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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

August 27, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Aug. 26, 2019

Just in time for the last gasp of summer, the Arkansas River has recovered its pre-flood form.

The sight of a barge chugging along a few weeks ago brought cheers from residents along River Road in North Little Rock. Now, early morning brings the serene sight of fishing boats drifting quietly along glassy backwaters and near the river’s banks as occupants cast lines in the ever-clearing water, no longer the hideous shade of muddy red-brown that surged eastward all through the early months of summer. For a while, it even looked worse than the murky Red River flowing through Shreveport.

Persistent rains and saturated earth in Oklahoma set the stage for the deluge, which pushed its way downstream for lack of anywhere else to go.

It’s so easy to forget what it looked and felt like, just as it’s hard to judge a river’s height when all the guideposts have disappeared beneath the increased depth. For reference, there’s a tall blue pole on the west side of Rockwater Marina on Rockwater Boulevard in North Little Rock. Toward the top, there’s a red ring painted nearly 30 feet up in the air. That ring was painted by Rockwater developer Jim Jackson when it seemed like the entire pole was about to become submerged. That’s how high the water rose.

The marina was designed to float in such a situation; it had only a few feet left on its pilings when the rains finally stopped.

On July 30, the Army Corps of Engineers lifted a small-craft advisory for the river that extended from the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line to Sanders Lock and Dam in Pine Bluff. Those who spend time around the river are thrilled to see the return of motorboats, sailboats, kayaks, water skiers, paddleboard yoga practitioners, and other sorts of water adventurers that were forced out in the months when the river was far higher than it is now.

Birds are back, as are raccoons, beavers, armadillos, and other wildlife that made themselves scarce in the last few months. According to the state Game and Fish Commission, there is no need to be concerned for the fish and their habitat in the river following the floods. And they are perfectly safe to eat.

Although the high waters, along with frighteningly fast currents and loads of free-floating debris, have receded, boaters and recreational river users should keep in mind that the landscape has changed. According to KTHV, boaters are advised to use caution due to sand and sediment that has built up in new locations.

Debris isn’t nearly the problem it was, but some is still moving near the water’s surface, and rock structures along the bank of the river are beginning to resurface--some being shallow enough and hidden enough to cause damage before being noticed. Even though the landscape may look familiar, be aware that danger may still lurk beneath the surface.

A little further inland, much of the Arkansas River Trail has reopened for bicyclists, walkers, and runners to enjoy. An area just east of Big Dam Bridge on the north side of the river is still undergoing cleanup of the massive tangle of trees that toppled during the flood as well as mini-mountains of silt and sand on the paved route that can unseat the balance of those on road bikes with skinny tires.

Summer, truncated though it’s been for river rats, has returned.

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Texarkana Gazette. Aug. 27, 2019.

Advances in technology bring a lot of advantages to our society. But they also carry the risk of misuse.

Take cameras in cellphones, for example. For many, they are a convenient way to record memories of fun times with friends and share those good times with others.

But there is another side of the selfie craze, though. It has become quite common for some people — mostly men, it must be said — to take photos of certain private body parts and send those shots to unsuspecting recipients.

Intimate photos between consenting adults is one thing. But sending such photographs without permission is quite another. And in Texas it will soon be a crime.

Gov. Gregg Abbott signed legislation that goes into effect Sept. 1 making it illegal to send sexually explicit photos — defined as showing sexual conduct or exposed private parts — electronically to someone who has not provided consent. That includes text, email, social media or dating apps. Doing so will be a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine.

Supporters note indecent exposure in person is a crime, so why not online as well?

Sounds fine to us. No one should be harassed in such a way online or off.

Enforcement against senders located out of state is one big question. And, these days, no doubt the law will be challenged in court. But in our view it’s a step in the right direction.

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Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Aug. 27, 2019.

The Arkansas Racing Commission might be tempted to put blinders on and race intently toward the finish line in awarding the final casino license under Amendment 100 to the state Constitution.

Maybe because so much has happened since voters authorized four casinos in Arkansas, it’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since the election. Garland and Crittenden counties, already home to horse and dog tracks, respectively, easily made the transition into full-on casino gambling.

Jefferson County has also seen its journey into casino gambling go smoothly, with only the Quapaw nation of Oklahoma as a serious contender. Local officials there say they’ve avoided controversy by building a relationship with the Quapaw, by being transparent in dealing with them and by focusing on a strong desire to lock in the long-term economic benefits they expected a casino to bring.

And then there’s Pope County.

According to the constitutional amendment’s authors, Pope County was the right location for the state’s fourth casino, but someone forgot to tell the residents there. A majority within Pope County opposed the amendment itself, although they lost that battle to the statewide vote. A majority also backed a local ordinance to prevent county leaders from backing a casino without taking a new vote to gauge the public’s viewpoint.

In that volatile setting, several gambling ventures went to work, pursuing the state’s final casino license with a level of energy usually reserved for the craps table. Millions and millions of dollars are on the line.

For a while, it seemed Pope County might just take a pass, as public officials tried to figure out how move forward with a community so divided. The process has, to say the least, been a thrilling contest. If it were a horse race, Cherokee Nation Businesses appears to the company firmly in the lead as the contestants stride toward the finish.

But legal and ethical questions abound in Pope County.

In law enforcement and legal circles — and on TV shows about crime — they call it the fruit of the poisonous tree. It’s a doctrine arising from court interpretation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. In short, it means evidence in a trial cannot be entered if it was discovered through activities deemed illegal.

Last week, the Arkansas Racing Commission opened a new, 90-day window to accept fresh applications from companies that want to build and operate a casino in Pope County.

Opening of that time period is a direct result of the Pope County Quorum Court’s surprise decision Aug. 13 to issue a resolution of support to Cherokee Nation Businesses. That makes the tribe’s gaming arm the only entity to get the local backing needed according to the rules of the racing commission and Amendment 100.

But serious questions — and lawsuits — linger about the unusual course the Pope County decision took through the Quorum Court — allegations of secret meetings and a vote that required very little in the way of public discussion. We could go into details, but a lot of ink has been and continues to be spilled explaining all the ins and outs.

We’ll just say there’s a cloud looming over Pope County these days, and it’s not the one coming from Arkansas Nuclear One.

So, even though the state has every right to consider an application that has the required backing of the Quorum Court, is that really all the commission should concern itself with? Should the commission look at how that backing came about? Should it wait for completion of litigation over the legality of meetings or whether that local ordinance can impact a constitutional amendment?

Should the commission grant a casino license on the basis of the fruit of a potentially poisonous tree?

The Racing Commission continues to take applications, but the reality seems to be that only the Cherokee Nation will get the required backing from county leaders.

Rather than just looking to finish things up, the Racing Commission needs to let the smoke clear before it awards a license to anyone. Without a doubt the process in Pope County has raised serious questions about the public’s right to be involved in the process.

The actions of some members of Pope County’s leadership raise concerns about what else the public doesn’t know about how decisions were made.

Yes, if this were a horse race, it would be thrilling to watch. It would also be one of those races in which the word “inquiry” pops up on the video board out in the middle of the race track as soon as the horses crossed the finish. That’s what happens when there needs to be a close review of what just happened.

Track officials in such instances don’t wear blinders.

And neither should the Arkansas Racing Commission.

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