LITTLE ROCK — The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled against using grants from the state’s surplus funds in a move that threatens plans for a monument honoring Gold Star families.
The court ruled last month that legislator-directed grants from the state’s General Improvement Fund are unconstitutional. The ruling came after former state Rep. Micah Neal pleaded guilty earlier this year to receiving kickbacks for grants he funneled to two nonprofits.
A committee in charge of planning the Gold Star monument was supposed receive $90,000 from the General Improvement Fund in the form of two grants awarded in 2015. Members of the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument committee already have inked contracts with an architect, engineer and monument builder, said committee Co-Chairman Paul Garrett.
“To us, it was on the word of the state of Arkansas,” Garrett said.
The committee is trying to raise $500,000 for a monument honoring families whose loved ones died while serving in the military. The group plans to build the monument outside the Capitol in Little Rock. It would be part of a system of more than 20 monuments nationwide honoring such families through the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation.
Grants already awarded should be honored, said Leslie Rutledge, the state’s attorney general. Those would include the two promised to the monument committee. Garrett said the committee plans to continue fundraising. The group has raised about $60,000 of its goal through private donations and hopes to unveil the monument on Veterans Day next year.
“It’s an aggressive goal, I’ll give you that,” Garrett said. “But we think we can do it.”