Time for a change in Little Rock city government? | Arkansas Blog

Friday, March 2, 2018

Time for a change in Little Rock city government?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 2, 2018 at 10:21 AM

WANT TO FIGHT CITY HALL? How about changing the power structrure.
  • WANT TO FIGHT CITY HALL? How about changing the power structrure.
State Rep. John Walker, the civil rights lawyer, and I have often discussed the need for a more democratic Little Rock city government — specifically a mayor-council government with all city directors elected from wards.

We now have a hybrid government. The full-time, directly elected mayor has some powers — appointment and veto — and a city manager whose significant administrative powers include hiring top department heads. I don't think I exaggerate in saying a lot of people see flaws in the system. In the end, the mayor's power begins and ends with his ability to round up six votes on the City Board.

We elect seven city directors by ward and three at-large. The at-large seats are more expensive to seek and, thus, the business community generally controls those elections.  The winners tend to be white. Only 3 of 11 decisions makers are people of color in a city where the majority of the population is now people of color.

Candidates for mayor this year aren't saying much about it, but others are saying it's time to change Little Rock government. North Little Rock is a good role model. Mayors there have been aggressive in delivering various agendas. Don't like them, vote them out.

It happens that this is a good year to try in Little Rock. An ordinance to change the form of Little Rock government can be put on the ballot by initiative. It would require signatures from 15 percent of the voters in the 2014 mayoral election, a relatively small count of 52,045 because Mayor Mark Stodola was unopposed. That means 7,806 signatures could put the ordinance on the ballot.  The petitions must be filed between 60 and 90 days before the November election.

Any interest out there? I've just heard some interest from new corners of the political world, including at least one with the potential to provide some financial clout.

Consider this a run up the flagpole. I can figure who would NOT salute, including many members of the perpetually re-elected, calcified City Board, average age 67 going on 103.

PS — This need not be a referendum on any personality. Maybe Mark Stodola would emerge as a truly strong mayor. Maybe a smart mayor would want to keep the competent and politically astute City Manager Bruce Moore around as a chief of staff. (He could run for mayor.) Maybe the old folks among them — Gene Fortson, 82; Erma Hendrix, 87, Joan Adcock, 78 — would run again and be rewarded by ward voters (Fortson and Adcock both run at-large) for their long experience and constituent service. My own interest is systemic, not personal.

PPS — Good time to consider a change in campaign finance law, too. Some city directors would be sorely short of cash if denied money from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC or real estate businesses. If you wonder why some directors vote for a $300,000 taxpayer subsidy to the chamber, take a look at their campaign finance reports for dough from the chamber PAC and its leaders.

UPDATE: A wholly different source informs me about work by a small group already underway on a potential government change ordinance. Problem: Under existing law, ward directors would have to live in the ward and currently be elected city wide. A vote of the new council would be necessary to change that, so voters would have to trust that proper outcome. Trust the city board? That's why a change is necessary in the first place. Also there's some question about what ward boundaries would be. If the immediate result reverted to ward alignments in the 1950s, it would obviously be unacceptable.

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