It’s a situation that’s been allowed to fester for years, but now there’s hope of resolution. As reported by The Commercial, new legislation approved by the Arkansas General Assembly earlier this year will give the Pine Bluff Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission a second set of enforcement tools in collecting the so-called “hamburger tax.”
Bob Purvis, the commission’s executive director, outlined the details of these sharper teeth during a joint meeting of the Civic Auditorium Complex Commission and Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission on Wednesday. Among the new tools are the ability for two or more Advertising and Tourist Promotion commissions in the state to jointly hire an auditor and then share the costs of that auditor who may then obtain the records of taxes paid to the state and compare those figures with what is reported to the local commissions.
It also provides a clearer set of procedures for dealing with local tax scofflaws. A series of warning notices will be issued, which, if ignored, result in the revocation of the delinquent business’ occupation license.
Of course, this being Pine Bluff, nothing is ever easy — even when it should be. With predictability, Pine Bluff City Council member Thelma Walker voiced her dissent. Walker, a member of the Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission, asked for more time to look at the new law.
Given that Walker is the subject of a state Election Commission ethics probe — in which a central issue is her alleged undue influence in obtaining an occupation license for her son, Stanley Walker, owner of Aisha’s Fish and Chicken at 1106 West 16th Ave. — such public hesitance only fuels suspicion, as does the fact that Stanley Walker is in arrears in paying this tax.
As Alderman Bill Brumett, chairman of the Advertising and Tourist Promotion Commission, stated: “We’ve worked for 3 1/2 years to get this. They (businesses) collect the taxes and they should turn them in.”
Accordingly, the time for studying the issue and relevant laws is long passed. Fortunately, with Brumett’s prompting, the enforcement procedure was approved by voice vote by the joint commissions.
For the umpteenth time, we feel obliged to make our regular admonishment about the appearance of impropriety and apparent conflicts of interest. No member of city government should be involved with decisions that stand to directly affect either their or their relatives’ personal or financial interests. Apparently, the term “recusal” isn’t in the vocabulary of some public officials.
For the first time in a generation, many things are going in the right direction for Pine Bluff. Businesses are opening. Crime is down. The schools are taking a moment for needed introspection. All of this is positive.
Unfortunately, this momentum could be entirely lost if we continue to suborn obstructionism and politics of personal gain. It’s time that all of our elected officials get with the program and disabuse themselves of outmoded traditions.
To this point, we’re not suggesting that all in city government should fall in lockstep behind the current administration — far from it. Rather, we are suggesting that reasoned dissent requires actual reason. If we are to have a 21st century city, we must be governed by evidence — evidence that’s supported by research, and by standards of behavior that are unimpeachable. Until such time as we approach that watermark, we’ll keep on making this point. Frankly, we’d rather put our feet up and relax.