Leader Blues

Monday, February 09, 2009

TOP STORY>>Period for filing opens Tuesday in Jacksonville

Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville City Council made only one change to the plans to elect a new mayor to succeed Tommy Swaim.

The proposed ordinance had the last date to file to run as March 12, but City Attorney Robert Bamburg explained that the day was a “typo” and the last date to file would be noon March 2.

The election will be May 12 with at least five polling sites open in the city. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The winning candidate will be just the city’s third mayor in 34 years. Swaim, when he retires July 1, will have served as the city’s leader for 22 and a half years. He defeated former Mayor James Reid, who served 12 years.

According to the unanimously passed ordinance, the filing period will run from Tuesday through noon March 2. All necessary paperwork must be filed with the Pulaski County clerk’s office in Little Rock, but candidacy packets can be picked up in the city clerk’s office at city hall.

The first step in becoming a candidate is turning in a petition with the signatures of 30 registered Jacksonville voters. City Clerk Susan Davitt said that may seem like a small number, but many people will sign the petitions and say they are a registered voter of Jacksonville when they aren’t.”

Besides the petition, candidates must sign a political practice pledge that, among other things, states that the candidate has never been convicted of a felony.

So far four people—Aldermen Kenny Elliot and Gary Fletcher, businessman Tommy Dupree and motorcycle minister Doc Rhodd have announced that they plan to seek Swaim’s seat.

If none of the candidates have a majority of the vote (50 percent, plus one vote) then a run-off will be held June 2 between the two candidates receiving the most votes.

The ordinance states that the “duly elected candidate, shall, upon proper certification, take the oath and office of the mayor on or about July 1.”

The election is coming about because Swaim, after more than 22 years of running the city, announced in mid-January that he was resigning as of July 1, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

He told the council in January that he missed a lot of his children’s activities while mayor and didn’t want to do the same with his grandchildren.

“It was a hard decision to make, but the right one,” he said. “I’m comfortable with leaving. The city’s in good financial shape and has good employees.”

When Swaim retires he will immediately be eligible for retirement pay of half his current salary of $95,499.

For an elected official to be eligible for retirement pay, they must serve at least 10 years in their elected position. Retirement pay is half of their final year’s salary. They may start to collect when they turn 60.

Former Mayor James Reid has been collecting his mayoral retirement of $14,640 (half of his final year’s salary) since the early 1990s.

Alderman Bob Stroud felt the long dragged out negotiations to save the city’s hospital did the mayor in. “He agonized for that for months,” Stroud said, adding, “I appreciate that he got us through numerous trouble spots and has the city on a super foundation.”