Arkansas Commerce Secretary Mike Preston recently emphasized in a news story that six commercial entities with ties to elected officials did not use those connections to receive a total of $300,000 in Arkansas Ready for Business grants through the state's Legislative Council.
I breathed a sigh of relief hearing political favoritism wouldn't happen here in the Natural State. In states with lesser integrity--sketchy locales where good ol' boys regularly trade power and favors--I suspect it would have been a different story.
But not here. Thankfully, we apparently have nothing but trustworthy legislators with levels of integrity that prompt them always to act in the best interests of the public rather than scheming selfish ways to enhance their wallets and interests. Makes me downright proud.
Meanwhile, here's a list of the fortunate business recipients of the Legislative Council's choices and the politicians connected to them, as listed the other day by reporter Michael Wickline: $100,000 to Pathfinder Inc., for which Rep. Cameron Cooper, R-Romance, is a residential manager; $64,500 to Our House Inc., GOP Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin is a board member; $59,000 to Delta Manufacturing Inc., Rep. Les Eaves, R-Searcy, is vice president and son of owner Dale Eaves; $49,000 to Subway of Arkansas Inc., Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, is a 16 percent owner; $33,500 to the Boys & Girls Club of Saline County, Rep. Chris Richey, D-Helena, is chief executive officer; and $30,000 to Rainbow of Challenges where Rep. Danny Watson, R-Hope, is husband of owner Judy Watson.
Preston's letter also explained that an executive order requires the Legislative Council to approve grant awards when recipients are affiliated with constitutional officers.
I might add that this is the very same Legislative Council that, to the delight and undying appreciation of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, also refused to approve a permanent moratorium on hog concentrated animal feeding operations in our Buffalo National River watershed.
Jim Parsons, the long-retired special forces officer and perennial pain in the posterior to the Bella Vista Property Owners Association, held a one-person protest the other day without looting, assaults or fire involved.
Instead, the man I call the "BV Bulldog" settled into a lawn chair, with his hand-scrawled sign reading "Justice," along a Bella Vista thoroughfare and waved as passers-by honked approval. It didn't matter that no one joined him. Jim's accustomed to fighting battles based on matters he believes are unjust.
This latest display on behalf of those who often watch actual justice applied to those with money and influence reminded me of my own one-person protest years ago in front of Fayetteville's Northwest Arkansas Times.
Then editor of the paper, I'd just watched a dozen folks carrying signs to protest a factual yet controversial story as they paraded along the sidewalk leading to the front door.
After they departed, I decided to craft my own sign that read "I Love This Paper." Then I spent an hour or so doing my own repetitive stroll over the same ground. Nothing ever came of either demonstration. But I felt better.
And the bemused staff, watching from the newsroom's lone second-story window, witnessed how brazen their editor could be when it came to defending the paper. Well, OK, all I got was hot, sweaty and a few double-takes from passing motorists.
A news story the other day told of a Tacoma foundry that shelled out nearly $11 million in a settlement over using substandard steel in U.S. Navy submarines and falsifying its metallurgy test results. That triggered memories of a foray I made into southern Arkansas several decades ago.
At the time, I was heading investigative projects for WEHCO Media newspapers, which published six daily Arkansas papers, including what was then the Arkansas Democrat. I had reason one summer to visit an asphalt plant to discuss its contracts with the state for roadbuilding projects.
While departing the plant, I stopped by the unoccupied guard shack adjacent to a drive-on scale where trucks loaded with asphalt for delivery to job sites would momentarily stop to have their contents officially weighed. The weight of the departing asphalt would be stamped onto an invoice to be submitted to the state for payment.
I snapped a photograph of the shack's interior and later showed it to a scale master who'd had spent a career in that field. He took one look, pointed to a barely noticeable metal block beside the scale's read-out and said, "Well, lookee at that shim laying there."
I asked what that meant. He explained that a shim is used to make it appear as if the contents being weighed are heavier than they actually are, making the figure stamped on the invoice register more asphalt than is actually being delivered and paid for.
I learned all about the art of scale shimming that day, wondering how long our state had been paying for tons of asphalt that were never delivered. Surely that kind of fraud couldn't still be happening in 2020.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at email@example.com.