Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Seventh candidate runs for mayor

By ERIC FRANCIS
Special to The Leader

Emphasizing the fact he was born at Rebsamen Medical Center and is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville, Jody Urquhart filed papers with the Pulaski County clerk on Tuesday to run for mayor.

“I take great pride in that, actually,” said Urquhart of his nativity.
A special election will be held May 12 to succeed Mayor Tommy Swaim, who will resign on July 1.

Urquhart, 36, is an area coordinator for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, working with “farm and ranch folks” in 13 north-central Arkansas counties. He and his wife Keri have been married 10 years and have a 7-year-old daughter at Pinewood Elementary School. He attended the University of Arkansas at Monticello, where he majored in agriculture and animal science.

“I think the way the city has been run and operated for the past several years is fantastic, but we’ve been losing in the people count,” Urquhart said.

The best ways to address that are through establishing a city school district, encouraging economic development and improving the city’s hospital, he said, with education at the forefront.

“Ultimately, when it comes to folks that are coming home from school or starting their families or moving here in the military, I believe they take a look and understand that our facilities at the schools are just not what they want to put their children in,” he said.

“I think the next mayor has to play a pivotal role in that,” he added.

Urquhart said he has worked with Jacksonville World Class Education to get the Pulaski County Special School District to clear the way for the city to have its own school district, and says that would remain a priority if he is elected mayor.

He’s also in his second term on the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce board and is its incoming treasurer. Urquhart says Jacksonville needs to exploit what he sees as an advantageous environment for businesses in the city.

“When you take a ride down to our industrial park, I think we have a fantastic new zone down there, and some facilities are sitting empty,” he said.

“If we can’t get some big industry, we need to get some light industry. I think we need to look at some packages to attract those people, some tax incentives like some of the communities around us seem to be able to offer.

“And we need to focus on the small businesses in the community to make sure they continue to be viable,” he added.

Maintaining a strong relationship with Little Rock Air Force Base is vital, said Urquhart, and part of his job as mayor would be to ensure the federal government knows the city appreciates and values the base and the jobs it provides.

In addition to jobs and schools, Urquhart said North Metro Medical Center will be a priority.

“It’s no secret our hospital has had quite a few financial problems,” he said. “We’re going to have to continue to strengthen and firm up our hospital, get our community to start using our hospital first rather than going down the road.”

Urquhart makes no secret of the fact he’s a cheerleader for Jacksonville, and says that encouraging civic pride is one of city hall’s most important jobs.

“I want to see this community continue to grow and attract some of our young families back,” he said.

Aldermen Kenny Elliott and Gary Fletcher and local developer Tommy Dupree have also filed their required petition of signatures with the Pulaski County clerk as candidates for mayor and have been certified.

Three other candidates —realtor Beckie Brooks, motorcycle minister Randy (Doc) Rhodd and former police Lieutenant Bill Shelly — have also announced their intentions to run for the spot being vacated by Swaim.

Jacksonville banker Donny Farmer is also thinking about entering the race.

The filing period started last week and runs until noon on March 12. Jacksonville residents interested in running for mayor in the special election need to turn in a petition with at least 30 signatures of Jacksonville residents registered to vote.