Leader Blues

Friday, October 24, 2008

TOP STORY > >Villines,Wyrick trade barbs

Leader staff writer

Republican Phil Wyrick is making the perpetually troubled county jail and the quality of Central Arkansas’ water supply top issues in his campaign to unseat Pulaski County Judge F.G. “Buddy” Villines.

Democrat incumbent Villines, who has been the county judge since 1991, contends that Wyrick is making unfair accusations about his record and leadership. He says that he has a solid plan to increase jail bed space and protect Lake Maumelle, the source of drinking water for two thirds of the nearly half million people living in the Little Rock metropolitan area.

Wyrick says that Villines has been too slow to take action on the Lake Maumelle Watershed Management Plan, which was unanimously adopted by the Central Arkansas Water Commission in Feb- ruary 2007. He faults Villines for not pushing the quorum court to do the same and adopt the recommendations set forth in the plan. He contends that the pristine lake is imperiled, without regulations to curb money-hungry developers who don’t care about water quality.

“This is the moment. If we don’t act, the opportunity will be lost forever,” Wyrick maintains.

The quorum court’s adoption of the watershed-management plan would be “meaningless,” says Villines, because the plan is only a set of recommendations with no provisions for regulation or enforcement. That takes the action of government entities, which must formulate subdivision ordinances, and then craft a land- use plan as a basis for zoning ordinances.

When watershed management was being researched and the report written a few years ago, Villines says, “Nobody asked [the county government] about enforcements, but we lack the human infrastructure to make it happen. Without that, it is a false promise. My opponent doesn’t explain how he would do that, but I know something about zoning. I was the city of Little Rock’s first zoning-enforcement officer while attending night law school, and I have taken courses in land-use law.”

A subdivision ordinance for the Lake Maumelle watershed, Villines says, is now ready for review by the quorum court and planning commission, after more than a year of work by the staffs of the county government and Central Arkansas Water.

“This will provide immediate protections by setting scientific standards for how you develop property – for things like runoff, absorption rates and development on slope,” Villines said.

Jonathan Long, CAW’s watershed administrator, confirmed that the draft ordinance is now completed.

“We finally have a draft ordinance that we are relatively comfortable with,” Long said.

“The water commission feels it will protect water quality as the plan intended it to be. They support the staff in what they’ve done.”

Long said that a similar ordinance-development plan is just starting with the government of Saline County, which includes part of the Lake Maumelle watershed.

Long emphasized that formal adoption and enforcement have not yet occurred, and that the draft is but a “good first step.” He expressed some regret that the ordinance will not contain everything he wished for, but is pleased that it would bar surface releases of waste water into the lake, a critical safeguard for water quality. This would prohibit discharges of water from “mini” treatment facilities located in the watershed. Instead, untreated or treated water would be routed out of the watershed to another wastewater system.

“Central Arkansas doesn’t realize what a valuable resource Lake Maumelle is,” Long continued. “It is a textbook pristine drinking reservoir with no surface discharges, and we want to protect that.”

Wyrick also faults Villines for the chronic shortage of beds at the county jail and calls a collapsed roof at the jail last spring that required closure of a wing (now reopened) “a lack of attention to detail” on Villines’ part, “a reflection on how this county government has taken care of things.”

He faults Villines for allowing county government agencies to use up a $12 million surplus that existed when he took office. He says he would veto budgets to control spending if he were county judge.

Wyrick says Villines’ priorities are wrong, and that if elected his priorities will be public safety, fire protection, road-maintenance and repairs and garbage pickup.

“Things like the Big Dam Bridge are wonderful things that enhance our community, but that should not be at the expense of public health and public safety,” Wyrick said.

Villines says he deserves another term because “we have done a lot of things to create a community where people want to live, work, and play,” and that is essential for economic development.

As for the jail crowding, Villines vows there will be 240 to 250 beds added to the jail next year, and that crime prevention efforts will be stepped up.

Both he and Wyrick agree that crime is a problem that communities “can’t just build their way out of.”

As for the depleted surplus, Villines said $3.5 million was used to open the new jail constructed during his tenure. But because there was no sales tax to fund operations, the surplus was drained as revenues just could not keep pace with the ever-growing demand for beds.

He allows that he should have perhaps at times taken a firmer lead in reigning in spending, but points out that he does not have the authority of a “strong mayor,” as some constituents believe.

To the idea of vetoing a proposed budget as a way to accomplish that, Villines remarked, “Veto the whole budget? And close the jail? Would you do that? That is just not politically realistic, with 15 quorum court members, all lobbied by the 24 agency heads.”

Wyrick says that he feels for law enforcement officers who are fed up with trying to keep criminals off the street.

“These guys are in a bind, and non-violent crime is soaring – there is no place to lock up – “only catch and release,” he said. He says he would need two terms – four years in all – to solve the jail crowding problem, “or you don’t need me anymore.”

Wyrick served three terms in the state House of Representatives, one term in the state Senate, and for more than 30 years has been a small business owner in cattle farming and bathroom-fixture manufacturing.

He served five years as the head of the Livestock and Poultry Commission under Gov. Mike Huckabee. He attended Ouachita Baptist University and University of Arkansas-Fayetteville and majored in speech and political science. He lives in Mabelvale.