- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. May 6, 2018.

Whether the city of Fort Smith files another lawsuit regarding the unfinished River Valley Sports Complex remains to be seen, but it’s pretty clear more than $1 million in taxpayer money is unlikely to ever be returned. Still, we support a new lawsuit, because it sends the message to Fort Smith’s taxpayers, who approved a tax to help fund the project back in 2012, that the missing money - their money - is still a big deal.

The city has already filed a lawsuit to have the complex finished but now is considering whether to sue its developers - former state Sen. Jake Files and Sebastian County Election Commissioner Lee Webb - as individuals to return the money after the city auditor found that much of it was misspent.

The city’s ongoing lawsuit against Files and Webb also involves returning the nearly $27,000 in General Improvement Fund grant money and take responsibility for paying four subcontractors who were not paid a total of more than $200,000 for work they did on the complex. The subcontractors have sued the city for payment.



Files has a June sentencing date after pleading guilty to wire fraud, money laundering and bank fraud regarding a state GIF grant intended for the sports complex. He resigned his position in the state Senate after entering his plea.

There are an unbelievable amount of questions surrounding where exactly the $1.08 million was spent, and the FBI has been involved with the investigation. Fort Smith Internal Auditor Tracey Shockley has said it’s hard to say exactly how much of the money is not accounted for, but much of the data “didn’t come across as appropriate - the money spent.” There are questionable invoice dates. There are contractors who say they did not complete work and would never charge as much as was listed on the invoices. Developers did not follow the final architectural plan, and the buildings are not up to code.

Fort Smith severed its contract with RVSC in February 2017 after Files and Webb repeatedly missed deadlines on completing the project and after the city had already paid $1.08 million of the $1.6 million it agreed to donate.

The complex, more than six years in development, sits at Chaffee Crossing, unfinished but not forgotten. The city is uncertain what it wants to do with it and has several options, including hiring a private entity to finish the project. Earlier this year, City Administrator Carl Geffken called it “an eyesore that we need to do something with,” and we couldn’t agree more.

“Is it a symbolic accomplishment if the city wins a lawsuit but you don’t have any money? But again, sometimes on principle we do lawsuits because the principle is what needs to be upheld but obviously, we’re dealing with taxpayer money and we don’t want to waste their money,” Geffken said Tuesday.

It’s important that the project is still on the minds of city leaders and the residents who wanted it, and a new lawsuit would show that it is. Whatever is decided regarding the complex’s completion, we wholeheartedly support seeing it completed someday. We hope that someday is soon and the complex becomes something Fort Smith’s residents can be proud of.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. May 7, 2018.

Digital First Media, and its handlers at a New York hedge fund called Alden Global, are facing a rising tide of rebellion in its newsrooms - and should be. Because the suits have been milking newspapers dry in pursuit of ever-higher profits at the expense of their local coverage, the very quality that makes them worth reading if you, Gentle Reader, are interested in finding out what’s going on in your community.

Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg(s), the masterminds in charge of Digital First have reported an operating profit margin of 17 percent, well above many other newspaper chains. And any of its editors who dares go public with complaints may soon enough find himself a former editor.

The trust between editor and reader is a precious if not unique thing, and once lost cannot be readily regained. Agree or disagree with your local editor, his - or her - integrity can’t be replaced by figures on a balance sheet. It is intangible, yet it pays off in readers’ and advertisers’ dollars and cents. We who seek and respect your judgment, Dear Reader, are sure to be rewarded, which makes this newspaper game more than just another business.

Last fiscal year, Digital First Media & New York Co. raked in profits totaling almost $160 million. It’s a valuable commodity, integrity, even if no one can put a price on it. Digital First’s owners are selling their very heart and soul for nothing in the end but passing profits. This can’t go on indefinitely and surely won’t. But try telling that to short-sighted owners and managers. They’re not listening, but soon enough they’ll have to wake up to the moral realities of life. It may not be possible to shame Digital First into doing the right thing; those who make the decisions in DFM’s front office are proving shameless. And they won’t be the first company to try selling their soul only to find out that nobody wants the much damaged thing, as it’s been so undervalued by those who should have treasured it.

Wiser souls may be mobilizing to save what’s left of Digital First’s name, including outspoken editors. But instead of applauding them for their courage and vision, the powers that be at DFM are cracking down on the dissenters in their ranks. Case in point: DFA fired Boulder Daily Camera editorial page editor Dave Krieger for taking a stand in favor of old-fashioned integrity, And when the article he wrote about this mess was turned down he published it online instead. You just can’t keep a good editorial page editor down.

Brother Krieger explained why he’d been driven to take his brave stand and paying the price for his coverage: “The grounds for firing me I would have understood in the traditional sense was the claim that I disparaged my employer. I certainly did that, although it was in defense of my immediate employer, the Camera, that I disparaged its private equity owners. But this is one of those cases where the very essence of what we are about comes into play. When do we serve our readers, and our obligation to tell them what’s going on? When do we stand up for telling them the truth? When do we quit covering for the unaccountable hedge fund we work for?”

In short, when does even a vast communications empire like Digital First have to decide that the time has come either to fish or cut bait? And the same tough question could be asked of other communications empires like Sinclair Broadcasting. It may be only a matter of time before they, too, face the same fiscal and moral pressure being exerted on Digital First. Maybe they can all ride out this perfect storm of events, but surely the piper must be paid eventually. And in the same coin he’s acquired by acting as if this gravy train will never halt. There is still a law of moral compensation in human events, and it is bound to be evoked in this case. The only question is when.

Now is the time for all good readers to come to the aid of their local paper, radio station or other source of real, unfiltered and undoctored news.

Everything has an Arkansas angle. Even stories about inside baseball editorial writing and brave editors fighting off the vulture capitalists who take over their business, as if it was a burger stand. As we were putting together this editorial, word came that Chuck Plunkett had resigned as the editorial page editor of The Denver Post.

Chuck used to work here. And not just for a little while. He was here years as a reporter. And moved up the ranks to become a top editor in Denver. He wrote an unusual editorial last month. Unusual in American newspapers because it (1) took a stand, and (2) took on his bosses. He blasted the hedge-fund owners of the paper. After another reportedly sharp-edged editorial for the paper was turned down by some executive type, he quit.

Bravo! It’s a time-honored tradition among editors, resigning for mere reasons of honor. And what could be more honorable than pointing out that hedge-fund operators are poor owners of newspapers, and force terrible business models on the community?

We remember the empty suits at another chain who’d come through the newsroom (in another state) with PowerPoint presentations and “QUALITY” banners. These people were straight out of Dilbert. And they insisted on calling the paper The Product, which would have gotten them beat up in the less enlightened days before corporate-speak came to newspapers. And because their owners, their stockholders, didn’t even know they owned newspapers, the suits planned to milk their properties without regard to anything long-term. And did. And you should see the results.

Actually, you shouldn’t. Here’s to local newspapers, with owners who actually know they own them.

You’re reading one now.

___

Texarkana Gazette. May 8, 2018.

Most people take to the road in a car, truck or SUV.

Some opt instead for a motorcycle, including a lot of your friends and neighbors right here in the Twin Cities.

All these vehicles must share the same roads and highways. They have the same rights - and the same responsibilities.

But when there is a crash between a motorcycle and another type of vehicle, the motorcyclist almost always gets the worst of it. There have been many times when we here at the Texarkana Gazette have had to publish a story about a fatal motorcycle accident. Too many.

This is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, a time when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and motorcycling advocates try to educate the public to be more aware of bikes and hopefully avoid accidents.

But it’s not only the drivers of cars and trucks who are encouraged to be more safety conscious. Motorcyclists are also urged to follow the rules of the road and not to put themselves in harm’s way.

Here are some tips for both motorists and motorcyclists from the NHTSA.gov website .

For motorists:

- Motorcyclists have the same rights as any other driver. This includes the right to the full lane width. Never try to share a lane with a motorcyclist.

- Be sure to check for motorcyclists when changing lanes or entering or leaving a roadway.

- Signal your intention to change lanes.

- Keep your distance. Allow as much space between you and motorcyclists as you would with any other vehicle..

For motorcyclists:

- Wear proper safety gear, including a helmet and protective clothing.

- Allow yourself enough time and space to react if another vehicle makes a sudden lane change or other sudden move.

- Use your signals when changing lanes and at other appropriate times.

- Obey traffic laws, do not speed and do not weave in and out of traffic.

There is room enough for everyone out there. Let’s share the road safely.

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