On the agenda: More democracy for Little Rock city government | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

On the agenda: More democracy for Little Rock city government

Posted By on Tue, Jun 12, 2018 at 1:21 PM

click to enlarge DIRECTOR HENDRIX: Wants to change board elections.
  • DIRECTOR HENDRIX: Wants to change board elections.
Little Rock City Director Erma Hendrix introduced at the City Board agenda session today her idea to end the election of at-large members of the city Board.

The ordinance would refer the question to voters.

Hendrix wants ward elections for all seats. Currently, three of 10 directors are elected at large in citywide races typically controlled by the moneyed business establishment.

A final ordinance was distributed this afternoon. At last report, a final copy wasn't ready ahead of time for public view, City Attorney Tom Carpenter said. Carpenter also was instructed to provide some history on the evolution of Little Rock city government to its current blended administrator-mayor structure.

In the past, the three black members of the Board — Hendrix, Ken Richardson and Doris Wright — have expressed support for the change. City Director Kathy Webb also made some positive remarks in 2015. That's not enough to pass the ordinance. The at-large directors — Dean Kumpuris, Gene Fortson and Joan Adcock — all oppose a reorganization.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and people aligned with it hate direct democracy, which is why the chamber pushed to end democratic control of the Little Rock School District by a majority-black board. It can be expected to take a similar view of a government structure that could put city government closer to the people and farther from the vested corporate interests it represents.

Hendrix said by e-mail that she expected the ordinance to come up today. Officially, it would be to put the ordinance on the meeting of the Board June 19.

UPDATE: Here's Carpenter's memo on the history of LR government structure. It's a rough draft, he cautions.

Still waiting for the ordinance draft, but it calls for a seven-member, ward-only Board and a directly elected mayor. It was distributed and will be discussed at the Board meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 19.

There was a limited discussion at the City Board meeting. I came in late to the live stream, but I believe I understood Hendrix to say her government structure would be cheaper and that she intended to go to court to challenge the current system if it isn't changed. That drew no response.

Here's the ordinance distributed to the board today. Note that it says it's intended to correct racial discrimination in the city, which has a black city manager, police chief and fire chief, but three blacks on a 10-member board in a city with a 40 percent-plus black population. If approved (which it won't be), the election would be in November.

It would simply abolish the at-large positions, none on the ballot this year. Adios Kumpuris, Adcock and Fortson.

Talk continues of independent efforts for a petition drive to change Little Rock's form of government, not simply to eliminate the at-large directors. Expanded mayor powers would be part of that drive. It would come in a year that appears to have a vibrant four-person race for mayor.

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