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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

November 28, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Texarkana Gazette. Nov. 26, 2017.

Well, the ride-sharing service Uber came to Texarkana just in time for the news to break of a massive breach of the company’s customer database.

Most local users don’t have much to worry about. The data theft — which included personal information on some 50 million riders and seven million drivers — happened last October.

So why is this just coming out now? It looks like Uber paid the thieves off and kept quiet about the whole thing.

Say what?

According to a recent report by Bloomberg News, Uber paid the cyber hijackers $100,000 and swept it all under the rug.

According to a statement released by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, she only recently became aware of the incident and decided to make it public and has hired a cybersecurity firm to investigate and help make sure this doesn’t happen again. Uber’s top security officer was fired as well. She also offers assurances that Uber has been on top of the situation and has seen no evidence any of the information has been improperly used.

Apparently when you buy these particular data thieves, they stay bought. At least that’s something.

It’s nice Uber is taking action, if belatedly. It would have been a lot better if they had notified the public at once. Maybe those whose data was stolen in the breach were not and will not be affected in any negative way. But they had a right to know their information had been taken. It wasn’t Uber’s call to deny them that knowledge.

Data theft is growing, and it isn’t going away. And the first thing any company that finds itself a victim should do is notify consumers and employees whose personal information is compromised. There shouldn’t even be any question.

Uber’s stock does not trade publicly and there is so far no evidence any company executive sat on the data breach for personal gain — something that can’t be said about the massive data theft this year at credit reporting company Equifax.

The point here is there should be legally enforceable standards for companies in the event of such an incident. No company should have the luxury of concealing such damaging news from those who might be affected.


Southwest Times Record. Nov. 26, 2017.

When it comes to finding police officers and firefighters to protect our city, we want the best. We also want the hiring process to be fair.

That’s why we applaud Fort Smith’s efforts to standardize interview questions for applicants to the police and fire departments, as proposed this month by Civil Service Commission member Chip Sexton, as a more objective way of interviewing applicants.

Candidates for Fort Smith’s police and fire departments go through a process that includes a written exam, physical agility test, background check and review board interview. One of the last steps in the process is an interview with the Civil Service Commission, made up of five (soon to be seven) people appointed by the Fort Smith Board of Directors.

Currently, there is not a set list of questions that commissioners ask applicants, but Fort Smith’s human resources department is working to produce a standard set of questions that commissioners can use to score applicants to make the process more fair, Human Resources Director Naomi Roundtree said recently.

Certainly anyone who has ever done any hiring understands that there’s no “one size fits all” scenario when it comes to interviewing an applicant or choosing the best person for the job. But there should be a fairness to the process. One person should not be grilled on a certain topic that is not even brought up to another candidate. It just makes sense to want to get answers from everyone on a particular subject. And if those questions lead to more questions that aren’t necessarily asked of everyone, that’s an understandable part of the process. We would hope applicants would engage with commissioners during the interview in order for the commission to get a deeper understanding of who the applicant is before he or she is hired. But certain topics need to be part of that interview process. Routine questions should only be the beginning of a conversation with an applicant.

Sexton said that although there should be some subjectivity, the process should be more objective than it so that everyone has an equal chance. Sexton says certain things he looks for are integrity, character, if a candidate has a criminal background and if he or she is committed to staying in the city. Those types of questions are ones that all employers should want to know about candidates for jobs, and that’s especially true of anyone we expect to trust in a police or fire uniform.

The Civil Service Commission has sometimes split up and interviewed applicants, which means applicants weren’t necessarily being asked the same questions. How well the interview went could depend on what questions were — or weren’t — asked. By creating a standard list of questions, the commission will be able to compare answers from each candidate in a more routine way, meaning candidates who weren’t asked certain questions won’t get an advantage. Applicants can’t be penalized when he or she isn’t given the opportunity to answer a question that isn’t asked.

There is not a definite date for when that is expected to be completed, although January would be ideal, according to Fort Smith’s human resources director, and we agree. Start off the new year with a plan in place that will create a more routine way of interviewing these candidates.

We are glad to see the effort being made to streamline the interview process. Like Civil Service Commissioner Marty Shell said recently, we, too, want applicants who want to retire from the Fort Smith police and fire departments. That should be the goal of anyone looking to hire — finding someone who’s right for the job and who wants to stick around. We hope making the interview process more standardized helps the city find those people. Creating a more routine and fair system can only help.


Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Nov. 28, 2017.

The Washington County Quorum Court should start its budget process now ... for 2019.

The 15-member panel elected by Washington County voters recently completed its annual construction of a budget for the coming year. The process wasn’t pretty and it’s hardly noticeable that they accomplished anything one might refer to as budget reform. Having rejected the notion of restoring a general fund millage of 3.9 mills to its 2011 level of 4.4 mills, the justices of the peace talked a lot about how the county is on a budgetary Titanic at some point in the future, and a lot about how adopting a budget without any serious cuts in spending would amount to “kicking the can down the road.”

Without changing much, the Washington County Quorum Court adopted a budget for 2018 that doesn’t resolve the long-term issues the county faces.

It turns out they rely on their kicking ability about as much as the Los Angeles Rams (leading the NFL in the number of field goals attempted and made).

The Quorum Court Budget Committee, as we’ve noted before, held a series of sessions to foster discussions about how to plan next year’s budget. All 15 members of the Quorum Court sat on that committee, a committee of the whole, as it were.

Arkansas law requires the Quorum Court to adopt a budget at the end of each year for the year that follows.

It’s hard to tell that much of anything was accomplished in those budget sessions. When the Quorum Court met Nov. 16 to officially adopt the 2018 budget, any appearance of unity went flying out the window. Budget Chairman Eva Madison resigned, taking blame for failing to lead the group to completion of its mission. Four days later, the Quorum Court adopted a 2018 budget that, beyond finding an $800,000 clerical error, doesn’t do enough to get the county back on the right track. All the talk of smaller-government budgeting was just talk.

People have to want to be led, and a majority of this Quorum Court had decided (1) there was no way they would support a millage increase and (2) they weren’t ready to make the kinds of cuts necessary to bring the county’s spending into alignment with its revenue.

Sooner or later, a failure to do that will turn into a financial calamity. And several of the justices of the peace making these decisions probably won’t be around to deal with the mess.

It’s even easier to understand today why Justice of the Peace Rick Cochran resigned at the start of this year: He got tired of beating his head against the budgetary wall and recognized the Quorum Court had no intention of moving, or perhaps capacity to move, that wall. At the time, he said his primary reason for leaving included a lack of justices of the peace “recognizing the need to reinforce our dwindling reserves for the general fund.”

Based on this year’s budget-making for 2018, that dwindling will continue.

Washington County appears to be stuck between a fear of raising the revenue necessary to fund operations (and that will get worse after the 2020 U.S. Census, most likely) and an incapacity to find cost-savings necessary to maintain a balance between spending and revenue. We hear plenty of talk about how there are savings to be found somewhere, but the court appears unwilling or able to make it happen.

It’s perfectly fine that Washington County justices of the peace don’t want to raise the millage rate. But it takes more than tax reduction to balance the books. It requires spending reductions or such robust economic growth that it covers the gap. The county cannot count on the latter. The hard work is in crafting a budget that meets the revenue the Quorum Court is willing to collect. These 15 elected officials haven’t done that hard work yet.

This year’s Budget Committee held its organizing meeting in February and still ended up with a last-second mess. So why not get started on 2019 now? That job wasn’t made any easier by the actions of this year’s Quorum Court.

A betting person would probably lose if he anticipated next year will be any different.

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