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A conversation with Sen. John Boozman about Fort Chaffee plus more


KK: We're going to begin this show as we do most Fridays, with Michael Tilley, who is with Talk Business and Politics. It's been a busy news week. We're gonna see how much we can get covered with Michael. First, Michael, how are you doing?

MT: I'm doing well, just, you know, sitting back, waiting for the hogs to beat Alabama.

KK: Okay, all right. By 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon, we'll know whether the wait was worth it.

Let's talk about a conversation you had with Arkansas Senator John Boozman. On Thursday, he was in Fort Smith. What did the two of you discuss?

MT: He spoke at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce annual banquet and talked about several things. One of them was the foreign military pilot training center that's coming to Fort Smith. It's a concern of a lot of people with Congress. Because Congress is functioning so well, as we all know, that there's potential for another [shutdown]. We're going to hit 35 or 33 days. I need to remember the exact days, but we are going to run up against another potential government shutdown. And, you know, the concern is, this pilot training center has to be stood up pretty fast because of Singapore and the Germans. They're on a timeline. This time next year, or maybe a little later, they may start flying in. Well, if there's not money allocated, they've got money now to design and plan and that kind of thing. But if there's no money allocated to keep the pipeline to keep the timeline going, what happens? So we had that conversation. Senator Boozman is optimistic as he always is that the funding, you know that there won't be a kink in the funding pipeline, so to speak, and that it'll, then it'll go as planned. But he did say, you know, if it doesn't, there are other places these pilots can train until Fort Smith is ready, but he was very confident that no matter what, this center would be built in Fort Smith, and it would be housed in Fort Smith. No matter if there's a one-year funding glitch. So that's the basic conversation and basic part of the story he did talk about during his speech. He did talk about what he called horrendous acts in the Middle East and around Israel. And I asked him about the possibility of us being drawn into a wider conflict. And so he had some comments on that. But I guess the key point is that he is a little bit concerned about the foreign pilot training center money, but he's not concerned that it would cause the center to go somewhere else.

KK: All right, as I mentioned, you had your conversation with him on Thursday. You can look at Talk Business and Politics and find Michael's story. Also kind of breaking late in the week was this announcement about a significant trail that is going to be built in Fort Smith.

MT: Right. It was a joint announcement by the Arkansas College of Health Education, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, and Arvest, which has its sprawling, nice new corporate campus in Chaffee Crossing. They're partnering on the trail network that will connect with the trail network that exists on parts of Chaffee crossing and in Ben Geren Regional Park, which is in Sebastian County Park. It will eventually create this network of 40 miles of trails in and around the college area in Chaffee Crossing, Ben Geren, you know, for bike riding, for hiking, walking, that kind of thing. So, it's certainly not a Razorback Greenway trail, but it's 40 Miles that's a great piece of infrastructure. There has been talk, we'll if it ever happens, but there's been talk of connecting all of that into some of the trails and other trails that are around the area in Fort Smith, which create a true kind of a metro network like the Greenway. The Razorback Greenway is in Northwest Arkansas. Kudos to those parties for bringing it back together.

KK: Wouldn't it be wonderful if, one day, that Razorback Greenway connected to the Ford Smith system?

MT: That would be amazing. I don't know how they would do it. There are very smart, much smarter people than me, out there who know how to make that, but that would be cool.

KK: We're gonna have a city park in Fort Smith eventually where there is land that had been owned by Acme Brick Company that the city of Fort Smith has purchased. What do you think this will look like in the future?

MT: Well, I'm gonna preface this by saying as a journalist, it really goes against my grain, my character, to be optimistic and to say something flattering about the city of Fort Smith. So here I go, you know, the city has bought, they tried to get it done and bought roughly about 113 acres that were an Acme Brick property that was part of their quarry where they made the bricks stored them, that kind of thing. The company is no longer using that land. So, the city bought it for $2.88 million. And it has the potential, and we'll see if they do it right. They talked about getting public input, and that type of thing, but not all of the acreage will be a park. There are some stormwater mitigation and drainage things they want to do with the property. Still, hopefully, we'll have a trail system, we'll have a unique, really rugged bicycle trail and other amenities, and it's kind of, I wouldn't say, smack dab in the middle of the city. Still, it's it's pretty close to the middle, and it would be, and you're right at some point, maybe somebody figures out how to connect some of the other parks around the city, you know? Creekmore down to that part down towards Ben Geren and connects the city, but there's no real timeline on this yet. But everything we're hearing from the city of Fort Smith and from the Parks Recreation Commission and parks department is very promising. We're obviously going to keep tabs on it. But it'll have to be more money spent, obviously, but it holds a lot of, as I said, I hate to be optimistic and uncomplimentary, but this may be a really cool thing that they pull off.

KK: And speaking of keeping tabs, let's revisit a story that you and I first discussed a few months ago: a complaint had been filed about some merit pay received by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority. There's been a decision made about that. What can you tell us about it?

MT: Well, we were kind of challenged by some folks to say, look, you need to look at the pay comparison of Daniel Man, who's CEO for temporary 40 with other public officials. So we did. We looked at nine public officials in the area, and it turns out, wow, it was startling, frankly, Mr. Man, his employee, and we looked at it on a pay-per-employee basis and their pay as a percentage of the budget of that organization. Mr. Man, the pay per employee, he gets $53,992 per salary per employee at the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority. The next closest was Michael Griffin. He's the director of the Fort Smith Regional Airport. His pay per employee was $7,647. It's huge, and then it drops down to under $1,000 per employee for the rest of the public officials. For example, Fort Smith Public School superintendent Terry Morawski's pay is just under $33 per employee. So, it just raises a lot of questions. One is one person: Why is their salary so high, just so significantly high? Because I fully expect that it's all they pay with all being within, you know, a few $100 of each other. But that just wasn't the case. We gave Mr. Man and the chairman of the Chafee authority, Dean Gibson, a chance to comment, and they sent their comments. It's in the story. They essentially justify it, saying that Mr. Man has a lot to do with very few people, and he's trying to wrap up the trust and that kind of thing. But I think Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz and Fort Smith Police Chief Danny Baker could probably also say the same thing: they're working hard for the money they make. But anyway, I encourage anyone to go look at it. It's startling or alarming. Whatever word you want to use. But I don't think there's anything the public can do about it. The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority's board of trustees approved it. They know his pay is like this, and they say it's justified.

KK: All right, you can read about that, parks, about trails, about Senator Boozman, and all of that on Talk Business and Politics.

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Kyle Kellams is KUAF's news director and host of Ozarks at Large.
Michael Tilley is the executive editor of Talk Business & Politics.
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