Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
The Jonesboro Sun. Aug. 11, 2019.
Even though Sun reporter Keith Inman has to sit through a lot more governmental meetings, Jonesboro City Council members put the city on the correct path by forming two committees of local residents to make recommendations about two significant issues.
The first was the Unity Coalition Advisory Committee charged with recommending the naming of a street after slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — a contentious issue in Jonesboro and one that has been tackled for decades in cities large and small across the United States.
The second was the Oversight Integrity Council whose mission will be to recommend quality-of-life projects undertaken by the city.
Tied to the upcoming special election to increase the sales tax by 1% to fund public safety and quality-of-life projects, the Oversight Integrity Council will make recommendations to the city council on funding of the latter.
The 1-cent sales tax hike would be split 50-50 between public safety and quality-of-life projects, taking in an estimated $216 million over the 12-year life span of the proposed tax hike. That's a lot of money. Voters will decide the issue Sept. 10.
Some have accused city council members of shirking their duties by having others make decisions for them. Why, they contend, can't our elected officials make the tough calls without asking others to decide for them?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Council members were wise to form both committees for a number of beneficial reasons.
First and foremost, it allows input from stakeholders to provide differing viewpoints about what's best for the city. Residents with differing viewpoints can usually come up with compromise alternatives to find the best fit.
The Unity Coalition Advisory Committee has done just that by coming up with alternatives to renaming Johnson Avenue. Committee members are now considering recommending renaming portions or all of Aggie Road as well as naming a walking and biking trail between Arkansas State University and the downtown to honor King. However, all options, including renaming Johnson Avenue, are still on the table.
Citizen committees also provide forums for more input from the public as well as a higher level of transparency for why certain recommendations are reached and others moved down the list. Because of all the reporting on both committees by The Sun, the public has been given more opportunities to express their views — both at committee meetings and through the newspaper's editorial pages.
Local governments are often accused of making decisions behind closed doors, that council members simply rubber stamp proposals that have already been decided.
When citizen committees meet in public session to hash out their top recommendations, there are no surprises when those recommendations are made to council members.
That doesn't mean council members have to accept those recommendations, which can be surprising, but at least they sought input from stakeholders.
In the end, council members will be held accountable at the ballot box for the final decisions they make. Not everyone will agree.
Another reason it makes good sense to appoint citizen committees to make recommendations about controversial matters is because it gives the community as a whole more of a stake in formulating a vision for the city's future.
That's important when taxpayers are footing the bill.
When decisions are made with more input from the community, the more likely they will be in the residents' best interest and gain their support — even if some folks disagree.
And that's why we have elections.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Aug. 13, 2019.
America is in a heightened state of alarm after two mass shootings this month. When people are nervous about mass shooters, there are some things you just don't do. Chief among them is to take a rifle, ammunition, and a bulletproof vest into a Walmart.
Yet that's exactly what a Missouri man is accused of doing, sparking a panic, according to NBC News: "An armed man who walked into a Walmart store in Missouri dressed in body armor and fatigues and was detained at gunpoint by an off-duty firefighter is 'lucky he's alive still' considering the situation he created, a police official said."
Thankfully, a level-headed (and armed) off-duty firefighter happened to be at the store and held this idiot until police arrived.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. This is not the time to walk into Walmart with a gun, as a sign of protest or any other purpose. NBC reported that the suspect wrote on Facebook about his being upset with Walmart's policies to stop selling certain guns to people under 21, but that's no justification for this.
Thankfully, no blood was spilled, but this whole thing could have been avoided with a little not-so-common sense.
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Aug. 13, 2019.
When the Sunday newspaper arrives and one of the big stories on the cover of the Northwest Arkansas section is about the demise of turtle races in several towns, it is by definition a slow news day.
We don't mean that in the pejorative sense. From time to time critics of newspaper coverage will offer sarcasm-laced commentary whey they see a story they don't care for, suggesting it "must have been a slow news day" for the newspaper to assign a reporter on the subject matter at hand.
But this story from Harrison and nearby communities was fascinating. The very idea of turtle races, indeed, inspires a touch of cognitive dissonance, the same reaction if someone were to sponsor a 5k run for snails or a "Jeopardy" episode for kindergartners. Inviting someone to a race immediately conjures images of people or vehicles zooming past at their top speeds.
Turtle races, even at their top speeds, might allow spectators a trip to the post office, grocery store and state revenue office between the starting pistol and the winning turtle's victory at the finish line.
So, yeah, we get the irony, even more so with turtles than with other Arkansas towns' offerings of turkey drops or mule jumps.
Reporter Bill Bowden outlined how turtle races had, over the last century, been popular at some as a kids activity at county fairs and other community events in the nation's heartland. The turtles are usually placed within a marked circle on the ground, and the first turtle that crawls out of the circle is the winner.
All in good fun, right?
We can just imagine how it all got started. Some community promoter tries to gin up ideas for some excitement at the town gathering, but doesn't have much in the way of money. Let's have a race, he says. But people don't necessarily have the wherewithal to spend lots of money on a horse or one of those Model A's. What about something everyone can find? Hey, there are turtles everywhere, right? Wouldn't it be a kick to race turtles? What's the harm?
Well, the longer we live the more we know that some of the innocent and now nostalgic activities that once were really have their downsides.
Terri and Alan Gregory, though, recognized the turtle races for the harm they were causing. A few years back, they visited an Independence Day celebration in Harrison and didn't care for the treatment the turtles got, all in the name of down-home fun. They were sickened by what they saw.
Turtles placed on hot pavement. Kids dropping the critters on hard surfaces. Turtles abandoned in the downtown area without regard for the impact it would have on their lives. Some people painted the turtles' shells, changing the natural coloring that helps them hide from predators.
The races encouraged people to find their entrants, which in turn leads to them being withdrawn from their natural environments. For the brief entertainment of kids and adults, the turtles' natural rhythms and surroundings were disrupted.
So they started rescuing these slow-moving creatures. They operate Boone County Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation.
Then, this year, the Gregorys and others began writing letters to convince Arvest Bank to stop sponsoring the races in Harrison. The bank decided to do just that. This year, the races did not happen.
It's completely natural, so to speak, for those who have watched or participated in the turtle racing to feel a little disappointment at the loss of a tradition. Sometimes it seems these modern sensibilities just get a little crazy, doesn't it?
Arkansas, though, is the Natural State, and many of its residents have a deep respect for the critters that share the land with us. Plucking turtles from their habitats so that we humans can have a little temporary fun just doesn't make sense. A turtle can live 20, 30 or more years in the wild. Why shouldn't we just let them do that?
Turtles may be slow to race, but humans are sometimes slow to learn. Hopefully, the Gregorys have shined a little light on the lack of consideration and empathy involved in the tradition of turtle racing.
Now, if turtles want to race, let's just leave it to one of them to come out of his shell and get it organized.