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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

September 25, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Sept. 23, 2018.

Young people in our area seemed to be energized. They seem to be ready for change and have been vocal about what they want to see happen. It’s up to us as a community to listen to them in order to make sure this area grows and prospers in the coming years.

During the summer, local young people spoke out on what they’d like to see in the city, and much of what they said came down to one thing: Opportunity. That’s ultimately what will keep them here. Opportunity for jobs, education, recreation and amenities. And not settling for “good enough,” especially when other cities are making sure that doesn’t happen.

Fort Smith has many, many reasons for someone to want to live here, whether you’re young, old or in between. From the new and established businesses to educational opportunities at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to our many parks and trails, our community has amenities available to anyone who wants to take advantage.

But it’s understandable and reasonable to think young people will want more. That’s what being young is all about, having that optimism and being able to see a bigger picture for the community. And the things some of them cited in August (a more vibrant downtown with someplace to shop for groceries among them) will prove to be attractive not just to millennials but to other local residents as well.

“The city, the commissions and the directors need to allow the young people to be a squeaky wheel and to allow young people to come in and be like, ‘Well, why are we doing it this way? Can we explore this? Can we discuss this?’ and to not be scared about change,” city parks commissioner Casey Millspaugh, 33, a longtime Fort Smith resident, said during the summer.

Change and growth have to begin with open discussion. We are encouraged that established leaders have expressed a willingness to listen and hope that plans are underway for more open dialogue between them and our local 20- and 30-somethings. Events like Friday’s Prime: River Valley Professional Summit, a collaboration between the Fort Smith Rotary Club, 64.6Downtown and the UAFS Alumni Association intended to allow young professionals to engage in discussion, are a positive step in the right direction as well.

Certainly, a balance is needed between making Fort Smith attractive to a younger generation and keeping longtime residents happy. We feel certain that balance is attainable. We can still be a city that’s full of history and stories to tell but embrace a youthfulness by providing young people with outlets for their work lives, school lives and social lives. The Unexpected Project is a great example of the city embracing artists (many local, many nationally known) in an opportunity for them to leave their mark on our area while involving local schools, groups and others in the process. Many of the works pay homage to Fort Smith’s history.

The goals of young people won’t necessarily match those of established residents, and that’s OK; finding a common ground between them is the key. Is that possible? We believe the generations of folks who we hope can soon “partner, get together, collaborate and talk,” as Bill Hanna, chairman of the Central Business Improvement District, put it last month, will find a way.

While we encourage established leaders to listen to the youth around them, we also encourage local young people to do their part. That means turning out to vote in elections, attending local board meetings and offering input where it’s needed, as well as encouraging others to do the same. It might mean joining a local board or commission to offer a younger perspective. Those things may be easier said than done sometimes in today’s fast-paced world, but they are necessary before any real change can take place. They must be the squeaky wheel that gets noticed before any action can take place.

It’s easy to talk about your wishes and then move on when they don’t come true. Instead of letting that happen, we should encourage young people’s involvement in making those wishes a reality.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sept. 25, 2018.

“These are my principles. And if you don’t like them, I have others.” — Groucho Marx

Ethics ought to be something more than an issue that candidates can talk about during election season and demagogue after. When ethics become just a political football to toss back and forth — preferably aimed at your opponent’s nose, when he’s least expecting it--the whole idea and ideal of ethics is lost.

Arkansas has an ethics problem, specifically in the legislative branch. Do we have to review the news of the last two years? Five former lawmakers have been convicted, or have pleaded guilty, to federal charges. This ain’t just a public relations problem, or a question of optics. This is real.

The news side of this operation reported in Sunday’s editions that there’s a practice among lawmakers of loaning money back and forth. Friends indeed, etc. But when lawmakers are writing checks to each other, it becomes more than friends helping friends or colleagues bailing out somebody at the next desk. Especially when one of the parties is loaning money to another party who makes committee assignments. Talk about the good-old-boy system, this is about as good-old-boy as it gets.

The new Speaker of the Arkansas House, Matt Shepherd, says he’s thinking about changing the rules or proposing legislation to prohibit this kind of backroom dealing: “I have got to give it some further thought whether it be just an outright ban, whether there is some threshold, some maximum amount, but that’s something that I’m certainly looking at, and I don’t think that going forward that we should have loans among members for significant amounts of money.”

By jove, he’s got it. We’d take it one step further: How about disallowing the practice, regardless of the amount of money?

One lawmaker who made such a loan, innocent that he is, told our own Mike Wickline that he never gave it a second thought. Well, maybe the rest of us should.

If lawmakers don’t pass legislation to restore the public’s (never) strong trust in them, then a ban on these loans should be written into the ethics code. And more’s the pity. For the necessity of an ethics code itself, and all these ethics commissions that go with them, is an indication that our betters, elected to serve us, have lost the original idea of ethics: which is a solemn obligation beyond the law.

But where ethics fail, the law will have to do. Shame, isn’t it?

Also, prepare yourself, Gentle Reader, for the usual naysayers in the Ledge who will doubtless find excuses not to pass anything, in the law or in the ethics code. In the years past, there’s been an anti-ethics bloc in the Arkansas General Assembly, and we’re not sure if those in it have been term-limited out yet. Be aware that said bloc will give us its best efforts, or worst, and find reasons why lawmakers shouldn’t be prohibited from slipping the House speaker a grand or 16. Where there’s no will, there’s no way.

We the People could get their attention, although we may have to be about as subtle as a two-by-four upside the head. Some will learn no other way.

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sept. 25, 2018.

Law enforcement agencies, particularly sheriff’s offices, have over the years demonstrated an occasional penchant for the dramatic, especially when it came to free or reduced-price military gear or flashy equipment.

Grenade launchers? Mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles originally designed to protect soldiers from bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yes, they’ve been handed over from time to time to Arkansas law enforcement agencies that, when they set their minds to it, can justify just about any shiny new toy as a necessary component in the fight against crime and the advancement of community protection.

Not all of it comes from the military, though.

We remember back in 2007 when Benton County Sheriff Keith Ferguson had him a Jaguar. Not the kitty-cat kind, but the automotive kind. It was seized from a drug dealer and eventually acquired through the courts, giving the sheriff’s office a chance to show it off to school children with a sign that said “This was a drug dealer’s car. Now it’s mine.” Signed Sheriff Ferguson.

Cool, right? We’re not so sure that’s a necessary component of law enforcement, but it does have a cool factor.

One doesn’t have to look far for law enforcement agencies that go ga-ga over drones or helicopters or whatever other neat gear we’re sure they’re selling at national conventions. We just like law enforcement agencies to stick with the basics.

It was also around 2007 the Benton County Sheriff’s Office acquired a $366,109 mobile command unit that featured built-in radio, satellite and telephone data and voice communication systems as well as a weather-monitoring setup and a 42-foot mast with cameras. It even had a conference room with seating for seven.

It’s been used from time to time during searches, but it’s been just as likely to be used as a cooling station or for “show and tell” outings to local schools. The county spent about $54,000 for an upgrade in 2013. And now, five years later, Sheriff Shawn Holloway says it’s too big, so he wants a smaller vehicle with similar capabilities.

We want law enforcement officers to have the means to protect themselves from criminals and to serve our communities, but from time to time, the gear they choose to put taxpayer dollars into is, frankly, overkill.

What will Holloway’s office get? Hopefully, a down-to-earth vehicle that can meet the agency’s needs without all the sizzle that often attracts law enforcement resources.

It may be tempting to gear up and be prepared for the occasion of the zombie apocalypse, but that’s probably not the measuring stick for preparedness anyone needs to use.

At least Holloway appears to have a buyer for the old command center vehicle. A Missouri county offered $240,000.

Sell, sell, sell.

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