An edge for Wyrick at county judge's forum last night | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

An edge for Wyrick at county judge's forum last night

Posted By on Tue, Sep 9, 2014 at 4:48 AM

LET THERE BE LIGHT: The lighting on the Big Dam Bridge is in need of repair. Candidates for county judge were careful in expressing their thoughts on spending the money.
  • LET THERE BE LIGHT: The lighting on the Big Dam Bridge is in need of repair. Candidates for county judge were careful in expressing their thoughts on spending the money.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported
(subscription) this morning on a League of Women Voters forum for candidates for county judge and I'd have to give Republican Phil Wyrick the edge in answers reported there.

Wyrick, Democrat Barry Hyde and Libertarian Glen Schwarz are competing to succeed the retiring County Judge Buddy Villines.

The major topic was the county jail, the county's biggest responsibility. Wyrick said flatly that he would not support privatization of the jail. Hyde said the issue deserves a review, though it might not prove an option in the end. It doesn't deserve even a review. A private for-profit operator makes its money by shorting services already provided. The state went down that path briefly and calamitously.

Wyrick, but not Hyde, correctly sees problems in a proposed interlocal agreement that adds an unfair burden to the city of Little Rock in paying for jail inmates, particularly since the jail often can't hold some of the minor criminals who plague the city with car burglaries and the like. Hyde thinks there's an unfair burden on the county in jail financing. But the county is beneficiary of a countywide sales tax that couldn't have passed without strong support in Little Rock to begin with. The county should shoulder a big portion of the cost with that revenue.

Wyrick and Hyde both seemed to attempt to dodge straight answers on paying to replace decorative lights on the Big Dam Bridge, an enormously popular bike/hike attraction that is a monument to Villines' tenure. Wyrick said the high cost of maintenance should be considered when the county sets its priorities for spending. But he also said he had "no problem" with replacing the lights. Hyde noted, without giving a direct yes/no answer, that road and bridge money can only be spent on road and bridges, not transferred to the general fund.

Ongoing maintenance of existing infrastructure is part of the cost of doing business. The Big Dam Bridge — among other riverfront developments — is a big visitor lure. There's no shame in continuing maintenance, even for illumination, of significant structures. We replace the lighting on the state Capitol. Any candidate would do well to laud the attraction Villines has built on the river with this and another pedestrian bridge and connecting paths and parks. They should vow to preserve them.

Laugh at the comparison if you want, but Paris reaps millions in tourism spending by people who ride buses around at night to view illuminated structures. Aesthetics are part of what makes a city attractive, along with sound infrastructure, solid public services and a jail big enough to keep criminals off the streets.

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