorts of abuses have a way of cropping up. People notice government abuses and sometimes just shake their heads, but start asking for a tax increases and these kinds of behaviors become the talk of the town.

In response to inquiries, the school district’s spokesman issued a statement:

“We hold our employees to the highest ethical standard and any allegations of wrongdoing are fully investigated. While we cannot comment on this specific personnel issue, beyond the letter we have shared publicly, we unequivocally can confirm the district has not lost any taxpayer dollars through this difficult circumstance. Any suggestion to the contrary is false and likely motivated by an effort to confuse voters on the eve of our election,” the spokesman wrote.

She may be right, but do those motivations change anything about the reported corruption? Grouse about motivation all you want, but if there’s no corrupt behavior, there’s no opportunity for anyone to reveal it at a time of his own choosing.

“Do actions agree with words?” author Frank Herbert once said. “There’s your measure of reliability. Never confine yourself to the words.”

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