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Lance Hines wants to make Little Rock a better place for new business 

click to enlarge BRINGING BUSINESS TO THE BOARD: Ward 5 City Director Lance Hines wants to bring his business experience to the Board of Directors and make new development easier in Little Rock. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRINGING BUSINESS TO THE BOARD: Ward 5 City Director Lance Hines wants to bring his business experience to the Board of Directors and make new development easier in Little Rock.

As City Director of Ward 5, Lance Hines wants to represent the business community’s interests on the city board. Now in his third term as a city director, Hines said he wants to make both residential and retail development easier in Little Rock and increase the city’s revenue by recruiting “one of a kind” retailers to make it a source for “destination shopping.”

Hines, 50, works as director of sales and business development for Priority 1 Inc., a long-haul transportation logistics company, experience he said that has taught him the importance of business involvement in city government.  “I really just think that if business people don’t start making sacrifices and get involved with our government, we’re not going to have as good [of] a government as we can,” he said. “Because I think, coming from that side of the equation, it gives you a different perspective.”

Hines said people often get involved in city government after they retire, but he began serving on the board of directors at age 41. It was difficult to strike a balance between building his career and making time for his family, a struggle that Hines said has been his “sacrifice,” but one that he’s calling for other people in Little Rock’s business community to undertake.

“When I talk about making sacrifices, I always thought I’d never be able to be in public office while I was still working,” he said. “You see a lot of business people too busy making money to feed their families and grow their business to serve in public office.”

The involvement of “business people” in government is crucial to making Little Rock a friendlier city for development, Hines said. He hopes Mayor Frank Scott Jr. will change the city’s planning and development department’s attitude toward the “general business environment”: Hines said he’s heard from local developers that there are “two sets of standards” for development in Little Rock.

“There’s a set of standards for downtown development, and there’s a set of standards for what we do in West Little Rock,” he said. “The standards for what they require in West Little Rock are much higher, from a standpoint of being able to get things done. There’s not as much give and take as there is for some of the downtown folks. … I think at a time that was needed, a little tilt of the playing field for downtown, but at some point, you’ve got to level that out, because downtown’s got the inertia and steam.”

Hines supports the creation of a new “developer or builder advocate” position within the Planning and Development Department at City Hall. He or she would “help shepherd development through the planning process” to guide developers through necessary paperwork and deadlines. Hines also suggests “shortening the window” for the planning process, saying new projects often take up to 12 weeks to be approved by the Planning Commission.

According to Hines, creating a more fertile environment for development will play a crucial role in restoring Little Rock’s status as a “destination shopping” city.

“As a city, we generate all of our sales tax mainly through retail,” Hines said. “But we have to have retailers that are one of a kind. People used to come to Little Rock to shop. … We’ve got to have retailers like Apple, like J. Crew, that are destination shopping. But that’s economic development, and we can’t get any funding for it.”

Hines said there are “no economic development dollars” being used for the recruitment of new retail businesses. A change in policy would “have to happen at the state level,” he said. Hines said the Arkansas Economic Development Commission instead prioritizes funding for recruiting manufacturers to the state. Like Scott, Hines supports the opening of a Topgolf, the Houston-based golf and sports bar franchise, in Little Rock, but he said Governor Hutchinson is unlikely to spend Quick Action Closing Fund money on establishing a Topgolf in the city. The Quick Action Closing Fund is a program that allows Arkansas to give cash grants to recruit or retain businesses to the state.

He added he supports state legislation that would require Internet merchants to collect sales tax on purchases made in Arkansas. The bill, which recently passed in the House of Representatives, would raise around $40 million a year in new revenue.

While Hines supports Mayor Scott’s decision to handle administration of city departments, a job that formerly fell to the city manager, he said he is not in favor of Scott’s desire to eliminate at-large positions on the city board. “This is the form of government you’ve got, so you need to operate it and see where we can get operating it like we’d envisioned it,” he said. “Because that’s what the city voted on. We went through a two-year process to get the form of government we’ve got.”

Hines said he believes the positions are necessary, saying that, in his experience working with at-large directors Dean Kumpuris, Gene Fortson and Joan Adcock, “they really do take it [seriously] that they represent the whole city. They put on what’s good for the whole city first vs. just what’s good for that area of the city.” To the criticism that at-large directors vote as a unit, or vote against minority interests, Hines responded that this “isn’t true,” saying this is a “feeling, but it’s not verifiable.

“I think the big, ugly fact is that the power of incumbency is huge,” Hines said. “I think one of the things we ought to change is, like in the mayor’s race, if you’re going to run, it can’t be just a plurality where most votes wins.”

He referred to Ward 1 City Director Erma Hendrix, who ran against eight other candidates in the 2018 election and won by 33 percent of the vote.

“It needs to be either a 40 percent or a 50 percent [vote]. That way, you get some real accountability.”

Hines said the recent elections of Scott as mayor, Terri Hollingsworth as county clerk and Eric Higgins as sheriff proves that “to say that an African-American can’t get elected in this county or this city is just not true.

“If I was putting my effort into it, I’d try to find a candidate that could run and get cross support, not only of the African-American community, but of the business community. Those guys are out there,” Hines said.

***

Hines was born and raised in Little Rock. After briefly living in Louisiana, where he graduated from high school, he returned to the city in 1991 and has lived here since. He said the “genesis” of his interest in public service and government was a “really good ninth grade civics teacher.

“You’ve got to remember, that would have been in 1981,” Hines said. “My coming of age was during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, so that shapes a lot of what I do.”

Hines and his wife, Stacey, built their home in the Villages of Wellington neighborhood in West Little Rock. Before being elected to the city board, he served for two years on the neighborhood’s Communication Association Board of Directors, an experience which he described as a “primer” for his current position as a city director.

The couple built their house in Villages of Wellington “mainly so our daughter could go to public school,” Hines said. The neighborhood is zoned for Baker Elementary, which is in the Pulaski County School District, and Hines said he and his wife hoped a new middle school would be built in West Little Rock during their daughter’s time at Baker. If not, they planned on doing an MTM — or majority to minority — transfer to Pulaski Heights Middle School.

When PHMS met its quota and no longer accepted MTM transfers, he said the family’s “only option was private school” because at the time, Robinson Middle School was “not what it is today.

“We would have preferred to keep our kid in public school, but our hand was forced,” Hines said. “We had two choices: Go to private school, or move out of Little Rock, which we’re not going to do.”

Hines’s daughter is now a senior at Little Rock Christian Academy, a private school that Hines said is “not what the real world looks like.

“As private schools go, at Little Rock Christian, she’s going to school with normally Christian kids that are very affluent,” he said. “It’s not what the real world looks like. The real world doesn’t look like who she’s going to school with. And I think that’s the thing you lose not having grown up [in public school.]”

While he acknowledges that the student body at Little Rock Christian is not reflective of the demographics of Little Rock, Hines added that part of the reason he and his wife chose Little Rock Christian is because it offers “mission trips [and] local service projects so that they give them more of a worldview.”

“They’re not quite as sheltered, I think, as some of the other private schools,” he said.

Hines said he’s a “big proponent” of not only public schools, but also public charter schools.

“I think if you look at the urban environments in the U.S., true urban settings, mid-major cities like Little Rock and bigger, you have to have an all-of-the-above approach, which is public schools, public charter schools and private schools,” he said. “You have to have that whole ecosystem … in order to appeal to everybody.”

Hines supported the state’s takeover of the Little Rock School District in 2015, and he said he supports the restoration of it to local control “at some point” after fixing “some structural issues that need to be changed.” While “nobody wants a school to close,” Hines said the LRSD is “coming to the realization [that] you’ve got to have schools where the kids are.”

Hines said “from a business standpoint,” schools represent “fixed costs” for the district, and when facing budgetary cuts, reducing fixed cost can result in the closure and consolidation of schools, such as the closing of Franklin Elementary, Wilson Elementary, Woodruff Preschool and Hamilton Learning Academy in 2017. When schools are consolidated, Hines said “the best thing you can do” is ensure children of different races and socio-economic backgrounds attend school together.

“That is something the district has never addressed, is to redraw district boundaries to make schools representative of the neighborhoods they serve,” Hines said.

The current zoning of elementary schools within the LRSD, according to Hines, results in children only attending schools with other students of their own race.

“That’s the big difference that I think you don’t see at some of our schools,” Hines said. “Those kids don’t get to see what the rest of Little Rock looks like. They don’t ever leave their neighborhoods in Southwest Little Rock or the east side, and same for the kids in West Little Rock who never see Southwest Little Rock or the east side.”

In his nine years as a city director, two of which he served as vice mayor, one of Hines’ appointments has been to the Commission on Children, Youth and Families. During his time on the commission, Hines said the city’s Prevention, Intervention and Treatment programs have undergone a change to less “reactive” and more “proactive” methods.

“What we’ve found … is that we’re starting to have to reach the kids at a younger and younger age,” he said. “It used to be that you waited until they were in middle school. If you wait until they’re in middle school now, you’ve lost them, because of stuff they see and are exposed to.”

The improvement of PIT programs is part of Little Rock’s three-year Master Plan for Children, Youth and Families, which the city released in 2016. The plan aims to improve programming, access to education and job training, and to use data to identify flaws within the PIT system. Hines said he feels the Master Plan has been “effective” because he knows “what the city looks like when we don’t do it.”

As a way to improve the CYF commission, Hines said he feels it needs “more diversity of backgrounds” among the members that make it up, saying that it was initially set up with primarily people in the youth, children and family services “industry.” While people in the “industry” are well-equipped to handle the duties of the commission, Hines said it needs other people of different backgrounds to “question the status quo,” which could help recruit more employers for the summer youth employment program.

“Our [commission] staff does a great job, but nobody really on our committee has the relationships with the business community like, say, I do,” Hines said. “[People who will] go to the Chamber [of Commerce] and say, ‘We’ve got employees who will pay to come work at your job sites.’ But we’ve got to have more job sites.”

Many of the summer youth employment jobs are with the Parks and Recreation Department, such as lifeguard and maintenance facility worker positions. Hines said he’s been able to recruit more private employers for the program, and he said the key to recruiting more is “getting the word out” and “doing a better job of telling our story.”

Public safety is also a high priority for Hines, who said he hoped the new Little Rock police chief — who had not yet been chosen when the Times spoke with Hines — would help determine whether the LRPD is in need of 100 additional officers, a number Scott used frequently during his mayoral campaign. In West Little Rock, Hines said the issue is not how many officers there are, but how quickly police respond to a call.

“[Former Chief Stuart] Thomas used to tell people, when they’d say [to him], ‘We just want the same kind of police protection they have in West Little Rock,’ he’d say, ‘No you don’t, because there isn’t any,’” Hines said. “Policing is very reactive. Police go where the crime is, not the other way around. But we still deserve, in West Little Rock, a reasonable response time. Not 25 minutes.”

Hines said he would call for the formation of a “true” West Little Rock patrol division, saying it could base out of the existing Josephine Pankey substation. West Little Rock is currently patrolled by the Northwest Patrol Division, a division Hines said was “carved out when there was no population in West Little Rock. Its office is located at 10001 Kanis Road, and according to the city of Little Rock’s website, the Northwest Patrol Division is “comprised of eight patrol districts and encompasses the area west of University Avenue and north of Rock Creek/Colonel Glenn Road.”

Hines suggests the establishment of a West Little Rock patrol division would in turn shrink the Northwest Patrol Division and allow more officers to respond quicker in each division. “It’s just a reallocation of assets and a restructuring of how everything’s done,” he said.

Hines said he looks forward to working with the new police chief and with Scott on this issue, as well as to improving the quality of life in Little Rock at large.

“My problem is I’m one of those weird guys, I don’t mind change. Change is good, I think changing just to change is not good,” Hines said. “I think what [Scott] is doing is probably needed to reset.”

Hines said his only concern is the mayor’s choice to head six of the biggest departments in the city — finance, fire, human resources, planning, police and public works — as he feels Scott hasn’t overseen so many employees before.

“Time will tell, but I think he’s got to do that,” Hines said. “He can either prove he can do it, or it won’t work. I think it will.”
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