TOP STORY > >Recognition for mayor is deserved
Leader staff writer
Art Brooke, the Ward mayor who for the past 10 years has worked to upgrade the city’s water and sewer systems to get ready for the growth that he knew was almost certain to come, was named last week the Ward Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.
He was given the honor because he de-served it, said Sharon Roberts, branch manager of Community Bank in Ward, vice president of the board of the Ward Chamber of Commerce and Brooke’slongtime friend.
“He’s just an outstanding citizen,” Roberts said. “He volunteers in everything in the Ward area. He’s an outstanding Christian man and I just think the world of him. A lot of people do.”
John Barclay, last year’s citizen of the year, made the presentation, saying Brooke was chosen because of his integrity and his dedication to taking care of people first.
When Brooke became mayor in 1999, the outgoing mayor had asked the council to cut the salary for the office from $20,000 to $10,000 and it stayed there for almost a year even though Brooke routinely worked 70 hours a week and attended long meetings in Little Rock and across the central part of the state while he worked on improvement projects for the city.
In his first years, improvements in the city sewer and water systems put the city 11 years ahead of where it had to be for the size of the population. Now the mayor says that margin is narrowing and he is working toward more improvements.
Brooke said he rejected initial proposals for the latest planned $2.7 million water project because it would have raised the flat rate by $5.70.
“The people couldn’t afford that,” he said.
By shopping around for the money and borrowing for 35 years instead of 30, that increase will be only $1.70, he said.
Brooke, 67, retired as chief of infrastructure at Little Rock Air Force Base to run for mayor.
In addition to improvements to water and sewer, he has to his credit the purchase of the Ward Elementary School building that now houses his office, the water department, police department, the library and parks.
Asked why he thought he was honored by the chamber, Brooke said he hoped the picture Barclay had painted of him is the one that most people see. Although planning for the future consumes much of his time, Brooke said he tries to never turn anyone away who comes to him with a problem.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel was the keynote speaker for the 34th annual Ward Chamber of Commerce banquet. He talked about the importance of quality education for all children, and gave updates on current litigation and issues he is involved with.
He is currently reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the protocol used for lethal in-jection in Kentucky is legal. Since Arkansas’ is similar, he will soon talk to the governor and the department of corrections about what the ruling means for Arkansas.
He also has been looking into the legality of payday lenders and following the recent state Supreme Court decisions. His office sent cease-and-desist letters to about 156 business locations. McDaniel said he is thankful for the public support he has received on this matter, and is encouraged by the industry’s initial response.
Like Ward’s newest citizen of the year, McDaniel says he is concerned about people. His office has launched a new comprehensive initiative called “Be Street Smart,” which includes a Web site (www.bestreetsmart.org), as well as some public service announcements featuring information on credit card fraud, Internet safety and drunk driving.
The purpose of the initiative is to educate and inform the public on ways to prevent identity theft, avoid consumer scams and learn more about Internet safety and senior protection.
The banquet is a fundraiser for the Ward Chamber of Commerce. Roberts said the proceeds will help pay for a program that is just starting to help the elderly cool their homes with donated fans and air conditioners.
Programs of that type are what Brooke means when he says he tries to not send anyone away from city hall without the help they need.
“If I or my staff can’t help them, we try to put them in touch with someone who can,” Brooke said. “I believe in helping. It’s who I am whether I’m the citizen of the year or not.”