Nora Harris v. City of Little Rock
Nora Harris v. City of Little Rock was a 1998 lawsuit brought by a tax advocate, Appellant Nora Harris, against the City of Little Rock, challenging the city's raising of revenue bonds to finance the acquisition of land for the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park.
On March 17, 1998 the Little Rock Board of Directors voted to approve $16.5 million in park revenue bonds to purchase land for the presidential center. On April 10, 1998, Empower Arkansas was organized to block the revenue bond issue. In June 1998 Little Rock's Stephens Inc. began issuing revenue bonds for Library site purchase. In June 2000 the Pulaski County Court concluded that the city had acted appropriately in issuing the bonds.
Between January and March 2001 the State District Court and Arkansas Supreme Court heard arguments that the City of Little Rock illegally issued revenue bonds for the Clinton Presidential Center. On March 8, 2001, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the decision of the lower court and rejected Harris' claim. The court did indicate that Harris might resubmit her case if she found that general fund revenue rather than park user fees was being used to pay debt servicing or if the City of Little Rock leased the library site to the Foundation. Harris' attorney David Henry said after the decision, "The justices ruled that although our argument about using general fund money to pay revenue bonds was valid, our proof of how they'd make their anticipated debt service payment was speculative. So we filed a bunch of freedom of information requests, looked over an audit report and some budget information, and are now convinced that the general fund is being used to back debt service."
On April 23, 2001, Nora Harris filed a second lawsuit in Pulaski County Chancery Court to block issuance of the revenue bonds. This time she argued that the bond sale for the parks was not "self-sufficient," meaning that debt payments on the bonds would have to be paid in part out of general fund sources of the Little Rock Department of Parks and Recreation. She claimed that $1.7 million in tax revenue had been diverted for just such a purpose through the renaming of budget accounts. Debt payments from general revenue budgets is prohibited by Arkansas Constitution Amendment 65 without a general referendum. Harris' lawsuit held up the issuance of other revenue bonds across the state according to Arkansas Development Finance Authority president Rush Deacon. On October 2, 2002 Nora Harris' lawsuit was dismissed by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Collins Kilgore.
Harris' attorney in this second lawsuit was also David Henry, who requested the dismissal. Said Henry, "Suffice it to say that Mrs. Harris and I have not had good cooperation over the last several months. I felt it was appropriate to ask for a dismissal without prejudice, which gives her a year to find a new attorney and re-file her case." Attorney for the city in the case was Tom Carpenter.
- Elizabeth Albanese, "Little Rock Victory," Bond Buyer, 338 (November 6, 2001): 32.
- Elizabeth Albanese, "Second Clinton Park Lawsuit Holds Up Other Arkansas Revenue Deals," Bond Buyer, 337 (August 3, 2001): 34.
- Elizabeth Albanese, "Suit Challenging Bond Issuance for Clinton Library's Park is Dismissed," Bond Buyer, 342 (October 4, 2002): 32.
- Elizabeth Albanese, "Tax Foe Back in Court on Park Bond Issue," Bond Buyer, 340 (May 22, 2002): 4.
- "Clinton Library Funding Flares Up," American Libraries, 32.6 (June-July 2001): 35-36.