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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

December 12, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Dec. 9, 2017.

The Riverview Hope Campus is a wonderful thing for the city. It provides services for the homeless and needy. It offers food and shelter for those who need it, as well as services like on-site medical care through Mercy Fort Smith. There’s even a place for pets to stay. There’s no questioning the need for the Hope Campus here in Fort Smith. We believe so strongly in its mission, we chose the Riverview Hope Campus as the 2017 recipient of our Community Christmas Card donations — a decision we do not take lightly.

So when city directors recently decided to pull any direct funding for the organization, we know this probably sounded cruel. The timing wasn’t great either. The community just celebrated the opening of the highly praised Hope Campus for the homeless. Organizers and supporters likely found it a bitter pill to swallow.

But as much as we support the Riverview Campus, the call to end funding was the prudent and fair decision. The city choosing which charities to fund with taxpayer dollars — without equal opportunity for application to specified funds — is not the role we expect from government.

The Hope Campus had received up to $33,000 a year from the city since 2013. Housing Authority Executive Director Mitch Minnick requested that the board double that for 2018, matching the $66,000 that the Housing Authority will contribute. Instead, the city rejected its 2018 Hope Campus funding entirely, allowing it to be pulled when directors did not make a motion to adopt it as part of the new budget.

The Hope Campus opened in September, following years of planning that included an agreement by the city to provide funding as part of its efforts to address the homeless numbers in the area. “While Hope Campus is a private, not-for-profit, it is tackling an issue of homelessness. It is a public issue,” Minnick said at budget hearing last month.

But with funding issues such a problem for the city, questioning government’s role in funding a nonprofit should be expected. Money for city departments like police and fire, as well as continued efforts to address the area’s water and sewer needs, must take precedence. Fundraisers, individual donations and grants cannot be used to pay for these key city services.

Make no mistake though, one way or another, this institution, and others like it, need public support. Since 2013, this support for Riverview was mandated through taxpayer dollars. Now this support is needed through the public’s voluntary donations and gifts.

The city does not contribute to other nonprofits, which raises questions as to why the Hope Campus was receiving funds when other groups were not. There are other nonprofits in Fort Smith that address homelessness, as well as other critical issues like foster care, health care, single-parent crises and hunger. The problems are real and are not going away. But when city leaders decided not to use taxpayer dollars to fund nonprofits — a decision that the board deliberated for some time — the value of each mission is not a consideration.

Director Keith Lau said during the meeting that he had voted in favor of no longer funding nonprofits because doing so allows the board to allocate tax money to charities of its choice; however, he supported giving money to the Hope Campus because of its impact in providing health, safety and welfare to Fort Smith residents. However, other directors pointed out that this rationale could be used for many nonprofits. We tend to agree. One nonprofit and its mission cannot outweigh another when it comes to what receives funding and what doesn’t.

Losing city dollars does not mean the Hope Campus is losing all its funding. It will still receive $600,000 in federal community development block grants through the city, as well as any funding that comes through donations, including the ongoing Times Record’s Community Christmas Card.

Hope Campus Executive Director Chris Joannides has said that although the decision was disappointing, the nonprofit will persevere, and he had not expected that the funding would continue forever.

Nonprofits have to seek out funding through many different means, whether it’s by holding fundraisers or applying for grants. The Hope Campus is no different. In an ideal world, nonprofits everywhere — not just in Fort Smith — would be able to receive all the funding needed to keep their services going. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that that isn’t possible.

The funding change should not be perceived as a negative message from the city. Instead, it should be seen as a vote to be fair to all nonprofits in Fort Smith. It should be seen as an attempt to prioritize and fund with limited resources the critical government services that it is obligated to provide to residents.

The Hope Campus will continue, through its own efforts and through the efforts of people who want to see it succeed, much like any other nonprofit. It truly does take a village to keep places like the Hope Campus going, and we hope area residents recognize this and step up to the challenge.

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Texarkana Gazette. Dec. 12, 2017.

Here in the Twin Cities we have a large number of service workers in the hospitality industry.

Many wait tables or tend bar. They generally are paid under current minimum wage and make their main income through tips from customers.

If they do a good job, they make more money. That’s the way it’s been for years.

But that could change.

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a change in the rules regarding tips. The new regulations would allow employers to take the tips of anyone making at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and distribute those tips as they see fit. For example, they might decide to allocate tips equally to all wait staff or perhaps include employees in the tip pool who do not usually interact with customers, such as kitchen help or custodial workers.

And one part of the new regulations looks like it authorizes business owners to keep the tips entirely for their own use, including, but not limited to, using the money to “make capital improvements to their establishments (e.g., enlarging the dining area to accommodate more customers), lower restaurant menu prices, provide new benefits to workers (e.g., paid time off), increase work hours, or hire additional workers.”

The Labor Department says the rule change will benefit all employees, even if some lose money in the short term, by making pay more equitable.

But critics say the whole thing amounts to nothing more than legal theft by business owners. They are especially worried that some restaurant or bar owners, especially large chains, may raise all the workers to minimum wage and simply pocket the tips servers work hard to earn.

Maybe that’s a bit harsh. But basically we tend to side with the workers here.

In our view, this forced redistribution — or worse, confiscation — of earnings is blatantly unfair. It’s yet another idea that sounds good in theory — more equitable compensation for all employees_but does not pan out in the real world. Wait staff, bartenders and others who earn tips deserve to see the fruits of their labor. And in many, if not most, establishments they already share tips to some degree with other workers.

The public is already paying their employers through the charge on the bill. We believe customers who add a tip want to reward good service directly, not allow owners to decide where the money goes.

Also, for years the hospitality industry has insisted they could not pay even minimum wage and still make a profit. The National Restaurant Association backs this rule change. Apparently minimum wage is a small price to pay in exchange for controlling the tips.

Right now the Labor Department is accepting comments from the public. The details are at https://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/tipcreditnprm.htm and the closing date for comments in Jan. 4.

The proposed rule change is a bad idea. We hope the Labor Department reconsiders.

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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Dec. 12, 2017.

Wars never really end when the generals and politicians “shake on it.” Remember the first world catastrophe? It was supposed to end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. But along the eastern front, battles waged for weeks as different outfits fought for territory in the coming post-war years. The blasts over Japan didn’t completely end the second version of last century’s world wars. Japanese soldiers held out for years on several islands the Americans didn’t find important enough to capture.

Boat people after Vietnam. Bushwackers and guerrilla confederates after the American Civil War. In all the history of wars, have any just ended when the press release came out?

Iraq’s prime minister gave the world some good news over the weekend. The war against the Islamic State is at an official end, if only officially. ISIS no longer controls territory in Iraq. Last month, it was officially driven from its last building in Syria. After three long years of war, the cleanup has begun.

Not that there won’t be more weapons fired in anger. There certainly will be. A few hours before Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi made his announcement, a car bomb blew apart a block in Tikrit. The rats will keep probing, looking for an opening. (As if to make the point, as this was being written, somebody set off a pipe bomb in New York City, injuring several. The papers say a suspect is in custody.)

“The flag of Iraq is flying high today over all Iraqi territory and at the farthest point on the border,” the prime minister said. It’s OK to celebrate at this time. A war is over. What is more deserving of celebration?

But the rebuilding is going to take years.

ISIS was a particularly destructive disease. It not only stoned women and beheaded men, it took down buildings. They really were trying to go back centuries. About 3 million people remain homeless in places that ISIS held. One estimate said it’ll cost $150 billion to replace what was lost. And Iraq’s struggling government faces not only security threats (it’s a rough neighborhood) and an economic crisis (after years of war), but a rebuilding that’ll look a lot like western Europe in the late 1940s.

Also, generals among the Iraqi forces are prepping for a long-term battle with what remains of ISIS. The bitter-enders are expected to remain as an underground terrorist threat for years.

Officially, ISIS is beat. But it’s the unofficial and unlawful combatants, aka terrorists, that the Iraqi government will have to find now.

Welcome to the unhappy club, Baghdad. And keep up the good fight.

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