Waiting for answers
Last week’s column in this space generated a great deal of reaction, including a quick response from state Rep. Bob Ballinger. Ballinger phoned our office in Berryville almost before the ink was dry, it seems, to complain about the column and ask for space to write a rebuttal. He also wondered why I didn’t call him before I wrote it.
I’m not sure why Ballinger was so upset about the editor of the newspaper expressing an opinion on the Opinion page. I’m also not sure why he thought I needed to call him to determine my own opinion.
I certainly would hope that Ballinger understands the difference between a news story and a column. But perhaps he doesn’t. In the first paragraph of his response, which is published on this page today he makes reference to “an ‘article’ and editorial comment …”
I’m not sure why Ballinger chose to use quotation marks around the word “article.” But for clarity’s sake, it’s worth noting that an editorial reflects the opinion of the newspaper; a column is merely the opinion of the individual writer. In this case, my column reflected my opinion that Ballinger is a lousy state representative with questionable ethics who has steadfastly refused to provide specific answers to questions about his association with Ecclesia College. Or is it Ecclesia Church? I guess that depends on whether Ecclesia is asking for public money or trying to avoid complying with the state’s Freedom of Information Act. It’s all a matter of convenience, I suppose.
Speaking of convenience, I have to say I’m not much surprised by the content of Ballinger’s response. Rather than address the issues I raised last week, he devotes the bulk of his response to portraying me as “a self-professed liberal,” even though I clearly expressed quite conservative views on issues such as capital punishment and abortion. Politically, attacking the messenger was probably the most effective strategy available to Ballinger in this case — certainly more effective than answering those pesky questions about Ecclesia and freedom of information.
As an aside, I find it quite interesting that Ballinger is working so hard to present himself as the ultraconservative in his state Senate race against incumbent Bryan King — even as Ballinger remains ever-cautious about stepping out of line with Asa Hutchinson. Hard-line conservatives aren’t happy that Hutchinson seems to have moved toward the center in the interest of actually getting something accomplished in state government. In fact, King has been openly critical of the governor. Ballinger hasn’t been willing to do that. So, who’s really the most conservative candidate here?
I would venture to guess, too, that conservatives care about where their tax dollars are going, as much if not more than liberals do.
At the end of his response, Ballinger asks folks to call him if they have questions. I have a few specific questions, Mr. Ballinger. I’ll ask them here, in a public forum, in hopes that you will respond in the same forum, this time with specific answers.
• You’ve said on multiple occasions that you gave Ecclesia a discount on the legal work you performed on its behalf. How much, exactly, was Ecclesia billed for that work? How much, exactly, has Ecclesia been billed by the Story Law Firm since you began working there?
• Is Ecclesia a college or a church?
• If Ecclesia is a college, why does the Story Law Firm contend in court documents that it is, instead, a church?
• Is it accurate that a letter dated Sept. 25, 2013, from the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District informs Ecclesia that the economic district has approved a $5,000 grant to Ecclesia and that “the funds were appropriated to the GIF program through an Act sponsored by Arkansas State Representative Bob Ballinger”?
• If Ecclesia is a church rather than a college — again, as contended by the Story Law Firm in court documents — did that $5,000 grant from 2013 serve to aid a religious entity in pursuit of its religious mission, and what does state law have to say about that?
• Is it accurate that the wording of your proposed amendment to a failed bill that would have created additional exemptions to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act was in fact composed in consultation with attorneys for colleges and universities which would have been directly affected by those additional exemptions?
I saved the best questions for last.
• Is it accurate that on Feb. 28, 2017 — the day before Ecclesia College president Oren Paris III was indicted by federal prosecutors for his role in a kickback scheme linked to GIF grants— Ecclesia Inc. obtained a $1 million mortgage from Centennial Bank, with two tracts of property owned by Ecclesia serving as collateral? Were any GIF dollars used in the purchase of either of those tracts of property? What did Ecclesia do with the $1 million? Was any of that money paid to the Story Law Firm to help finance Oren Paris III’s legal defense?
I eagerly await your response, Mr. Ballinger.
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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com