Trigger Alerts: The Best & Worst of 2013

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 12:00 am  

There was good news and there was bad news in Arkansas in 2013. And in case you’ve forgotten the details, Arkansas Business has compiled some of the staff’s favorite moments.

Best Way to Say Something Without Saying Anything at All

John Tyson of Springdale, former CEO of Tyson Foods Inc., became so frustrated with the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees that he resigned from his board position in February. But the UA System didn’t know about the resignation for about a week, only learning about the departure when a reporter from Arkansas Business called with the news.

Worst Cold Call

In September, the Arkansas Securities Department revoked the registration of a 22-year-old New York stockbroker who had made a cold-call stock pitch to a phone number that, as it turned out, belonged to one of the department’s senior securities examiners.

Among other no-nos, Junmo Hong claimed to have made previous recommendations dating to 2006 (when Hong was 14), and when the examiner told Hong that he had zero net worth, “Hong responded he would just mark his total net worth down as one million dollars.”

Best Altruistic Downtown Developer

Anita Davis has worked wonders along South Main Street in downtown Little Rock, or SoMa. The Murfreesboro native is the visionary behind the Bernice Garden Farmers Market, the Cornbread Festival and the Esse Purse Museum.

Davis’ efforts have helped spark a revitalization of South Main that has also led to the relocation of the offices of the Oxford American magazine and its sister enterprise, South on Main, a restaurant and event venue.

Worst Futile Gesture

In an effort to underscore her opposition to the Legislature’s decision to exempt the identity of concealed-carry licensees from the state Freedom of Information Act, Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Moritz used her opinion column to offer a spreadsheet of the last publicly available list of the 130,000 licensees to anyone who requested it.

Moritz’s point — that lawmakers had not expanded anyone’s Second Amendment rights but had actively taken away Arkansans’ right to know who its government had licensed and not licensed — was immediately lost as news of the release spread on talk radio and the Internet. Separated from her explanatory column, her gesture was widely (and incorrectly) described inside Arkansas as a violation of the new law and outside Arkansas as an attack on gun ownership.

And although she did not, and has not since, changed her opinion about the public’s right to know who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon, Moritz quickly removed the link to the list from the ArkansasBusiness.com website and soon after stopped sharing it by email.

“The reason I removed the link promptly was that I began to understand that some of these licensees were truly terrified, some with good reason because they have escaped abusive situations and have made efforts to fly below the radar,” Moritz told Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett. “And to them my action was not principled, but actively malicious, which was never my intent at all.”

Meanwhile, hunting licensees’ names and street addresses are still public information available by request from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

Best Family Business

It was revealed in 2013 that four members of the family that control Dillard’s Inc. realized nearly $100 million from stock options in 2012. The big payouts went to CEO William Dillard II, who received $31.1 million in 2012 from exercising 500,000 shares of the company’s stock. His brother, Alex Dillard, who is the president of the retail chain, also received $31.1 million in 2012 from exercising 500,000 shares of the company’s stock.

Worst Ruling For Class-Action Attorneys

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of an insurance company in a case brought in Miller County, it was a blow to the business plan used with great success by the Texarkana law firm of Keil & Goodson.

The firm and others had routinely managed to keep class-action cases in friendly — and slow-moving — state court by stipulating from the get-go that the plaintiffs would not seek more than $5 million in costs and damages. The high court’s ruling shut down that strategy.

In recent years, Keil & Goodson and the Texas firms of Nix Patterson & Roach and Crowley Norman had received more than $420 million in attorneys’ fees tied to out-of-court settlements — not jury verdicts — in 23 lawsuits, nearly all of them in Miller County.

Worst Time for a Meeting

On the day of oral arguments on Keil & Goodson’s controversial legal strategy, partner John Goodson’s wife, Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson, arranged a meeting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Meeting with one of the justices about to decide the legality of her husband’s business plan looked bad enough, and Justice Goodson denied through a spokeswoman any improper communication. Which is a good thing, since Scalia — and every other justice — voted against Keil & Goodson’s position.

Best Revival

Bruno’s Little Italy has been reborn at 310 Main St., answering the culinary prayers of many in Little Rock who were longtime fans of the 60-plus-year-old restaurant, while pleasing diners new to the Bruno’s mystique.

Worst Timing

Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton hired the well-known geriatrician Dr. David Lipschitz in October 2012 to handle the medical management of the Healthy Aging Center. But the management let him go less than a year later. The reason? The center couldn’t afford to operate, so it closed.

Best Cheesy Addition To Arkansas Tourism

That would be “cheesy” in a good way, and it’s the Cheese Dip Trail, a concept of the state Department of Parks & Tourism and available on the agency’s website. The entry includes the stirring history of the birth of cheese dip, which, according to Parks & Tourism and Little Rock documentarian Nick Rogers, occurred at a Hot Springs restaurant called Little Mexico, which opened in 1935. Little Mexico later evolved into the original Mexico Chiquito restaurant.

Worst Either/Or

Faulkner County Circuit Judge Michael Maggio gave a Perry County family a choice after it received a $5.2 million judgment against Greenbrier Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. The family could take a reduced judgment of $1 million or have a new trial.

The sisters, Rosey Perkins and Rhonda Coppak, administrators of the estate of their mother, Martha Bull, could have appealed Maggio’s ruling to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

However, the appeals process would have dragged the case on for another 18 months or more.

The family decided to take the $1 million judgment.

Worst Time to Accept An (Alleged) Bribe

Martha Shoffner, Arkansas treasurer, started 2013 under a lingering cloud from legislative scrutiny of her inexplicable dealings with Steele Stephens and his father, Steve.

During the first week of January, Arkansas Business broke the news that Shoffner was the subject of a criminal probe for sending an inordinate amount of state bond business to the father-son team.

With this backdrop, Shoffner picked an especially bad time to trust an alleged co-conspirator and continue to accept payoffs. Her arrest on May 18 after receiving — in an apple pie box, no less — $6,000 in cash supplied by Uncle Sam as part of a sting underscored the head-shaking badness of it all.

Best Time To Go Down Swinging

The FBI said it couldn’t make the case against Shoffner without the aid of an unidentified co-conspirator, which required an immunity deal. Nonetheless, the scales of justice were tipped in a heavily unbalanced way.

Shoffner received alleged bribes measured in tens of thousands of dollars. Steele and Steve Stephens received profits measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars from the allegedly criminal relationship.

She blew off a plea bargain that was probably in her own best interest, but at least the whole mess will get a public airing at her trial, scheduled for March 2.

Best Example Of a Modern 13th Century Ruin

To the discerning eye, the tell-tale signs of modern touches are evident at the abandoned Ozark Medieval Fortress, despite the veneer of 13th century authenticity.

Air-gunned nails were used to assemble the tread-wheel crane, not handmade specimens created by fortress craftsmen. Door hinges were bought at Ace Hardware, not forged by the on-site blacksmith. Felled trees used in construction throughout the property were cut with chainsaws, not hewn by hand-powered medieval-style blades.

Located on 50 acres in the far reaches of northern Boone County, the failed project was envisioned to bring a historic slice of 13th century France to the New World and draw a share of the tourism riches flowing around Branson, Mo., 30 miles away.

The anachronistic appeal of the fortress, however, only enticed sporadic visitors numbering in the hundreds instead of the expected thousands.

Worst Alleged Use Of TARP Funds

Helping rebuild bank capital was a key point in the U.S. Treasury’s Capital Purchase Program-Troubled Asset Relief Program. Providing a bank owner with spending money was not.

Among the allegations against the late Layton “Scooter” Stuart is that he used nearly $2.2 million in CPP-TARP funds to cover personal expenses instead of solidifying the balance sheet at his One Bank & Trust.

 

 

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