Smoke, then fire

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - Mike Master­son Mike Master­son is a long­time Arkansas jour­nal­ist. Email him at mmas­ter­son@arkansason­line.com.

Did you no­tice those flick­er­ings from a smol­der­ing city hall in Cave Springs? When Ben­ton County Pros­e­cu­tor Nathan Smith for­mally re­quests an Arkansas State Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the town’s ap­par­ent fi­nan­cial mis­deal­ings, all the smoke from there for months ap­par­ently is be­com­ing a blaze.

Smith has asked State Po­lice Direc­tor Col. Bill Bryant to in­ves­ti­gate the re­sults of a leg­isla­tive au­dit that dis­cov­ered unau­tho­rized over­pay­ments to city of­fi­cials, the al­leged mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of city funds and “other fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties.” Re­porter Tracy Neal wrote that the pros­e­cu­tor told Bryant that read­ing the au­dit con­vinced him to seek po­lice as­sis­tance in de­ter­min­ing how deep and wide these prob­lems run.

Mayor Travis Lee had no im­me­di­ate com­ment, nor did Cave Springs’ Recorder-Trea­surer Kim­berly Hutch­e­son. Can’t say I blame them.

City At­tor­ney Justin Eich­mann did say he and town of­fi­cials are try­ing to fix the as­sorted prob­lems. “It’s a bad au­dit,” he con­ceded with­out elab­o­rat­ing on the well-pub­li­cized in­fight­ing in the town’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Neal quoted a jus­ti­fi­ably irate Al­der­man Larry Fletcher: “A lot of good Cave Springs peo­ple have been dis­re­spected as a re­sult of the ac­tions of the elected of­fi­cials who were found to be at fault in the au­dit. They had to put their full faith and trust in those peo­ple to con­duct the busi­ness of Cave Springs and ap­par­ently it wasn’t done. It was neg­li­gence, and per­son­ally, it is very em­bar­rass­ing to see a doc­u­ment like this come out about our city.”

Heads up, Al­der­man; the pos­si­bil­ity ex­ists things could be­come even more em­bar­rass­ing with state po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors in­volved.

An­other hot car

Speak­ing of con­se­quences, over in nearby Gen­try, Thao Xiong is in trou­ble af­ter po­lice say he left his 4-yearold son in a heated ve­hi­cle for about 40 min­utes.

It has be­come one fa­mil­iar story af­ter an­other of par­ents and/or care­givers de­cid­ing to take small chil­dren with them in the sum­mer heat then ei­ther for­get­ting or ig­nor­ing them in the back seats for pe­ri­ods of­ten long enough to claim their lives.

I’ve prob­a­bly writ­ten a dozen col­umns on how in­cred­i­bly fool­ish it is to ever take a child along in rear seats on hot days. I ac­cept no one lis­tens to my lec­tur­ing on the sub­ject, but you’d think at some point af­ter hear­ing and read­ing about deaths in su­per­heated cars, the vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple would un­der­stand not to do it. OK, my rant here is done.

In this in­stance, po­lice say the 33-year-old fa­ther left his son in the (thank­fully) un­locked car as he went to work at McKee Foods on July 24. Tem­per­a­tures were in the 90s with the heat in­dex near 100 de­grees. The child was dis­cov­ered about 40 min­utes later and taken in­side the McKee build­ing where he could be as­sessed by a nurse.

The news ac­count said it took au­thor­i­ties about 35 min­utes to ar­rive at the scene where Xiong wasn’t im­me­di­ately ar­rested. But af­ter look­ing fur­ther into cir­cum­stances, he later was charged with felony child en­dan­ger­ment.

These eas­ily avoid­able events will con­tinue across the na­tion un­til a ef­fec­tive rem­edy is im­ple­mented.

Team deep-sixed

Still in Ben­ton County, I had to shake my head at re­cent de­vel­op­ments on its dive team af­ter two mem­bers were charged with us­ing pub­lic equip­ment to earn per­sonal prof­its. The for­mal name for this kind of al­leged hot wa­ter is “theft of ser­vices.” Seems two dive team mem­bers, Chris Perry and James Downum, are ac­cused of us­ing the county’s pon­toon boat and equip­ment to help raise a per­son’s sunken boat for a price. The op­er­a­tive word here is “county’s.”

As a re­sult, the en­tire dive team has been sus­pended in­def­i­nitely as it’s re­or­ga­nized. One can say it’s been of­fi­cially deep-sixed.

The dive team, bud­geted at $57,500 for 2017, has op­er­ated by or­di­nance un­der an in­de­pen­dent board since 2009. Board mem­bers have been ap­pointed by the county judge.

But all that’s chang­ing as a re­sult of this al­leged es­capade. Plans are now un­der­way to move the team un­der di­rec­tion and au­thor­ity of the Ben­ton County sher­iff (where com­mon sense tells me it should have been from the time it was formed). Ah, those con­se­quences to our ac­tions.

Wise to set­tle

Trans­parency-lovin’ le­gal ea­gle Joey McCutchen of Fort Smith says client Bruce Wade has of­fered to set­tle his re­cent law­suit with that city over Wade’s Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act law­suit for an apol­ogy and a prom­ise.

The pro­posal is only ask­ing the city fa­thers to agree that they vi­o­lated the law when its lead­ers con­ducted ob­vi­ous pub­lic busi­ness via email with­out no­ti­fy­ing the pub­lic it serves. And it asks that such in­for­mal elec­tronic meet­ings will not re­cur.

Last I heard the city was mulling over its re­sponse. “If the pro­posal is ac­cepted, it will save the tax­pay­ers thou­sands of dol­lars while en­sur­ing trans­parency in gov­ern­ment as in­tended by the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act,” said McCutchen, who was press­ing the city for a re­sponse to save tax­pay­ers from “hav­ing to pay ad­di­tional at­tor­ney fees.”

What’s to mull, ex­cept some lost face by those al­legedly in­volved?

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