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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

September 19, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

The Pine Bluff Commercial. Sept. 16, 2018.

When news hit last week that the Arkansas Board of Education would be taking over the Pine Bluff School District, we were not at all surprised. They declared fiscal distress after learning that the district is heading for a $2 million budget hole by the end of the year. Academic distress could soon follow. A meeting is scheduled for October on that topic.

Stay tuned.

Thursday’s move by the state board has been a long time coming and, frankly, it was a much-needed move.

State takeovers are never easy, nor are they pretty from a city’s public relations point of view. But this was the only way that our local district could become whole again.

It has been obvious for the past several years that the PBSD was fractured. Too many board members were self-serving, as former board member Henry Dabner so candidly told our reporter on Thursday. And he was correct. The board did not put the kids first. Ever.

There was infighting and outfighting, a refusal on the board’s part to listen to its patrons, and a near media blackout occurred when the board or its superintendent were probed for information. And when information was distributed, there was a different story depending upon whom we spoke with.

Oftentimes board members would blame the newspaper for “spreading information that makes the district look bad.”

Of course, that wasn’t the case. We report on facts. We were just one of the many scapegoats the board used to try and cover up its lack of ability to lead this district. We dare say only one or two board members were even qualified to hold such a position.

One clue to the dysfunction has been the revolving door of superintendents the district has seen in recent years.

No successful district has such quick turnover rates of its leaders.

On Friday, the state board appointed Arkansas Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Jeremy Owoh as the district’s new superintendent. In the coming days, we hope to have open and honest conversations with Mr. Owoh about his plans to right the finances at the PBSD.

Once the state decides our district can function again on its own, elections will be held and a new board will be elected. Pine Bluff, once this happens, we must do better in finding qualified candidates to lead our district.

We cannot elect the same board again. With one or two possible exceptions, no one who sat on this dissolved board should ever be allowed near that boardroom again.

It’s time for this community to stand behind people who care about what’s best for us, not what’s best for them.

We will make it through this trying time, and we will end up all the better for it having happened.

___

Texarkana Gazette. Sept. 17, 2018.

The Four States Fair and Rodeo brings a lot of joy to Texarkana residents and visitors from miles around.

But apparently not everyone is all that happy when this time of year rolls around.

For a long time we have heard local merchants complaining their revenue takes a dive when the fair comes to town. Customers are more likely to spend their cash on funnel cakes and rides rather than at local restaurants and retailers.

It’s only for a bit more than a week, but when you run a small business having a bad week can mean a lot. So we sympathize.

But the fair is not something that just drains money from our local economy and takes it away to the next stop on the carnival circuit. It means revenue for the fairgrounds, which is an asset to the community. Many local vendors and nonprofits operate concessions at the fair. The money they bring in means a lot to them as well. And, of course, visitors from outside of town bring money to spend not only at the fair, but sometimes at local businesses as well.

So there are two sides to the story.

We encourage residents to enjoy the fair. Have a good time. Eat your fill of corn dogs and whatever treats tempt you. But don’t forget our local merchants either. If you can, be sure to give them some business this week.

The fair comes once a year. Local businesses are there for you all year round. But only if you support them.

___

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sept. 19, 2018.

Arkansas has somewhere around 500 cities and towns in its 75 counties. If we ranked communities solely by population, the Arkansas prison system would be somewhere around No. 25 in the state, about the size of Siloam Springs.

Get that many people together in any group and there will be, from time to time, a death. Just a few days ago, officials with the Arkansas Department of Correction announced the death of a 35-year-old inmate. Last month, the prison system had five inmate deaths within a matter of days.

Suspected in some, if not all, of the deaths is illicit drug use. Yes, there’s a drug abuse problem within the confines of Arkansas’ prison system. K2, a synthetic form of marijuana, turns up regularly among inmates and state officials believe the drug may be a contributing factor to the slew of recent deaths.

Now, plenty of Arkansans take a lock’em-up-and-forget’em approach to state prisoners, but thankfully the state cannot take such a cold-hearted approach. The prison system has death row for those few who receive the ultimate punishment, but for most inmates, time in the pen shouldn’t lead to death.

At a recent legislative hearing on the recent deaths, state Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock called for an independent audit of the state’s prison system. Her idea is not unreasonable.

Public accountability is a tough standard. Department of Correction officials have tight control over what’s shared and what’s not shared about events within prison walls. The recent deaths along with episodes of inmate violence in the last year or two raise legitimate questions about what’s happening on the inside and what ought to be done to get or keep things under control.

The prison system is an insulated organization. Perhaps an external audit is the best way our lawmakers can rest easier that the state’s prison system is getting its job done -- not just protecting the public from those imprisoned, but protecting the inmates themselves from each other or, from time to time, from crooked prison system employees looking to take advantage of a truly captive audience.

How can lawmakers, and the public, have a sense of trust that our prison system is transparent and accountable? By and large, there’s an uneasiness as to whether the system meets those descriptions today.

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