Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

TOP STORY >> Privett is ousted as Lonoke mayor

BY JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Voters registered their discontent with the controversial official and will decide in a runoff June 13 whether Alderman Wayne McGee or Jim Parks, the top vote-getters in last week’s primary, should be their next mayor.
June 13.

Although he couldn’t be sure until the votes were finally counted late Saturday, Lonoke city voters turned Mayor Thomas Privett out of office last week, his association with indicted former Police Chief Jay Campbell apparently outweighing his leadership and advances on a number of important projects.

In his stead, voters will choose in the June 13 Democratic primary runoff between Alderman Wayne McGee and Jim Parks, a retired businessman. The winner will be mayor in January. McGee was the top vote getter with 438, followed by Parks with 362, Privett with 215 and Roy Henderson with 38 votes.

COUNCIL PRIMARIES

In two contested alderman’s races, former quorum court member Woody Evans unseated incumbent Jackie Moore, 60 to 37, and incumbent Pat Howell turned back a challenge from his predecessor, Bob Butler, 61-33.

Evans and Howell have no opposition in November.

Privett said he was disappointed that his efforts to bring a new I-40 interchange to Lonoke, annexing land to the city and working with the chamber of commerce and others toward bringing manufacturing jobs to town was insufficient for reelection.

But in the end, voters apparently wanted a change, finding Privett tainted not only by his association with Campbell, but by his use of inmate labor at his home.

Campbell resigned in Feb-ruary after being indicted on several theft and drug-related felonies. Privett himself faces a misdemeanor charge related to the inmate labor.

Privett said he’d be an active mayor, continuing to work to bring more jobs and prosperity to the town until the new mayor is sworn in in January.

McGee said Tuesday that he was excited by his top showing, but that the key to victory in the June 13 runoff would be getting his voters back to the polls. Early runoff voting started Tuesday at the Lonoke County Courthouse.

TURNOUT KEY

With only their race and a constable’s runoff locally, both McGee and Parks say turnout may be quite low.

McGee said he thought voters just wanted change. Of the mayor’s entanglements with Campbell and the courts, he said, “I’m sure that had something to do with it. It played a part in my deciding to run.”

McGee said he’d continue the work Privett had advanced to make the town more prosperous.

“I want to continue to try to bring business in but I don’t want it to get out of hand,” he said. “Controlled growth. I don’t want to do anything that would take away from the downtown area.”

He said work with sewer lines and to get the new school open would be top priorities.

Parks said he was confident that concerned citizens would return to the polls to choose the person and leadership style they think can move Lonoke forward.
McGee has lived in Lonoke all his life, but Parks says he’s been in town 33 years. Now retired, he has time to run the town in a professional manner, he said.
Parks’ priorities include the new overpass and continuing work to bring industry, but he also wants a budget and budget process that requires more accountability.

He said it needs to be prepared like county government prepares its budget, showing the amount spent year-to-date and compared to previous years.

BUDGET SAY

Privett said Tuesday that when the city begins its new budget process, he’d bring in the primary winner, who will replace him in January, allowing the new mayor a hand in preparing the budget.

Privett said that he’s disappointed to have lost the primary, but not surprised. “I analyzed it several weeks ago,” he said. “I knew it would be difficult.

“People expect you to get out and ask them for their votes, and I was busy with city business, some of which I can’t talk about yet, and with this other businesses.

“I didn’t get a lot of help from the media either,” he added.

“The city will still be a good place, and I think in the last three and a half years we’ve made it a better place.”

OTHERS

Others slated to be sworn in as Lonoke aldermen in January without opposition are Jane Derning and incumbents Efrem Z. Jones, Raymond Hatton, Michael Flo-rence and Phillip Howell.

In the District 4 alderman seat being vacated after 16 years by Dick Bransford, Republican Robert (Bob) Combs faces Democrat Kenneth Pasley.

Incumbent Jack Wall Mc-Crary is unopposed for city treasurer, and City Clerk Billie U. Uzzell also is unopposed for reelection.