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The Friday Wire: A note of gratitude and jail money

A note of thanks, positive home sales in January and the fourth push for a tax to build a new jail in Crawford County are part of the Feb. 21 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

NOTES & ANALYSIS
• A moment for gratitude
Jim Walcott issued the challenge to make a difference, and here we are now several years later with the reality that a more than $58 million college of osteopathic medicine will be built in Fort Smith. Sure, some last minute goofiness could derail the project, but we’re likely to have an operational medical college by the fall of 2017.

Walcott, serves on the board that emerged from the Sparks Health System Board when the hospital sold to Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates. That deal left more than $50 million in a foundation to be used to advance health care needs. Walcott wanted to make a big splash with the money rather than just throw out nickels and dimes.

Kyle Parker, an attorney and Fort Smith resident who is independently wealthy, assumed much of the responsibility for Walcott’s challenge. To be sure, there have been many people involved in the effort to see the college be a reality, but Parker has been a key behind-the-scenes driver to keep the project on track.

If you’ve ever wondered if the folks with financial means are doing something meaningful to leave a positive legacy for the Fort Smith region, well, here you go. Mr. Parker will certainly seek to deflect credit, but he should know we are grateful for someone in Fort Smith who is willing to envision what is possible.

ICYMI
Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it ...
$58 million osteopathic medical college planned for Chaffee Crossing
Fort Smith could soon be home to Arkansas’ first college of osteopathic medicine and one of just 31 in the U.S., thanks to a more than $58 million investment from the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation (FSRHF) and a grant of 200 acres from the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA).

No action against Whirlpool
A proposal that would have seen the city of Fort Smith seek to impose fines against Whirlpool Corporation for violating the city's nuisance ordinance by spilling trichloroethylene (TCE) at its site more than 30 years ago, a spill that eventually spread to the neighborhood north of the site, failed at Tuesday's (Feb. 18) meeting.

A good January for area home sales
January home sales in Crawford and Sebastian Counties posted increases from the same period last year, with both counties posting values more than 40% higher in January 2014 than in January 2013.

NUMBERS ON THE WIRE
• 43.5%: The increase in sales volume for Crawford County home sales from January 2013 to January 2014. The values increased to $3.89 million last month from $2.711 million during the same period the year before.

• 2-5: The vote of the Fort Smith Board of Directors on a contract that could have had the city imposing fines against Whirlpool Corporation for polluting not only the company's former manufacturing site on the south side of the city, but also up to 50 surrounding properties that sit above a plume of trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic chemical that can cause cancer if ingested.

• 42%: Level of support among likely voters for both Mike Ross, the Democrat candidate for Arkansas Governor, and Asa Hutchinson, the Republican candidate for Arkansas Governor. The poll was conducted by Little Rock-based Impact Management Group.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE
Democrats compare Walker investigation to Christie
For more than three years Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker avoided political fallout from a criminal investigation that ensnared six of his former aides and associates, winning a recall election even as his opponent ran ads attacking him on the scandal. But with the Republican up for re-election this year and considering a run for president in 2016, questions are intensifying over how much he knew about illegal campaign activity going on in his county executive office as he launched his bid for governor.

Governors pitching for jobs
As the U.S. economy gains strength and states are in their best financial position in years, governors are proposing unconventional tactics to create jobs, especially in health care and high-tech.

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Keystone ruling favors Obama politically
A Nebraska judge's ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline could let President Barack Obama delay his final decision on the project until after mid-term elections and avoid political damage, analysts say.

WORD ON THE WIRE
"We enclosed three of the four exercise yards, we've manipulated walls — we've done everything we can. Still we're not in compliance (with state law). And I think that we can show, or I know I can show the voting citizens of Crawford County the numbers and the need for this. We're a growing population. We are in the top 12 (counties based on population) and we've got a small jail."
– Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown explaining why a new $20 million jail is needed in the county

"We've done quite a lot of that. We've been consistently independent in our vote choices since that time (1968), so we're very comfortable and we were doing this before the rest of the country. We are very comfortable voting Republican at the top of the ticket and still pretty comfortable identifying as Democratic and voting Democratic on other positions."
– Dr. Janine Parry, director of the Arkansas Poll, discussing the split among voters self-identified as Democratic but saying they will vote Republican in a poll released this week by Impact Management Group

“We would’ve probably already been open in Little Rock with a third store if this whole health care thing wouldn’t have taken place. But it scared the heck out of us.”
– Joe Donaldson, co-owner and general manager of Sam’s Furniture in Springdale, about the company pulling back expansion plans because of uncertainty surrounding the federal health care law

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