Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

TOP STORY >>Sherwood mayor race a crowded field

Leader staff writer

Five candidates are vying to fill the remaining three-plus years of Sherwood Mayor Danny Stedman’s term.

Stedman resigned in April, just four months into his term, citing health reasons. The council quickly appointed former Mayor Bill Harmon to serve as the interim mayor until a new mayor is elected Tuesday, July 10.

All five candidates—Doris Anderson, Virginia Hillman, Harmon, Richard Devine and Victor Sierra—recently took time to answer questions from The Leader about their positions, beliefs and thoughts on the city and where they would take it. Their answers are listed under each question based on when they officially entered the mayor’s race.

Hillman was the first to file, turning in her paperwork on the first day of the filing period, April 13. She is 43 and resides at 9500 Stepping Stone Court. She is married to Steve Hillman and they have two children.

Hillman is the city’s clerk/treasurer. She was appointed to that position in 2001 when Bobbie Chapman retired. Hillman was then elected to that position in 2002 and won re-election in 2006. Anderson turned in her candidacy paperwork April 18. She is 52 and resides at 2507 Bearskin Dr. She is married to Mike Anderson and they have two daughters, four sons and 14 grandchildren. Anderson works for the Arkansas Department of Labor as an applications and systems manager.

Harmon filed on April 19. He is 79 and lives at 803 Club Road. He is married to Marvelle Harmon and they have three sons, one daughter, 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Harmon is now the interim mayor and has served 10 years as an alderman and 14 years as the mayor. Devine filed for the position on April 20. He is 54 and resides at 9631 Miller Road. He is married to Donna Avery and has two daughters. Devine is a realty specialist and negotiator for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Sierra was the last to throw his hat into the ring, filing on April 23. He is 57 and lives at 80 Shoshoni Drive. His wife, Lou Ellen, died almost two years ago. He has two sons and a grandson. Sierra is retired from the Air Force and Union Pacific.

Q: One of the most talked about issues is whether or not the city should buy the North Hills Golf Course and Country Club. Should the city run the golf course or is the area better suited for other development? What is your position and thoughts on the golf course issue?

Hillman: Generally speaking, citizens do not feel that they have had a voice in this decision. A proposal should be developed for the use of the property, along with a funding mechanism, and placed on the ballot for the people to decide.

The city is not financially able to purchase and maintain the property as a public golf course without an increase in tax or a decrease of services in other areas. Both the feasibility study and the appraisal indicate that the property, as well as existing structures, is in need of repairs in order to continue as a golf course. 

City leaders should have considered purchasing the property in the past when the offer was much less. The 105 acres would be a nice asset, as well as an investment, if the city had the finances to purchase the property. Expecting the current property owners to sell the property for one-half of what they have recently been offered does not seem fair nor is it good business. I would not appreciate being forced to sell my home for $100,000 if I had already had a valid offer of $200,000. The current lawsuit, with perhaps a second one pending, could be costly to the city. 

Anderson: I will not support a sales tax for the city to purchase a municipally run golf course.

More than $500 million total retail sales is required to yield $5.1 million from a 1 percent sales tax. Since this matter is now in federal court, I believe that a judge will determine what ultimately happens with the golf course and country club property. I do not believe that it is fair to the citizens of Sherwood to consider obligating them to such a huge long-term financial commitment without a vote of the people.

Harmon:  I would like to save the golf course as a golf course, and if that’s not possible, then it should become a park.
Devine: I believe the North Hills Country Club property would be an asset for the city of Sherwood.

During my door-to-door campaign, I talked with many residents about the golf course property and have come to the conclusion that if the property can be acquired without a tax increase and is a multi-use facility such as a municipal golf course, a park with walking trails, picnic areas, etc, it would be well utilized. The clubhouse would provide a classy setting for business and professional meetings and provide income for the city.

Sierra: I feel that purchasing the land for a golf course would truly be a waste of the taxpayers’ money.

After discussing the issues with others, I feel that it would be more profitable if the land were developed. Taxes would have to be increased a great deal for the golf course to run on its own. This would cause the land to be more of a burden than anything else.

By developing the land, the opportunity for growth is anticipated. This will bring more dollars to the city of Sherwood, making it a possibility to even lower taxes. The city does not have enough golfers to justify spending the taxpayers’ money to improve the course to get it up to the level that it needs to be.

Q: The golf course aside, what do you think are the most important issues facing Sherwood and how would you handle those issues?

Hillman: Sherwood has a great reputation of public safety.  With the population growth in Sherwood, more officers are needed on the streets for visibility.  The presence of officers on the streets is a proven crime deterrent. 

There are many streets within the city in need of improvements.  Brockington Road has been funded for many years but construction is yet to begin.  It is time to relieve the traffic congestion of the northern portion of the city and widen Brockington Road.  The city has recently annexed approximately 2,000 acres north of Gravel Ridge.  As this area develops, Brockington will carry even more traffic.

Anderson: Priorities for Sherwood include 1) public safety, protection and communication; 2) infrastructure, roads, sewer and drainage; 3) economic development and restaurants; 4) code enforcement and neighborhood integrity; and 5) education and youth services and activities.

We must address these priorities through a comprehensive development plan. We need to address the current and future needs that Sherwood faces for planned growth now and over the next 20 years. Many surrounding communities have recently completed comprehensive development plans. Benton has been working on their city plan for almost two years. We need planning and execution for our city, and preservation of financial reserves.

Sherwood needs a comprehensive development plan for orderly growth and development so that proper services are provided to meet the needs of all Sherwood residents.

Many areas in Sherwood need street improvements, curbs, sidewalks, drainage and sewer improvements, streetlights, neighborhood park maintenance and improvements, ADA basic compliance measures, etc. The city should address the needs of residents throughout Sherwood.

We must prioritize important issues facing our community, educate developers about our city’s strategic approach to keep Sherwood clean and beautiful, and evaluate our community resources based on their contribution to our environment and our quality of life. Sherwood must do all it can to create and preserve life cycle and lifestyle options that encourage community members to remain in our city; serve the needs of its current citizens; and continue to make it a city of choice for young families and diverse people that will keep our city vibrant and progressive.

North Little Rock Electric Department provides service to more than 6,700 Sherwood homes and businesses. Yet Sherwood residents have no voice and no representation in North Little Rock. Electric service to Sherwood homes and businesses should not be provided by another city. I will fight for Sherwood’s right to franchise with any utility provider.

According to the Highway Department, within 12 months, the 67/167 Brockington exit will be completed, and all of that traffic will be directed onto Brockington Road. Brockington Road has two lanes, two deep ditches, and no shoulders. Our emergency responders’ lives are on the line every time they have to travel Brockington Road. We have had several “incidents” over the past couple of years. What will we do?

Harmon: We need orderly growth, we need to continue to update and follow the land use plan, and be effective with our zoning.

Devine: Important issues facing Sherwood include providing improved roads and services for our continually growing city and economic development. I will be involved with all aspects of the city and recognize the importance of the chamber of commerce.

Sierra: Growth is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed by the city of Sherwood. Inflation happens on a regular basis, and if we are not growing, we will fall behind, and the taxpayer will pay for that in the future. More businesses need to be invited to our city.

Another thing that we need to think about is the quality of health care that we currently have available to our senior citizens. Our health plan needs to be addressed to include their needs.

Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of Sherwood?

Hillman: Sherwood is a wonderful place to live. The reputation within the city is that of a safe home town. 
We cannot ignore that the crime rate has increased within the past few years.  If we ever lose our reputation of a safe community, it will be very difficult to regain.

Our fire department has worked very hard to earn a very low ISO rating.  We have seen good teamwork within the Fire Department as the two departments worked to merge a few years ago.  The next step of progression should probably be moving toward a fully operated municipal fire department. 

Anderson: Our city has outstanding police and fire protection. Emergency responders provide for the personal safety and security of every man, woman and child that lives, works and plays in Sherwood. Our streets are safe and our neighborhoods are secure. I will continue to invest in our police officers and firefighters. I will also convene city and business leaders, police officials, and fire department officials to identify roles in responding to created and natural emergencies to protect our citizens and preserve our community’s ability to respond and recover quickly.

Sherwood has just received the opportunity and responsibility to service 1,951 acres through recent annexation. Because Sherwood is a great place to live, work and do business, more property owners will be asking to come into the city. The potential for build out may put pressure on city revenues and services. In the next few years, Sherwood will face critical challenges and great opportunities that will call for thoughtful, forward- thinking leadership.

Harmon: We have a low crime rate, great medical care, low fire rates, and a variety of very good private and public schools.
Devine: The strengths of Sherwood are its people and location. We have a good mix of young and old with relatively quick and easy access to work, entertainment and medical facilities.

Sierra: A strength that Sherwood has is the diversity of people that are residing here. We also have wonderful schools that focus on student achievement and our test scores show it. Our teachers care for our students, and our parents care for their children.

One weakness that the city has is that the current leadership does not work together enough. I feel that all of the taxpayers’ thoughts should be considered before making any decisions. The mayor’s job is to listen to all of taxpayers’ concerns and involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process.

Q: What is your stance on the North Belt Loop and would you like to see the portion coming through Sherwood to be finished sooner or later?

Hillman: It would be advantageous for the North Belt Loop to be completed as soon as possible. However, there is no guarantee that funding will be available to allow this to be accomplished in the near future. 

Early completion would provide much needed traffic relief on city streets. Also, more commercially zoned property would result, allowing for increased revenues. Regardless of the completion time frame, a route should be decided upon and rights-of-way acquired to prevent future development disputes. 

Anderson: I have heard some say that they believe that the North Belt Loop will not be built in their lifetime; however, it is sorely needed. The city and the Highway Department are still working on the exact location, but they have generally agreed on a route. On the last plans that I saw, some grade separations were still needed to accommodate ingress and egress for Sherwood citizens.

I know that the highway commissioners would like to toll the North Belt. Voters in northwest Arkansas agreed to a toll road and progress is being made to make their road a reality. They had a reception for the Highway Commissioners and demonstrated their need by taking commissioners out into gridlocked traffic on a bus. Sherwood and Jacksonville could collaborate and do the same. We have difficult traffic issues that need to be addressed, both getting into our city and getting around within our city.

Harmon: It should be built sooner rather than later.

Devine: The preferred alignment for the North Belt Loop appears to offer minimal relocation and disruption. The work should begin as soon as possible because it will take several years to complete.

Sierra: I have no problem with the North Belt Loop coming through our city. The expansion possibilities are endless.
As far as completion is concerned, I feel that the sooner the better. This will bring in many new businesses, and many new residents as well.

Q: Let’s cut to the chase. Why you? Why should the residents of Sherwood elect you mayor?

Hillman: Being employed for the city of Sherwood for the past 21 years has provided me with the much-needed experience to effectively manage the city. 

If you were building a home you would certainly hire someone with construction knowledge.  The same is true of the mayor’s position.  The office of mayor is not a training field for public service but rather a place to use experience and expertise.  My understanding of the finances of the city, dedication of the past 21 years, as well as knowledge of the operations of the city would benefit the citizens.

Anderson: Citizens should have a voice and a choice.

I am running for mayor because so many people called me and said they felt like they had neither. I know that I can do the job well. A good mayor should be able to listen well, with patience; reframe problems as opportunities; help people work together; get the job done without needing to take credit; encourage everyone to participate in city government; and, a good mayor should have a real working plan to make it happen.

As a career state employee and a certified public manager, I have extensive governmental management experience. I pledge inclusive, effective and transparent government.

I have been involved in the city with more than 12 years regular attendance at various city meetings. I have assisted with negotiations and resolution of numerous neighborhood issues through the years bringing direct, solution-oriented approaches that work through disagreement to consensus.

My husband, Mike, and I have sponsored and hosted many community events such as ERC/Chapel Ridge Apartments development revision workgroup, neighborhood watch C.O.P.P.S. events, attorney general family Internet safety presentation, meetings on construction and development issues, and most recently the Wal-Mart community forum.

I believe in transparency in government and I will work to promote open dialogue that yields understanding.
Harmon: I have experience and a track record as mayor for more than 14 years.

Devine: I love the city of Sherwood. I am a lifelong resident concerned with the best interest of the city as a whole and its residents specifically.

The city needs a strong leader who can see from outside the current city government structure. I offer a mature, yet energetic approach to leading the city into the future.

Sierra: I will push the city of Sherwood farther to get it on the map. I would like to see Sherwood more recognized than it already is.

I want to see Sherwood in a more positive way…somewhere that everyone wants to live. I would also like to allow more business to come to Sherwood so that our residents can earn a better living without having to travel out of the city. Children will definitely appreciate the fact that their parents are closer to home and even making a better living.

Q: Any final words or thoughts?

Hillman: I am ready to step into the position of mayor for the city of Sherwood and believe that I will serve the citizens well. 
Anderson: The coming years in Sherwood will call on city leaders as never before to be balanced and prudent in the city’s financial and development decisions.

As mayor, I will work to bring city government, citizens and businesses together to prepare our community for the future.
I will hold the line on taxes, identify and contain cost-drivers, while maintaining high-quality services. 
A city’s residents make it great. But, good leadership is essential.
Harmon: None.

Devine: Sherwood is a great place to live. This is evidenced by the many longtime residents and the military families living and retiring in our community.

The planners and leaders of Sherwood have done a great job of providing “quality of life” facilities such as the parks system, libraries and recreation centers.

Sierra: The children are our future. The more business opportunities there are in Sherwood, the more likelihood of our children to stay here in our city to continue to help it grow and improve.

We need to always find ways to improve our city to make it better for generations to come. If you elect me mayor, I will strive to make that dream a reality.