Leader Blues

Friday, August 19, 2005

EDITORIAL>> See you in court

The split between state Rep. Will Bond and former Rep. Mike Wilson, both Democrats from Jacksonville, isn’t exactly like one of those big breakups you read about when lawyers leave their law firms and take their big clients with them.

But the two Jacksonville attorneys have definitely gone their separate ways over General Improvement Funds appropriated earlier this year in the Legislature, which lawmakers say benefit communities but which Wilson calls pork.

The two lawyers didn’t take any clients and millions of their fees with them when they split up, but their friendship has gone out the door after Wilson filed a lawsuit to stop state funding for several of Bond’s pet projects, including $190,000 for a new Jacksonville library.

Wilson, a key player in the Legislature before term limits, says the funding violates Amendment 14 banning state-funded local legislation. In his suit, Wilson cites 11 projects funded through the General Improvement Fund, including six projects in Jacksonville funded by Rep. Bond.

Bond recently moved out of law offices he rented from Wilson in a one-story building next to First Arkansas Bank and Trust at Jacksonville Plaza, an arrangement Bond ended when Wilson filed his suit.

Bond, who is running for speaker of the House and will likely run for governor one day, said he moved to avoid the perception that he agreed with Wilson’s lawsuit or had anything to do with the suit.

“I needed to distance myself,” Bond said diplomatically. “I’m disappointed at the timing of the lawsuit and that it was filed.”

“It’s bad business from a sensible and practical viewpoint,” counters Wilson, referring to GIF. “It’s bad to give money away with no accountability.”

“The biggest problem now is simply giving away money with no purpose even required, no limitation on how the money is to be used,” Wilson added.
“I think we have a very serious (difference) of opinion,” Bond continued.

“What he’s accomplished right now is, he’s kept Jacksonville, particularly the library, from getting funding that Senator (John Paul) Capps and I (procured) to make sure we have a good library.

Although only Jacksonville funds are being held up because of Wilson’s suit, other improvement funds could disappear if Little Rock Circuit Judge Willard Proctor, who is holding a hearing on the matter on Friday, rules against GIFs, including $300,000 that Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, Lenville Evans, D-Lonoke, and Susan Schulte, R-Cabot, earmarked for the decrepit, overcrowded Lonoke County Jail.

“I’m disappointed he filed suit to begin with,” Glover said of Wilson.

“I can defend my projects. I’m not going to fall out with Mike personally, but (the projects) mean a lot to my constituents.”

Glover said the General Improvement Fund is “about the only place we see tax dollars coming home.”

Sen. Capps, D-Searcy, said for once in his life, he didn’t need to comment much. “It’s still in the courts,” Capps told us.

Of the projects he helped fund, including those in Jacksonville, he said, “I think they are morally upright projects—money for a good cause. This is not a question of the legitimacy of the projects themselves.”

We think there is merit in Wilson’s premise, but agree with Bond that the timing of the suit creates problems.

Wilson has a long and honorable record of service to the state and support of Jacksonville, his home town.

Bond is just embarking on what promises to be an equally distinguished career of thoughtful action and educational advocacy.

Let’s hope these two hometown boys can heal their wounds. Their future cooperation would benefit their town greatly.