As recommended by City Attorney Kit Williams, the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission will seek a written opinion from Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel regarding the University of Arkansas’ request for $1 million to help build a concert hall.
UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart requested the A&P funds to be put toward the estimated $17 million needed to convert the university’s old Field House building into a 700-seat performing arts venue on the UA campus.
Commissioners tabled discussion of the request until their Aug. 13 meeting, but Williams last week questioned whether the local tax dollars which fund the commission could be used at a state entity.
“The last thing anyone would want is litigation or even the threat of litigation over this possible million dollar expenditure,” Williams wrote in a memo. The unclear statute which permits the use of A&P funds, he said, might be too tempting to escape litigation.
Marilyn Heifner, executive director of the commission said she recently called the Arkansas Attorney General’s office and spoke to Warren Readnour, senior assistant attorney general. She said Readnour assured her a contribution to the university was allowed by state law.
Still, Williams advised commissioners to seek a formal opinion before moving forward.
At least two commissioners weighed in on the matter in emails sent to Heifner Thursday night.
“Speaking only for myself, I would feel much more comfortable with a written opinion,” wrote commissioner Justin Tennant, who also serves on the City Council. “Before I would even consider this use of the public’s money for a university project, I want to be clear on our legal abilities.”
Commission chair Maudie Schmitt agreed and said she’d also like some clarification from the university on the city’s permitted use of the planned building.
In an email sent to commissioners on Friday, Heifner said she’d begin the process of obtaining the document which includes finding a state legislator to officially request the opinion.
According to the state’s website, Attorney General Opinion requests are typically answered within 30 days of receipt.
Kit Williams’ letter to A&P Commissioners