Arkansas Business: The Best & Worst News of 2012

There was good news and there was bad news in Arkansas in 2012. And in case you’ve forgotten the details, the Arkansas Business staff is here to remind you.

Best Historical News

The Quapaw Tribe of Indians, the tribe most identified with Arkansas, bought a piece of land south of the Little Rock Port Industrial Park where their ancestors once lived. The purchase marked the first time the Quapaw has owned property here since 1833 when the tribe was disenfranchised via treaty and relocated to Oklahoma.

Worst Majority Position

Layton “Scooter” Stuart found himself on the outside looking in at One Bank & Trust after his board of directors ousted him from the $454 million-asset bank as instructed by federal regulators. Stuart, the former chairman and CEO of One Bank, owns 99.9 percent of the bank’s parent company. One Bank, which has operated under a supervisory agreement since January 2011, posted a $10.6 million write-off from a material accounting error uncovered during the third quarter.

Best Legal Fisticuffs

The Arkansas legal community is still awaiting the pay-per-view event featuring a rare lawyer v. lawyer donnybrook between John Everett of Fayetteville and Jim Penick III of Little Rock. The altercation at a deposition featured a brief physical battle followed by a second round in the courts system.

Worst Dietary Supplement

Surely that’s arsenic, which gained attention in September when Consumer Reports reported that it had found “worrisome” levels of inorganic arsenic, a cancer-causing agent, in rice and a number of rice products consumed widely in the U.S. The Arkansas Rice Federation noted that arsenic is a naturally occurring element and that the Food & Drug Administration wasn’t yet making any changes in its recommendations on rice consumption.

Best Bank Ranking

Three Arkansas bank holding companies were listed among the Best Performing Regional Banks in the nation: Little Rock’s Bank of the Ozarks Inc. at No. 1, First Security Bancorp of Searcy at No. 2 and Home BancShares Inc. of Conway at No. 16. Arkansas and New York were home to three companies each among the Top 25, the most of any state. The 2012 recognition by SNL Financial LC of Charlottesville, Va., was based on 2011 results in six core financial performance metrics that focus on profitability, asset quality and growth.

Worst Surprise Visit

An Oct. 3 house call by warrant-bearing Internal Revenue Service agents came as a surprise to Steve Parks, CEO of King Coal LLC, and his wife, Anna Harper, owner of Anna’s Estate Sales. The IRS posse that descended on their home near the Country Club of Little Rock and carted away business records created quite a buzz in the neighborhood.

Worst Follow-Through on a Promise

Landing Gus Malzahn as head football coach seemed too good to be true for Arkansas State fans. So Red Wolves supporters often asked him how long he planned to be in Jonesboro. Malzahn did his best to calm their fears, addressing the question during an August booster event at War Memorial Stadium: “All these people that say I’m only going to be here a year? They don’t know me very well.” Nor, it seems, did Malzahn. He made it a whopping 11 months before departing for Auburn and $2.3 million per year.

Worst Parting Word

Bobby Petrino danced around the details of his ill-fated motorcycle ride during his April 3 press conference. But after the post-wreck presser broke up, Larry Henry of KFSM-TV in Fort Smith asked if he was alone when the accident happened two days earlier. Petrino said “yeah,” a lie that would be exposed in a State Police report later that week and lead to Petrino’s April 10 firing and end his successful four-year stint as head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Best Subtle Hint

Back in September, months before he was hired as Bobby Petrino’s successor, Bret Bielema sent a handwritten note to UA Athletic Director Jeff Long. It read:

Jeff,

Just wanted to say that this note is long past due. As I watched your press conference this past spring I wanted to reach out and say how much I respected your actions but more importantly your words. As a head coach I know that my comments are looked at in every way possible. Here at UW I have a great AD because he is a man of his word and asks the same for all of us. Best wishes moving forward and stay strong. It was the right call!

Best Wishes,

Bret

P.S. One thing I have learned through my time at UW is that today’s society wants to win them all, but as Coaches and Administrators we need to balance the Big Picture for all our student-athletes!

Best Show of Faith

Even before Jeff Long had secured the next University of Arkansas head coach, Chancellor Dave Gearhart made a recommendation that the Razorback athletic director be given a healthy raise. Long, pending board of trustees approval in January, will make nearly $1 million per year. That’s before factoring in any of the easy-to-trigger incentive clauses in his new contract.

Long made good on his boss’ trust, hiring three-time Big Ten champion Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. Hiring Bielema was regarded as one of the best — maybe the best — college football hires in the offseason.

And what if Long hadn’t landed such a big name? Would the raise be justified? Supporters point to the increased revenue of the UA athletic department (Arkansas projected $75.6 million in revenue for 2012-13) and overall standing among all-sports programs (No. 8 in the Capital One Cup) under Long’s leadership as reasons for the very generous raise.

Best Pay Raise

An increase in the value of Dillard’s Inc. stock propelled three members of the Little Rock retailing family into the top 10 of highest-paid executives at Arkansas public companies in 2011. Coming in at Nos. 2 and 3 were Dillard’s President Alex Dillard with $16.4 million and his CEO brother, William Dillard II, with $15.1 million. And at No. 8 was Drue Matheny, a Dillard’s executive vice president and sister of Alex and William whose pay package in 2011 rose to $9.5 million. (No. 1 was, as usual, Mike Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.)

Best Success Rate

Voters in Benton, Madison and Sharp counties favored in-county alcohol sales during November’s general election. Those three counties continued a trend that started in 2006, when Marion County became the first county to go wet since the number of voter signatures required for getting the question on the ballot was raised to a daunting 38 percent in 1993. Since then, every county (including Clark and Boone in 2010) that has gotten the question onto an election ballot has gone wet. That’s 100 percent (or 200 proof) success.

Best Facebook Campaign

That would be the successful campaign of a Facebook page titled Mr. Dunderbak’s in McCain Mall - bring it back!!!!. The nostalgic outpouring inspired Richard Davidson, original owner of the German restaurant that was a mainstay of the North Little Rock mall for almost 30 years, to reopen in the mall’s food court on Dec. 14, and the line of customers eager for one of Mr. D’s signature pretzels was daunting.

Worst Contest Prize

Much to the chagrin of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Girls Gone Wild impresario Joe Francis in April promised the winner of a “Hottest Girl in America” contest an internship in Pryor’s office as part of a prize package.

Pryor’s press secretary Lisa Ackerman first called Francis’ news release a “hoax.” Later, she described it as “fraud.”

It turned out to be a mistake. The pornography peddler apparently bought in a charity auction an internship that no one had the right to sell.

Pryor’s office hires interns for five-week summer internships. Intern candidates must apply, submit a writing sample, transcript, recommendation letters and background information, according to Pryor’s office.

“Our office does not sell, auction or donate internships,” Ackerman said.

Worst Academic Soap Opera

In 2011, it was the University of Central Arkansas’ past presidents Lu Hardin and Allen Meadors who drew public scrutiny. This year, it was the Southern literary magazine published on campus and the Conway university’s chief of staff.

The board of directors of The Oxford American magazine, published in a nonprofit partnership with UCA since 2004, fired Marc Smirnoff, the publication’s founder and managing editor, in July after an internal investigation related to sexual harassment allegations. Smirnoff responded to his firing by spewing written and verbal vitriol in media interviews and on a website in desperate need of editing, EditorsinLove.com.

As if UCA needed more drama, the university’s chief of staff, Jack Gillean, was charged with four felony offenses in October. The charges were related to a campus master key Gillean allegedly shared with a UCA student, who used the key to break into offices and steal exams and prescription medications.

Worst Fundraising Appeal

Ousted Oxford American editors Marc Smirnoff and Carol Ann Fitzgerald, the duo behind EditorsinLove.com, use the website to tell at length what they call “Our Story of Losing The Oxford American.”

Until recently, they also used the website to ask for donations with the following appeal: “We don’t have a lot of money so if there’s anyone who would like to contribute to our next venture (or to our reflection period!), we are open to that.” Fitzgerald and Smirnoff generously provided a PayPal link for donors’ convenience.

Worst Show of Support

Arkansas State University’s Red Wolf Club took out an advertisement in the Jonesboro Sun to welcome new coach Bryan Harsin to town. Only problem? Harsin’s first name was misspelled in the ad. ASU folks tell us a corrected ad was submitted but didn’t run. Newspaper sources say the ad was submitted after the deadline.

Best Bookstore News

In the uncertain world of independent bookstores, it’s always good to hear something positive. This year, it came from That Bookstore in Blytheville, a longtime institution — and favorite of Arkansas native author John Grisham — in downtown Blytheville. Mary Gay Shipley, who has owned the shop since its genesis in 1976, sold it to Grant Hill of Mountain Home in November. Hill, 22, said he plans to move from Mountain Home, noting that he had “always dreamed of” owning a bookstore. Shipley sold the shop for a nominal price of $35,000.

Best Example for the Kids

DeWitt Hospital & Nursing Home decided to share its CEO, Darren Caldwell, with Delta Memorial Hospital in Dumas after Delta’s CEO resigned.

Worst Example of Speedy Justice

In March 2010, the Arkansas Insurance Department moved swiftly to suspend the license of insurance agent Steve Standridge of Mount Ida after accusing him of falsifying the collateral he used when he bought Gibraltar National Insurance Co. of Little Rock. The department alleged fraud involving premium finance loans. It wasn’t until about 2½ years later that Standridge was charged in federal court with 12 felony counts related to alleged fraudulent premium finance loans. He has pleaded not guilty.

Worst Divorce

After a partnership that spanned more than three decades, Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute Inc. and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences decided to part ways earlier this year. The reason? UAMS saw CARTI’s announcement to build its own cancer treatment center as a threat to UAMS’ own cancer treatment center. It cost UAMS about $20 million to leave the relationship, which included buying out CARTI’s lease agreement with UAMS and replacing CARTI’s machines.

Worst Confession

Jon Brawner told his wife, his lawyer and police that he had helped bury the body of John Glasgow, the construction executive who vanished in January 2008. But an intensive search of the Lonoke County beanfield he identified as the burial spot yielded nothing. Brawner, 44, who served 202 days for his role in an attempted kidnapping in 2009 that left an accomplice dead, is currently doing time in the Tucker Unit for stalking his now ex-wife — but the Arkansas Department of Correction estimates that he’ll be back on the street in March, a year after he was given a 10-year sentence.

Worst Probate Case

Or maybe just the longest. The legal wrangle over the estate of Little Rock Ponzi schemer M. David Howell celebrated its 10th anniversary in October and still wasn’t quite done. When the last half-million dollars is distributed, the estate will have paid about 6 cents for every dollar of the $38.3 million in approved claims from friends and friends-of-friends who believed Howell was an investing genius. Another $34.8 million in claims were disallowed.