My life has changed in the blink of an eye.
Today I spent the day as follows:
- Attended the last Library Board meeting where I am a trustee. After 8 1/2 years on the board, it was time to go. Actually, past time. But Carrie Cline, the Director of the McDonald County Library, asked me to stay though the budget process, so I did. On the way home, I stopped by the Methodist Church in Pineville and picked up a flat of cherry tomatoes for $3.
- When I got home, I put two loaves of bread on to rise and then tackled my books.
- I’m still at the books.
I’m taking two classes this spring toward the Ph.D. program in public policy: Agenda Setting and Policy Formation, and Public Budgeting and Finance. Neither is concerning me yet, but I may have time to regret my lack of fear. In the meantime, though, I’m fine. For one thing, the budgeting course is something I’m familiar with. I’ve served on the library board and I’ve covered cities, counties and public agencies as a news reporter, so I’m somewhat familiar with budgets and how they work. And the first assignment, which was to research the process of purchasing a new car and what the cost would be to maintain and pay for it, is something I’ve done many times before. My problem will be knowing when to stop, not how to do something in this class for the small weekly assignments. We will also write a budget analysis report for a public agency of our choosing.
The other class is Agenda Setting and Policy Formation, and it is a study of current theory in public policy. Because it is a seminar, I have been assigned a set of readings to present to the group and a short paper (6 pages) to write, synthesizing the readings and adding something of intrinsic value to the subset. Then I have to write a longer, 20-page paper on a public policy issue that is either unaddressed or under-addressed, in my area of expertise, and prepare a Powerpoint presentation and oral talk on the issue/paper.
All of this is very interesting to me, and I can use McDonald County agencies as resources. I plan to take a look at the county budget for one of the assignments. The interesting factor is that McDonald County chose to switch from property tax to sales tax for revenues a few years ago. I plan to deal with that issue in depth as a focus, and probably zero in on one portion of the county budget as a micro element, for example the prosecuting attorney’s office. There are some areas of interest there that might be beneficial.
For the agenda class, I plan to focus on our “road to nowhere.”
McDonald County has a newly-built highway running through it now, but a proposed extension to Arkansas is a stub. Funding issues between states are an issue here. I think this would make a fascinating study. Years ago, as a reporter for the Benton County Daily Record, I told Bobby Hopper, who was then the director of the Arkansas Highway Commission, that just looking at the map, one could see that the highway should bypass Bentonville on the west, drawing a straight line from Pineville to just past Fayetteville, to the present location of I 540 to Fort Smith. Hopper laughed.
“We are having a tough enough time now finding money for what we are doing up there,” Hopper said, referring to the widening of Highway 71 and the bypass of Bentonville on the East, Rogers on the West, meeting the existing road just north of Lowell, Ark.
I was wondering at the time why a plan to bypass Bella Vista from Missouri but to go back East and meet up north of Bentonville with the existing road was being considered. I thought the road should keep heading south, going toward the (as yet unbuilt) Northwest Arkansas Airport, then crossing Ark. 412 and whizzing past Fayetteville to just south of town. Everytime I brought this up, Hopper just laughed. One time he told me I didn’t even want to get into that “hornet’s nest,” and to leave it alone. But now, I wonder if this will be what happens.
We will see.
In the meantime, on Saturdays and probably on Sundays, I’ll be home pondering all this and writing about it, and probably during the week on Mondays and Wednesdays, I’ll be haunting public offices in Pineville. Fridays? They are mine. I”ll probably be sleeping.