"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
This year's race for Pulaski County judge has been one of the liveliest in recent memory, with incumbent Floyd “Buddy” Villines facing a well-funded campaign to unseat him waged by former Republican state legislator Phil Wyrick. Both candidates made $50,000-plus ad buys in the weeks leading up to the election, which means that you probably will have seen at least one of their commercials long before you read this.
Wyrick served one term in the Arkansas State Senate, and three terms in the House of Representatives before being appointed by Gov. Mike Huckabee as the director of the Arkansas State Livestock and Poultry Commission. He runs a Saline County bathroom fixture company and owns a cattle ranch near Mabelvale.
Buddy Villines has been Pulaski County judge for 18 years. He has been nationally recognized for his work on local civic projects, including the Big Dam Bridge, the Little Rock trolley system, and the pedestrian-friendly Junction Bridge. He has also been instrumental in moving county government toward “green” environmental policies, issuing an executive order requiring all county-owned vehicles to be replaced with hybrids as new cars were purchased, and co-founding the Arkansas chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.
The race between Wyrick and Villines has boiled down to two main issues (three, if you count the candidates' back and forth sniping over disgraced former county comptroller Ron Quillin, who is currently in prison for embezzling $42,000 in county funds): funding and maintenance of the county jail, and who would be best at protecting the Lake Maumelle watershed, which supplies the majority of the drinking water for citizens in Central Arkansas.
The watershed issue has been the thrust of Wyrick's campaign; he's accused Villines of being too generous to developers who want to build expensive homes near the shore of the lake. Wyrick supports the Lake Maumelle Watershed Management Plan, which was commissioned though California-based engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech by Central Arkansas Water, area residents and developers.
“Villines has compromised [Lake Maumelle] in lieu of development —concentrated development,” Wyrick said. “I firmly believe in 50 years, another generation will judge us; whether we made the right decision and showed wisdom, or whether we made the wrong decision on exhibited greed and self-interest. … The water issue is so important, not just for public safety or public health. It is a tool for economic development. I will protect the water.”
Villines has shot back that Wyrick talks about protecting the watershed, but he's short on specifics about how he'll do it. The judge said that the Watershed Management plan was developed without requesting input or guidance from any member of county government, and no thought was given as to how to implement the plan, both legally and financially. Villines said he doesn't support the plan because it has no basis in the laws of Arkansas, and because it will be easier to reach the same goal – protection of the water supply – through a strong subdivision ordinance that “incorporates the science of the plan.”
“Once that's passed,” Villines said, “we can assure folks that the watershed will be protected immediately. Then we can go to the second step, which is to develop the land use plan, which you have to have before you do zoning. He [Wyrick] doesn't understand that. He doesn't understand the laws of Arkansas. He's never worked in zoning or subdivisions. If he were to get elected, that would be a real mess, because he doesn't understand how this has to be done.”