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Lands chief race seeing squabbles

Davenport: Rival ‘spouting off’; foe behind the times, Bryant says by Michael R. Wickline | May 26, 2010 at 4:49 a.m.

— One candidate for state land commissioner, Monty Davenport, says the other has been “spouting off” with a “half-cooked plan” as “an inexperienced candidate looking to create hay in this campaign” and would significantly increase state costs.

The other candidate, L.J. Bryant, says Davenport must have had somebody look up the cost information because he “declares that he’ll always be ‘on the trailing edge of technology,’” “probably wouldn’t know where to begin” to find it on his own and has it wrong.

Those jabs were part of this week’s doings in their battle for the Democratic nomination in the June 8 runoff after Bryant, 23, led Davenport, 62, in the May 18 primary.

The squabbling centered on Bryant’s desire for the state to finance the development of an aerial image of property statewide to be used to help market tax-delinquent land, which is a big part of what the land commissioner does. Bryant has given a rough estimate of $1.3 million as the cost of building the aerial image.

Davenport, a state representative from Yellville, said that estimate “barely scratches the surface of funding an adequate aerial-imaging program.”

Bryant, a Newport resident who owns a tax service in Jonesboro, dismissed the criticism, saying he wondered whether Davenport “is just inflating numbers - like the $52,047 that he charged Arkansas taxpayers for expenses last year alone for a job that pays less than $15,000.”

He was referring to amounts Davenport, like other legislators, received for attendance on legislative business, mileage and expenses. All state lawmakers were paid $15,615 in salary in 2009, with the exception of the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore, who got $17,486 each. Mileage, expenses and per diem are paid in addition to legislative salaries.

A group of Bryant supporters has been targeting Davenport’s total on a website named greedymontydavenport.com.

Davenport said his legislative expenses reflected the fact that he attended many committee meetings to do his best in representing his district and is paid mileage for about 150 miles to Little Rock, then another 150 miles to drive home.

Bryant’s cost estimate for an aerial image of property statewide would be only part of one-time costs for the imaging, which the Arkansas Geographic Information Office has indicated would cost about $15 million over a five-year period to ensure accurate and updated mapping, Davenport said.

“This is a major misstep on my opponent’s part, a misstep made due to a lack of experience and state know-how,” Davenport said, noting he has worked 40 years in real estate and cattle ranching and served three two-year terms in the state House of Representatives.

“I know how our state budget works and how to properly fund state programs so that they receive adequate funding without overspending our tax dollars,” he said.

Bryant called the $15 million estimate “ridiculous.” That amount includes other items “peripheral” to the aerial mapping, Bryant said.

Davenport has worked in real estate a long time, yet didn’t get the endorsement of the Arkansas Realtors Association, “losing out to me, a guy who has been in real estate for less than a year!” Bryant said. “A long resume without works or achievement just doesn’t hold up to fresh ideas and a basic working knowledge of technology.”

Davenport said that he learned of the Arkansas Geographic Information Office’s $15 million plan by attending legislative committee meetings and through others.

Shelby Johnson, geographic information officer for the office, said the plan endorsed by the Arkansas Geographic Information Systems Board in March is on the office’s website at www.gis.arkansas.gov/Docs/LAW/2010_StrategicBizPlan.pdf.

The plan envisions aerial imagery for the state and going over a third of the state each year at a cost of $3.5 million over three years, he said.

But Johnson said aerial imagery doesn’t show individual tax parcels, so a tax-parcel-map database would be needed to do that. The plan calls for the state to help the counties by covering 70 percent of the cost of mapping tax parcels with the counties covering the other 30 percent, he said. The state’s cost would be $7.5 million over five years, he said.

Johnson said he’s scheduled to present the office’s plan to the Joint Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology on June 9, the day after the June 8 runoff.

Arkansas Real Estate Commission records show that Bryant has been licensed as a salesman since Jan. 22 of this year for Honey Realty & Insurance of Newport.

Bryant said he has virtually no time to work on listing and selling properties because he has been consumed by running for a statewide office. “However, I have used what I learned to get that license for several of our tax clients, teaching several of them how to save thousands through the First Time Home Buyers and Step-up programs,” he said.

The real-estate commission records show Davenport has been licensed since 1969 and is licensed as a principal broker for Baker Co.

Davenport has been sanctioned once by the real-estate commission, receiving a reprimand in 1982 which said he “failed to see that all financial obligations and commitments regarding real estate were in writing and expressed the exact agreements of the parties.”

Davenport said he thought he was doing the right thing by saving a man’s property from foreclosure.

“The real estate commission thinks I made a mistake,” Davenport said, but he said he has handled thousands of other real estate transactions.

Neither candidate said he has developed a plan to solve the land commissioner’s sales of forfeited mineral-rights deeds when state officials know many of them are legally questionable, perhaps worthless.

“I wish there was a quick fix,” said Davenport. He said he would work with county and state officials on the matter.

Bryant said he doesn’t want to hastily propose something on a matter that’s complicated and legally complex. He said he would consult Realtors and other experts in the field.

Arkansas, Pages 10 on 05/26/2010

Print Headline: Lands chief race seeing squabbles

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