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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Monday, October 24, 2005

Northwest Arkansas Blogging: Close Call for Fayetteville Cockroach Caucus

I first wrote early this year about the Cockroach Caucus phenomenon. Members of that genus tend to scuttle out from under the refrigerator whenever the light is safely off, in any community where the local government and chamber of commerce are controlled by a good ol' boy network. In other words, just about any community in America. Michael Bates coined the term to describe collusion between local government and business interests (especially real estate developers), particularly in his own town of Tulsa. Millsian "Power Elite" sociologist Harvey Molotch, more politely, used the term "urban growth machine." But I prefer Bates' colorful terms: "the 'Developers, Chamber, and Establishment' party," a "cluster of special interests which has been trying to run the City of Tulsa without public input, and preferably without public debate," and (at greater length)

the tight social network that has run local politics for as long as anyone can remember. This network... has pursued its own selfish interests under the name of civic progress, with disastrous results for the ordinary citizens of Tulsa and its metropolitan area....

The Cockroach Caucus is most recently infamous for convincing state and local elected officials to pour $47 million in public funds into Great Plains Airlines.... It went bankrupt, leaving local taxpayers liable for millions in loan guarantees. Many leading lights of the Cockroach Caucus... were investors in Great Plains Airlines.

The Cockroach Caucus has wasted tens of millions in public funds on failed economic development strategies...., and has bent and sometimes broken the rules of the land use planning system to favor those with political and financial connections. The same small number of connected insiders circulates from one city authority, board, or commission to another, controlling city policy, but beyond the reach of the democratic process.

In my own "Cockroach Caucus" post, I described the schemes of Northwest Arkansas' version of that clique to shove a corporate welfare regional airport down our throats.

Well, the Cockroach Caucus never tires, and is never slack in its mission of comforting the comfortable (at the afflicted taxpayer's expense, of course). According to an account by the Northwest Arkansas Times' Greg Harton, democracy reared its ugly head and almost queered a deal between the Fayetteville Economic Development Council and Biobased Technologies, the would-be beneficiary of a taxpayer pork transfusion.

The Fayetteville mayor might have been forgiven if he had accepted Biobased Technologies CEO Tom Muccio’s impatient reaction to questions asked by a handful of Fayetteville residents in last week’s City Council meeting. On the agenda was a plan to sell city-owned land to Biobased so that the company — a maker of a soybean-based polyurethane insulation — could move its headquarters and plant from Rogers to Fayetteville. The price is $940,000, hundreds of thousands below the market value of the land. FEDC officials who want to lure the company here believe Biobased, which hopes to expand its environmental technology into many more products that now use petroleum, is a seed that could spark more technology-based companies starting or locating in Fayetteville.

If it's such a promising idea and all, it should be profitable even if the little piggie pays for all the slop in his own trough. At any rate, there ought not to be one price of land for the politically connected, and another for the rest of us second-class citizens. One law for the lion and another for the lamb is tyranny.

Last Tuesday, after a lengthy discussion, Coody began repeating questions raised by residents for Muccio, who was participating by conference call. As usual at critical moments, the technology didn’t create a very workable environment for discussion, so Coody proposed that Muccio come visit the City Council to help ease some concerns.

The length of the discussion and apparently the fact that anyone was asking questions led to the following comments by Muccio: "Mr. Mayor, having gone through seven months of questioning with the Fayetteville Economic Development Committee [sic], having opened the factory and blending plants and everything we’re doing for folks to come up and look at it and whatever, I can only assume that if there’s not enough information for the City Council to make a decision today that they’re really not interested in us being in Fayetteville. We didn’t petition to come to the city; the city came after us and said we want you to come. On that basis, we withheld a lot of investment, as you well know, and put ourselves in a noncompetitive situation vs. our business plan. So if the city’s not interested in having us, then we’ll find another alternative, but we need to get on with building our business."...

But let’s consider this: Last Tuesday’s council meeting came precisely 17 days after the city and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council revealed that a deal had tentatively been struck for the company to relocate, and for it to benefit from a sweetheart land deal created to entice the company to move to Fayetteville. Tuesday’s meeting was the first at which any comments were accepted from anyone outside the very secretive, closed environment of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, which was formed 19 months ago through private funding. Its structure is such that the FEDC is said to speak with a unified voice on behalf of city government, the University of Arkansas and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, but the city and university have specifically avoided providing any funding so that the FEDC can operate outside the public’s view.

Uh huh. I'm not sure what this means. But it appears to imply that, despite being empowered to speak on behalf of the city and give away taxpayer property, so long as the Council isn't actually funded by tax money it isn't really a government body, and therefore doesn't quite fall under the Freedom of Information Act. Bullshit.

Even Mayor Coody, affectionately known as "Dictator Dan" by locals who oppsed the city smoking ban, felt some obligation to defend at least a cursory public review. After all, believe it or not, Coody was originally part of a slate of "reform" candidates who ran against the Cockroach Caucus and its high-handed methods in catering to real estate developers and other local business interests. (Of course, the policies of Coody and his allies turned out to be "progressive" social engineering, which is another way of saying yuppie gentrification; they weren't the opposite of the Cockroach Caucus after all, but just an alternative Bobo version of it). Anyway, here's Coody's lame attempt not to seem quite as bought-and-paid-for as both he and Muccio knew very well he was:

Now, back to Tuesday’s meeting. Coody didn’t fall into Muccio’s ill-tempered baiting. Instead, the mayor calmly explained what shouldn’t have to be explained, that the elected leaders of Fayetteville have a responsibility to let the public speak on issues of public policy. Last I checked, the sale of public land to lure a company to town qualifies. "Fayetteville is interested in having Biobased locate your shop here," Coody responded. "I think it’s our responsibility as the governing body to answer the concerns of the constituents we have here, so once they can get their questions answered, the fear factor goes down and we can live happily ever after. I don’t think having the public come up and ask questions and having us help provide answers is necessarily a bad thing, and I don’t think it shows bad faith on Fayetteville’s part. Obviously, we want you here or we wouldn’t be dealing with you as we have. Please don’t take this as a negative perspective on your company. I think the opposite is true. We think very highly of Biobased very much."

Well, at least he still has his dignity (snicker). But Muccio wasn't having any of it:

Good save, mayor. But Muccio, whose connections to Fayetteville include his years as a senior officer with Procter & Gamble before he left to head Biobased, continued, giving us a glimpse, perhaps, of what rankled him most. "I thought what we were doing over the last seven months was working within the guidelines that the city had allocated to the Fayetteville Economic Development Committee to put us through a vetting process and ask the questions," Muccio said. "It was my understanding that we were dealing with the professionals who were charged with what’s best for Fayetteville economic development. We’ve been through four or five different meetings, we’ve offered tours, we’ve answered every question that has been posed to us. We’ve shared business plan. I’m not sure what else we can do, Mr. Mayor."

In other words, I thought we had a done deal--can't you people keep your serfs in line? There you have it! That's exactly the spirit behind at-large representation, the city manager/city board form of government, unelected commissions and authorities, and all the other manifestations of "professionalism" in government. Government is to be "depoliticized" and managed by "competent professionals" who "know what's best" for the people, without said people getting their grubby little hands on the levers of power or interfering in the business of their betters. Like all New Class Crolyites, the intellectuals behind such "reforms" believe in the existence of disinterested "expertise"; in practice, such experts wind up being the servants of those with wealth and power. The New Class intellectuals of the "Progressive" Era, who started out thinking that immaculate managerialism could transcend class conflict, wound up being coopted as Taylorist overseers for the corporate rich.

By the way, I didn't realize that "business plan" was a bodily fluid; but it sure seems that way, doesn't it?



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