Leader Blues

Monday, April 09, 2007

TOP STORY >>Aldermen will decide on interim

IN SHORT: Mayor Danny Stedman resigns four months into his four-year term, citing health reasons.

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

The Sherwood City Council will pick an interim mayor Tuesday night and set a date for a special election to elect a mayor to serve the remainder of Danny Stedman’s term.

Stedman, 58, announced his immediate resignation Thursday citing health reasons.

“With the strong recommendation of my doctor, the demands of my wife, family and close friends, I resign from the position of mayor,” Stedman’s April 5 letter stated.

Stedman butted heads in Feb-ruary over a department head hiring and was soundly chastised by the council. He’s also been working hard with council members and others to determine what options the city has in the pending sale of the North Hills Country Club for residential development.

Shortly after a meeting over the golf course issue March 28, Stedman was rushed to the hospital with chest pains, missing the council meeting that night.

He was hospitalized overnight for tests and observation. Doctors said he did not suffer a heart attack.
“I deeply appreciate my friends and supporters,” the mayor said in his resignation letter, “for their steadfast backing, however; in the final analysis, my health, the health off my wife, a two-time cancer survivor, must be my number one priority.”

Julann Carney, a Sherwood resident, called Stedman’s resignation a truly sad event. “All that Sherwood could have become is now diminished with Mayor Stedman’s departure. The aldermen should feel ashamed that their actions contributed to his early departure. At each turn in the map of progress that the mayor laid out, each alderman put up roadblocks. Mayor Stedman was not given the opportunity to serve with the mandate of the people because of petty politics.

“I respect his decision to resign due to health concerns. But he would have never had the stress reach stratospheric levels had the council worked with him in good faith,” Carney said.

In a council-called meeting March 6, the aldermen, after listening to a passionate plea for the mayor from a number of citizens, voted 6-1 to fire the person the mayor had recently hired to run the city’s public works department.
Stedman called it a “sad day for the city.”

Once the meeting opened, Alderman Charlie Harmon, the son of former Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon, quickly made a motion to rescind Stedman’s hiring of Lee Church as the public works director.

This is the same Lee Church that the council approved by a 6-1 vote at a Jan. 22 board meeting to be the city’s representative on the joint emergency medical services board which oversees operations of MEMS.

The only nay vote came from Alderman Sheila Sulcer, but the minutes reflect that her concerns were not with Church, but with certain people being appointed to the parks and recreation commission.

After the meeting some aldermen said the concern was that the person the mayor had hired to run the department, Lee Church, was a problem in the city’s fire department and it wasn’t right to move a problem from one department to another.
Yet other council members were upset because they had not been consulted like they had been in the past when other mayors ran the city.

A few days later, Harmon prepared an ordinance to clarify the how and when the mayor could hire department heads and how the council could veto any appointment.

Harmon pulled the ordinance a few days before the March 26 council meeting after meeting with Stedman and receiving assurances that the council would be more involved. At the council-called meeting, Stedman told the council that in the 65 days that he had been mayor that he had worked every day.

“I’ve been in the day-to-day trenches,” he said. “I have the authority to obtain my own department heads.”
He called the council’s decision “government at its worst. Neither I as the mayor, or Lee Church, have been given the opportunity to succeed or to fail.”

After the mayor spoke, the public was given a chance to weigh in on the debate, according to the agenda.
About 10 residents spoke, nine backing the mayor, including his wife. She called the council “cornbread mafia” for their backdoor attack on the mayor.

At the February council meeting, Stedman presented the state of the city address, telling the council and residents that Sherwood had started litigation to free about 6,000 of the city’s homes and businesses from paying the high-rising North Little Rock electric rates.

North Little Rock supplies electricity to a large portion of Sherwood, and those customers, along with North Little Rock residents, recently saw their bills jump 38 percent.

First Electric Cooperative and Entergy also supply electricity to the city.

“We’ve started litigation to determine our sovereign right to purchase electric service from whomever we choose,” The mayor said.

He said the city had no franchise agreement with North Little Rock. “It has just sort of evolved,” Stedman pointed out.
The mayor said the problem with North Little Rock electricity is that it is not regulated by the state’s Public Service Commission, which oversees rate increases from other electric utilities servicing the city.

Since North Little Rock is not under the control of the PSC, “it can raise its rates at any time and as high as it wants,” the mayor said.

Stedman also told aldermen that Sherwood has the second-highest educational and family income levels in the state and boasts the lowest per capita crime rate in central Arkansas.

“There is no doubt,” the mayor said, “that Sherwood can be a benchmark city for the entire country.”
Now it will have to do that without Stedman at the helm.

Stedman, who had served four years as an alderman, beat out businessman Mike Presson in the November 2006 general election for the mayor’s position, garnering 62 percent of the vote.

When announcing his plans to run for mayor in the summer of 2006, Stedman said, “As a 30-year resident and former small business owner, I know Sherwood is a great place to raise a family and build a life.”

“I want to use my experience on the city council and my abilities to continue to make Sherwood one of the best cities in our state to call home,” he said.

Stedman is a 28-year retired Air Force/Arkansas Air National Guard lieutenant colonel and a Vietnam combat veteran.
During his military career, he held many leadership positions including squadron commander and wing executive officer.

Stedman has served as president, board member and has chaired many committees for the Sherwood Chamber of Commerce. He was president of the Sherwood Rotary Club and is a past chairman of the Sherwood Civil Service Commission.
He has served as a part time educator for ASU Beebe in Management and Political Science and has extensive experience in economic development.

He’s been married to the former Barbara Weeks of Fordyce for 36 years. They have two daughters, Dr. Stephanie Flaherty and Stacey Riley, both educated in Sherwood public schools.