Arkansas Business' 25 Great Whispers (25th Anniversary)

"Whispers" has been the most popular feature in Arkansas Business right from the beginning. Here we've collected some of the most memorable from each of the past 25 years.

Dec. 10, 1984
Potential for the Delta
In all the talk about the odds of Arkansas landing a GM car plant, did you hear anything about a possible site?

Frank White down at Stephens Inc. says the only plausible location would be south of West Memphis, adjacent to the Mississippi. The former governor notes that the same location was considered for a VW plant several years ago.

GM reportedly is looking at Arkansas and several other states for a 9,000-employee plant to build a new model, the Saturn.

White adds that he's talked with GM chairman Roger Smith, and Smith cautions that the company hasn't even decided what the car would look like – let alone where it might be assembled.

Nov. 25, 1985
Gazette Excited
Morale at the Arkansas Gazette seems to be a bit low these days, especially among advertising sales reps. What with the word that profits are healthy at the oldest paper west of the Mississippi (at least more so than with its competition, the Arkansas Democrat),what's afoot?

It seems that the ad people got put on salary recently, rather than commission, and they aren't happy about it. A few reportedly have chosen to vote with their feet.

Hussman's Broadside
Democrat publisher Walter Hussman, meanwhile, is doing what he can to influence morale among major local advertisers.

On Nov. 8, he sent out a two-page letter concerning the Gazette's anti-trust suit against his newspaper, and it's a real biter.

The Hussman letter recounts just-released financial records showing the Patterson family paper with revenues and profits substantially higher than are enjoyed by his own family-held publication. And, he notes publisher Hugh Patterson's $250,000 pay raise.

Hussman then ridicules the assertion that an impending Hussman monopoly has forced the Gazette to keep ad rates lower than they should be. He concludes the other guys haven't been honest with the employees, advertisers, readers "or the community in general."

Aug. 18, 1986
... Meanwhile on Capitol Avenue
Pickens-Bond Construction Co. has been a popular topic of discussion recently. The flurry of talk centers on the company's financial stability.

P-B president Doug Jackson specifically denies the harshest part of the street talk – that the company plans to file for Chapter 11: "We're not contemplating bankruptcy."

One big log on this firestorm of speculation, Jackson says, is a problem Pickens-Bond had with a project in Atlanta. The deal fell apart, leaving the Little Rock firm to pick up $4.5 million as a guarantor.

Are They or Aren't They?
One thing Jackson won't discuss is whether Pickens-Bond has other problems as a result of its equity participation or guarantor status in numerous major construction deals.

He especially won't talk about whether the Dillard family or their retailing firm stepped in with the checkbook to help Pickens-Bond through any such problem.

Jackson says only that Dillard has been a major client over the years. That's more than the Dillards will say; their spokesman didn't return our phone calls.

Jan. 5, 1987
A Tangled Web
What is Lynn Lloyd, who just filed a bankruptcy petition showing a 6.4-to-1 debt/asset ratio, doing trying to buy a company in another state?

And do his creditors know?

We don't know the answer to No. 1, and neither do the three stockholders in the firm, which publishes the weekly Progress in O'Fallon, Ill. (east of St. Louis). But they say that on Dec. 18 Lloyd offered 'em $2 million for the paper – more than half of it in cash – saying he could close by year-end.

The three turned down Lloyd's offer on Dec. 30 after getting details of his Little Rock bankruptcy filing of Nov. 6. In it Lloyd lists business and personal debts of nearly $63.6 million and assets of just a hair under $10 million.

Now, Question No. 2: There's nothing in the petition about buying a 96-year-old weekly in a little town of 12,000. Do you think the judge would approve if Lloyd asked?

Who Are These People?
Lloyd isn't the only Arkansas connection in this episode. Ron Rye, a Dardanelle radio exec, was with Lloyd and repeatedly has told the Progress that he and Lloyd were partners in the offer.

(We phoned to ask Rye about that, and he didn't act surprised. But he didn't keep a commitment to call us back with details, either.)

The Progress says Lloyd wanted to take control of its presses to assure favorable coverage of city hall; it notes that he and O'Fallon Mayor Kristi Vetry have been "frequent companions" since her divorce in August.

Vetry confirms to us that she and Lloyd are friends but won't say more – except to deny prior knowledge of the buyout effort.

June 20, 1988
A Sour Note?
None of the principals are talking, but we're told that Doyle Rogers' Excelsior Hotel is "many, many months" behind schedule in his note payments.

It's been no secret that the 420-room hotel in downtown Little Rock hasn't been matching its projections, since part of its deal with the city (which has the Statehouse Convention Center on the ground floor) was to share Excelsior profits during the first five years.

There's been no profit-sharing, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock recently got out of the University Conference Center.

Our source tells us that Savers Federal S&L made the $18 million loan and parceled out participations to other financial institutions. An attorney for one of those institutions says Savers has been sitting on the situation with Rogers. "How he has staved 'em off I don't know," says our source.

Repeated calls to Rogers and his associates weren't returned.

The Next Question
The next question is how is Rogers' FirstSouth Building doing? Again, we're told he's in arrears on the financing for that project – by seven months, according to street talk.

Maybe the entry of Olympia Publishing will help. The fund-raising company took out a construction permit on $175,000 in finish-out, and will move into 14,000 SF on the 14th floor.

May 8, 1989
The Howl at OneBank
Lots of speculation and little confirmation about the sudden departure of David Howell from One National Bancshares, the bank holding company he set up with trucker J.B. Hunt.

Street talk centers on the profit picture at the banks, including OneBanks in Little Rock and Hot Springs and First National Bank of Fayetteville.

One hypothesis is that the banks haven't been profitable enough for Hunt, who made his millions on the road with the trucking company before buying FNB-Fayetteville in 1985 and the former First American of North Little Rock in 1986.

Hunt has to make the interest on his financing for the deal – $41 million from a St. Louis bank – through the operation of the banks, although the debt is secured by J.B. Hunt stock.

The acquired banks have been concerned with cleaning up old loans, and we hear that OneBank is expecting a hit from losses on a portfolio of automobile receivables it purchased from a third party. A bank spokesman declines comment on the loss.

Also, adverse publicity at its investment banking arm, Bowman & Co., related to the hiring of bond daddy Billy McCord may have provided another black eye.

Oct. 8, 1990
This Little Rock Piggy
A guy who knows, we mean really knows, says central Arkansans can prepare themselves to bid adieu to Razorback athletics. It may take a few years, but the Hogs are going big time in Fayetteville and plan to stay there.

How come so certain?

Well, mainly a new international airport in Washington or Benton County, and Frank Broyles is behind relocating the games. Coupled with the expansion of Razorback Stadium and U.S. Highway 71, our source says, the Hog program will become exclusively northwest Arkansas'.

"There isn't any doubt that there's going to be a concerted effort to move those games to Fayetteville," he claims. "The Southeast Conference wants you to have a big stadium." They want you to fill it, too, when the SEC's name-brand teams show up.

The proposed airport will make Hogland more accessible – big planes now have to land in Fort Smith – for teams flying in to play. Businesses like Tyson Foods and Peterson Industries also are interested in the new airport for transporting poultry products.

This Plan Really Takes Off
According to our source, here's how the new airport plan was launched:

The Northwest Arkansas Council, chaired by Alice Walton of Llama Investments, recently made a pitch before a regional meeting of the House Committee on Public Works & Transportation. Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, who enjoys overwhelming support in northwest Arkansas, is a member of the committee.

Reportedly, the proposed airport will have an international-size runway and will be able to handle anything that flies.

Our insider, an avid Hog fan who doesn't like to have to drive to Fayetteville to watch his team play, was seeing red:

"If Frank Broyles can't sell out all the Fayetteville games now, what's he going to do after he puts a deck on the stadium and fills in the end zone?"

Apparently, there is some feeling in Fayetteville that people in Tennessee don't mind driving 300 miles to watch the Volunteers play so why should Razorback fans mind the spin up the Pig Trail.

The likely upshot of the new Hog plan might be that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock will crank up its own big-time athletic program. "Whether Frank likes it or not," our source advises, "he'll have to play them."

We tried to reach Alice Walton and Broyles for comment, but couldn't get through.

June 1, 1992
Jesus – 1
Jerry Brown – 0
Did you hear that God is endorsing Jerry Brown in the race for president?

A small group wanted to make that announcement in Little Rock from the Capitol steps during the March for Jesus on May 23.

Organizers of the Christian rally denied the request.

The consensus was that it would take a miracle for Brown to be elected president and that would be proof enough that God was backing him.

Jan. 4, 1993
Color
Barrier Falls
On the heels of the recent announcement that the Country Club of Little Rock had finally admitted a black member, Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock has followed suit.

The membership of Walt Patterson, former director of the state Department of Human Services, was approved without objection last month, making Patterson the first black member at Pleasant Valley.

Among the club members who sponsored his application were Worthen Banking Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Curt Bradbury and newly elected state Sen. Jim Keet.

Patterson's application was already under consideration by PVCC when it became publicin December that Little Rock economist Curt Reed, who is black, had been accepted as a member at the Country Club of Little Rock, which had been the city's oldest all-white enclave.

That club came under heavy criticism during the presidential campaign when the national media learned of the club's all-white membership rolls after then-Gov. Bill Clinton played golf there.

Patterson, who resigned as the DHS chief in late 1989 to accept a private-sector job in Dallas, returned to the state about two years ago to become president of Health Care Training Corp. of Arkansas, a competency testing business in Little Rock.

Nov. 6, 1995
All in the Family
Maybe you've heard talk about a pending ownership change at the Arkansas Writers' Project, which by the way is the parent company of Arkansas Business and Arkansas Times.

The focus of change is the disposition of overlapping ownership in various publications by longtime partners Alan Leveritt and Olivia Farrell.

In simple terms, the two are talking about divvying up the various publications to separate their interests.

You know, tearing the sheets.

That has led to some, how shall we say, spirited and impassioned negotiations that to our knowledge have not been finalized.

We're told the exact details are still being hashed out but to expect something in concrete by Thanksgiving, or maybe in time for Christmas.

In the meantime, some moving within our home offices in the Heritage West building – which was in the works because of company growth long before talk of a split – will begin this week.

Dec. 30, 1996
Fowler Follow-up
You've heard by now about First Commercial Corp.'s agreement to acquire Jonesboro-based Southwest Bancshares Inc., led by Wallace Fowler.

Now here's some information you may not have heard:

• Did you know that when Fowler acquired the banks in Jonesboro, Searcy, Russellville and Wynne during the '90s their combined assets were just $123 million? His unconventional brand of retail banking grew those assets to $812 million – that's six-fold.

• Southwest Bancshares is selling for about 2.25 times book value, depending on the First Commercial stock price at the close of the sale. That's one of the highest multiples paid for an Arkansas operation, and it's being paid by one of the most conservative bank acquirers.

• Finally, a few Jonesboro businessmen have been approached about – you guessed it – investing in a new locally owned bank.

July 21, 1997
Done Deal
Did you know that one of the largest Arkansas-based bank holding companies is selling to an out-of-state concern?

Insiders report that $505 million-asset Horizon Bancorp Inc. of Arkadelphia has reached an agreement to sell to St. Louis-based Mercantile Bancorporation Inc.

No details on how much Mercantile is paying for Horizon, the state's third-largest privately owned bank holding company.

Ross Whipple, chairman, chief executive officer and a leading stockholder in Horizon, couldn't be reached for comment. But sources inside Horizon confirmed the sale.

Horizon has locations across south-central Arkansas, including Malvern, Arkadelphia, Bismarck, Gurdon, Hot Springs, Hot Springs Village and Sheridan.

Mercantile entered Arkansas with its May 1995 acquisition of TCBankshares Inc. of North Little Rock. That deal was worth $154.6 million. The addition of Conway's Security Bank followed.

Sept. 28, 1998
Bank on It
Heard about a new bank venture for some familiar faces?

The Conway triad of Johnny Allison, Alex Lieblong and Robert "Bunny" Adcock Jr. are among the investors buying Holly Grove Bank.

Why would the group bother with a bank totaling $27.7 million in assets and based in Monroe County?

That's an easy one.

Statewide branching comes into play Jan. 1, and this will allow the owners of an Arkansas bank charter to open shop anywhere in the state – subject to the usual regulatory review, of course.

We won't be surprised to see Holly Grove Bank – or whatever its new name might be – make its first branch move to say, Conway.

But, then again, the investors may decide to simply relocate the bank's 95-year-old charter there.

Allison's participation in the deal was preceded by his resignation from the Regions Financial Corp. board of directors. He and Adcock also resigned from the First National Bank of Conway's board of directors.

Allison was one of the largest shareholders in First Commercial Corp., which was acquired by Regions earlier this year. He aided the Conway bank's growth in the years before and after its sale to First Commercial.

July 5, 1999
More Shoes to Fall?
The Little Rock real estate community is abuzz about a possible criminal investigation ready to launch as a result of information detailed in the indictment of state Sen. Nick Wilson, D-Pocahontas.

The investigation would focus on alleged illegal fee-splitting between John Flake, Wilson and go-between Murrey Grider.

The sales under scrutiny involve the Union Bank Building in 1994 and Atkins Building in 1996.

Grider and Wilson weren't and aren't licensed to conduct real estate business, making it illegal for them to collect any money from the sales. Commission sources indicate that Flake, who is licensed, could be on the hook as an accessory and would face the same range of punishments as the unlicensed players.

All three men could be subject to a Class D felony if a complaint were pursued to its most vigorous prosecution.

What's the status of the state Real Estate Commission's investigation of the matter?

Limbo, we're told.

The commission has the authority to initiate an investigation, but that hasn't happened yet. Some skeptics believe it will take someone willing to step forward and make a formal, written, notarized complaint.

That would force the issue and put the commission in motion.

July 9, 2001
Unhealthy Loan
The Riley Co. defaulted last month on an $11.5 million loan with the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System last month.

Or it didn't.

Whether you choose to believe our source at ATRS or Pat Riley Sr., chairman of the Little Rock company, on the default question, you can expect Riley to turn over three properties to ATRS. Both sides agree on that.

Riley said negotiations should be completed by the end of this week.

The properties are Riley's Oak Hill Manor North, a 224-bed nursing home at 2501 John Ashley Drive in North Little Rock; Riley's Oak Hill Manor South, a 222-bed nursing home at 8701 Riley Drive in Little Rock; and Woodland Heights, a 63-unit retirement center at 8700 Riley Drive in Little Rock.

The North Little Rock center ranked fourth among the state's least profitable nursing homes, losing more than $1 million during fiscal year 2000.

Sept. 23, 2002
Timeout, Please
In case you didn't know it, the state's largest pension fund has a self-imposed moratorium on real estate investing.

The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System board of trustees adopted the stance until January.

They will review the position when David Malone, the newly hired executive director, joins ATRS to start 2003.

The ATRS board called a timeout on real estate investing after a series of unpleasant revelations left them chagrined and frankly somewhat numb.

Financial performances aren't matching up with expectations, and some projects are stumbling out of the starting blocks.

Sept. 15, 2003
Ready to Rumble
Darrell Walker and Dr. Carl Johnson, the well-known combatants in the Aug. 31 "Brawl at Chenal," shouldn't feel too bad.

There have been at least two other fights at Chenal Country Club in west Little Rock during the last five months.

One was apparently a Sunday afternoon melee on the 18th green that included, in varying degrees of participation, Kent Norris of Insurance Center Inc., Scotty Caroom of Excel Lighting & Maintenance Corp. and Mark Madison of Madison Financial Services, all in Little Rock.

Members of the group who returned our calls acknowledged that there was an "incident" but declined to comment further. That battle royal included some of the parties "rasslin'" around on the green in front of a surprised gallery of witnesses near the clubhouse.

Another recent scuffle apparently included Clif Kelley of State Farm Insurance in Little Rock and three other golfers. Kelley didn't return a phone call in time for comment.

Walker, the former University of Arkansas basketball All-American, NBA player and coach, and Johnson, secretary to the UA System's board of trustees and a physician at Little Rock's Fairpark Medical Center, apparently got into a disagreement over whether or not Johnson's group could "play through" Walker's group.

The ensuing fracas allegedly resulted in Walker whacking Johnson with a golf club, which Walker's lawyer said caused a fracture that required surgery.

When we called Bill Toney, the general manager at Chenal, for a comment, he was quiet for a moment then began saying, "Hello? Hello?" as if he could not hear.

Nov. 1, 2004
Curiouser and Curiouser
The news last month that a Lonoke goldfish distributor had been charged with obstructing a federal grand jury investigation was enough to raise the eyebrows of even the jaded "Whispers" crew.

It's not just the sheer novelty of the idea that there could be price-fixing in such an esoteric industry as feeder goldfish, which appears to be what the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division in Cleveland was investigating.

What really had us curious was the fact that the lead prosecutor in the Pool Fish Distributors Inc. case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Culum, was the same one who last year charged three other Arkansans with running a kickback scheme in Michigan.

They are Dan Whitt of Maumelle; his son, David Whitt of Little Rock; and Dan Whitt's former attorney, Keith Moser of Little Rock.

They were popped as part of an antitrust investigation of the video reproduction industry, which is entirely different from the goldfish industry.

Except for one thing ...

Before he lost his law license, Moser provided legal services to several agricultural operators in Lonoke County, including – you guessed it – Pool Fish Distributors.

Moser's clients do have a habit of finding themselves under federal scrutiny. (Just ask Little Rock lawyer Ted Skokos.) But how the trail led from Michigan to Lonoke is unknown.

Ronnie Pool, president of Pool Fish Distributors, didn't answer the phone when we tried (and tried) to call.

Jan. 31, 2005
Welcome Home
Last year, CPA Lance Talkington and attorney Theodore C. "Teddy" Skokos Jr. wouldn't tell Arkansas Business where they maintained their legal residences.

But the lawsuit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court by an irate investor in their U.S. Virgin Islands company has made them more forthcoming.

In a response to the lawsuit, which claims they misled a Florida man about the tax breaks he would receive, Talkington and Skokos declare themselves to be residents of the USVI.

And that means, they argue, that they can't be sued in an Arkansas state court.

Skokos said in his affidavit that he has been a resident of the USVI since 2002.

"I own residential property, am registered to vote and in fact do vote, maintain bank accounts, have my driver's license and automobile registration and file and pay all personal income taxes in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands," Skokos said in his affidavit.

Talkington had nearly the same statement in his affidavit.

Skokos apparently was still practicing law out of his Little Rock office as recently as last week. An employee at Talkington's Little Rock office said he was out of the office but wouldn't say where.

Aug. 14, 2006
Meet Geno
It's one thing when an obscure Ohio blogger who specializes in officers and directors liability issues scolds Little Rock lawyer Gene Cauley for his indiscreet personal Internet page.

It's another thing entirely when The Wall Street Journal picks up on it.

Last Wednesday, Kevin LaCroix of Beachwood, Ohio, posted a link to Cauley's My Space page on his blog, dandodiary.blogspot.com, with this admonition:

"Dude, think about it – your site is only accessible to, like, the ENTIRE FREAKING UNIVERSE (judges, clients, opposing counsel, bloggers, God, etc.)."

The next day, a link to the same showed up on WSJ.com's Law Blog, which copied and pasted descriptions of "Geno" Cauley's social interests ("single women who are funny, smart, fun, sexy, spontaneous and have their [expletive] together") and other similar material directly from the page.

Cauley's page features lots of photos and other artwork, the unifying theme of which seems to be cleavage. Its URL is – or was last week – profile.myspace.com/71128437.

As LaCroix noted, "Readers will form their own judgments, but should also be forewarned that viewer discretion is advised."

Cauley did not respond to a call requesting comment on the media attention to his online profile. However, he did post this message on it:

"arkansas business is a rag gossip sheet that i line my cat box with. its editor gwen moritz is an angry middle aged overweight woman."

Jan. 22, 2007
Currying Favor
Who just returned from a trip to India last week?

Five Little Rock men involved in economic development went to the Asian nation to work with an India-based corporation that manufactures pipes. The company is looking to locate a $60 million to $80 million plant at the Little Rock Port that could employ up to 250 workers.Making the journey were Paul Latture, executive director of the Little Rock Port Authority; Jay Chesshir, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce; Mike Maulden, director of external affairs for Entergy Arkansas and chairman of the LR Port Authority; Mitch Chandler, communication section leader for the Arkansas Department of Economic Development; and Joey Dean, vice president of economic development for the Little Rock chamber.

So, was the trip successful? We're told to expect an announcement "sooner than later."

Oct. 27, 2008
Tears of Gold
When your "Whispers" staff did a double-take at the closing price of Dillard's stock on Thursday afternoon – $3.92 – it made us wonder: With all the stock market turmoil, how much are some of Arkansas' big fish worth now?

The Walton family of Bentonville, which was No. 1 on Arkansas Business ' top stockholders list as of Aug. 15, was worth $89.86 billion as of Thursday, which is 11 percent less than the family fortune was worth two months ago.

The J.B. Hunt family of Lowell, which was No. 2 on the list, is now worth $874.12 million, which is down 35 percent from August.

The Charles Murphy family of El Dorado, No. 3 on the list, is now worth $789.1 million, down 37 percent from August.

The Don Tyson family of Springdale, No. 4, is now worth $745.36 million, which is down 38 percent from August.

The Dillard family's stock in the department store chain, which had seen better days even before August, was worth just over $26 million as of Thursday's market close. And you thoughtyour 401(k) statement was dismal. 

(Click here to see all the stories in our anniversary edition. Or click here to flip through each page of the edition in this special free electronic version.)