Leader Blues

Monday, May 11, 2009

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville goes to polls

Leader staff writer

More than 600 people have cast their votes for a new Jacksonville mayor through early voting and absentee ballots, but thousands more are waiting until Tuesday.

Tuesday is the big day. The six candidates ó Beckie Brooks, Tommy Dupree, Kenny Elliott, Gary Fletcher, Randy ďDocĒ Rhodd and Jody Urquhart, vying to replace retiring Mayor Tommy Swaim ó are out gathering last minute support.

Brooks, 68, married a Jacksonville native, has made the city her home since 1964. The couple has two sons and six grandchildren. Brooks operates her own real estate company.

Dupree, 71, is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville. He has been in business in Jacksonville since 1963, primarily developing and building residential and commercial property. He has three children and eight grandchildren.

Elliott, 56, is a native of Jacksonville and has been an alderman since 1996 and is the coordinator of energy management for the Pulaski County Special School District. He is married and has one daughter, twin sons and two granddaughters.

Fletcher, 54, has been a resident of Jacksonville since 1968 and has been on the council since 1978. He is president of Fletcher Homes, a residential homebuilding company. He is married and has two children and five grandchildren.

Rhodd, 46, is the president of the Family Motorcycle Ministry. He is married and has four children.

Urquhart, 36, is married and has one child. He is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville and is district manager for Arkansas Farm Bureau.

All candidates took time to answer some final questions on their stances, what they think is best for Jacksonville and why they should get your vote. Their responses are listed alphabetically below.

The Leader: Now that youíve been out campaigning, what is the No. 1 concern of the residents and how do you plan to attack it?

The No. 1 concern of the citizens I have spoken with is our education system.† Over and over people ask, ďWhat are we going to do about our schools?Ē†

As a former teacher, I know we must break with Pulaski County Special School District, and the sooner the better.†

We must address the physical conditions of our schools, even if we have to build and lease back until we get our own schools and we must have Jacksonville people making decisions for Jacksonville students and schools.†

Dupree: The lack of growth in the city over the past several years.

I would work toward growing our tourism industry and I would initiate an aggressive advertising campaign to promote both growth in commercial and residential areas.

Elliott: The schools are the No. 1 concern and we have a common interest that we must all work together on this issue. The questions I have been asked the most are what I will do for economic development and how to get more citizens involved in the community.

We must work on economic development to sustain our existing businesses, attract new businesses, restaurants, and jobs as well as to fill the vacant buildings in Jacksonville. I feel the city and chamber of commerce need to work together to support our businesses and maintain a business friendly environment. I will work to put a package together to attract new businesses to our city.

I will encourage community involvement and establish a volunteerism committee to use the many resources we have in Jacksonville.

Fletcher: Obviously the schools. Until the county school district gets out of the courts, which will happen soon, no one can do anything. But when it gets out, the mayor needs to take the lead role. It can be likened to a bad marriage and the mayor will have to work through the divorce proceedings.

It also seems more knocking on doors I do, the more I find that people want the town to be cleaned up and fixed up.

Keeping the doctors and hospital here are also a big concern. Itís about the people and whatís best for them. We canít lose sight of the elderly and the sick. We are in the people business. Hopefully the problem has been worked out and we now need to nurture the relationship between the doctor and the hospital and have it strengthen.

Rhodd: The No. 1 concern among residents is the Graham Road closure. I want to work with residents to comprise a plan to resolve the closure. This has gone on for a long time.

Providing quality educational opportunities in a safe environment for our students remains one of the top concerns of our citizens.

I will immediately begin working with our council to gain their support to begin building a plan together to change the course of education in our city despite the path Pulaski County Special School District has sent us down.

We must, as a community, change the perception people visiting Jacksonville have on our community when they see our schools. We can no longer afford to wait for court decisions or attorneys to sort it out. May 12 is the day we have to truly change direction.

The Leader: Does the dumping of the gas shale wastes at Two Pine Landfill concern you and do you have a plan to attack it?

Brooks: The gas shale must meet Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and Waste Managementís standards as a non-hazardous waste before it can be placed in Two Pine Landfill. †

I believe problems arise from the delays in unloading the gas shale waste.† The delays cost small companies and cities as their vehicles wait for hours to unload.† My solution is efficient scheduling, possibly night and/or weekend delivery and processing of the shale waste.†

Dupree: We need to follow the advice of ADEQ as to the safety factor of the waste and support their decision accordingly.

The dumping of gas shale waste does concern me and I will look into this and see what options the city has to either prevent the dumping or make sure that there is no chance of contamination, bad odors or any other negative impact to the citizens of Jacksonville.

I will look at the ADEQ permits and check to see why Little Rock prevented the dumping at their landfill. We must make sure that no toxic wastes that could pose a threat to Jacksonville are being put into the landfill.

Iíve got deep battle scars from Vertac and I donít want anymore. Iíve met with the city attorney a couple times already and Iíve asked him to prepare an ordinance to ban all toxic waste from the landfill. Weíve learned from history, Vertac caused us setbacks and stagnation.

Weíve got to nip this in the bud quickly, especially since Little Rock has banned it. The waste has got to go somewhere, and right now we are the closest. I hope to have ordinance by the next council meeting to ban anything toxic or hazard. We donít need the perception that the landfill, in our city, has that kind of waste.

I believe the dumping of gas-shale waste in Two Pine Landfill needs to be stopped and delivered to a facility that is set up for it.

Urquhart: Yes, it concerns me. Knowing that the city of Little Rock has already turned the sludge away, because of odors and unknowns truly bothers me.

As mayor, I will want to know exactly what they are bringing into the city limits and I will want to know without a doubt that we have nothing to be concerned about or they should find somewhere else to go. In no way should there be the potential for our city to have to deal with cleaning up someone elseís shortfalls, because they want to have an extra revenue source. We have been there and done that.

It all comes down to perception for me. It is the responsibility of Two Pine and the producers of the waste to educate the public and ensure its environmental soundness. If they canít do that, then they need to go somewhere else. Jacksonville is through being everyoneís dumping ground.

The Leader: Has anything surprised you during your campaign?

Brooks: I have been surprised by the lack of streetlights in some parts of town.†I have also been surprised by the number of people who have asked me about ďterm limitsĒ for city officials.

Dupree: Iíve had no surprises.

Elliott: I think the candidates and citizens have a lot of common interests in continuing to make Jacksonville a great place to live even though we have different ideas and approaches. The citizens are willing to get involved in helping with the issues.

Fletcher: The biggest surprise, a pleasant one, is how well weíve been received door-to-door. Iíve been in the political arena for 30 years and in that time you are going to make some people mad. Iíve hit about 80 percent of the homes and expected to be called on the carpet for something that I voted for or did 20 years ago, but I havenít.

Knocking on the first door was hard, but the smiles and receptions have pumped me up and makes it hard to stop knocking on doors.

Rhodd: Yes, the anger from the Sunnyside addition residents towards the city of Jacksonville.

The interest the citizens of Jacksonville have in selecting the right person to run this city, based on vision, passion and a true ability to lead.

The Leader: What will make Jacksonville a better place for residents and for visitors?

Brooks: Enthusiastic, energized, involved citizens will make Jacksonville a better place for residents and for visitors.†The people are the heart of our city. Newcomers and visitors feel that heartbeat within minutes of arriving in Jacksonville, and the stronger the heartbeat ó the stronger the city!

We need to work with and promote Keep Jacksonville Beautiful projects. We also need to promote and encourage neighborhood crime watches in all areas of the city. I also think the creation of a public safety commission for the fire, police and emergency medical services will be a plus for the city.

We must have a clean and safe city with good schools to educate our children and grandchildren. Our citizens must feel safe and secure whether they are at home, at school, in parks or on the streets of Jacksonville. As mayor I will see that the police and fire Departments have the resources needed to reduce crime and provide us a safe city.

I am committed to doing everything I can to improve the schools in Jacksonville. I will establish a housing committee to develop a plan to improve housing and address aging housing such as Sunnyside Addition.

Fletcher: The things Iíve been running on. My ultimate goal is for Jacksonville to become the place for families to come and live. Iím trying to get people to look at the school problem as half full, rather than half empty.

We are going to be on the ground floor of establishing a new district and building the foundation of what we want for our children. Itís going to be an exciting time. When the opportunity comes, people need to be involved We also need to establish ourselves as a senior retirement capital of central Arkansas with recreation, shopping and activities for this group.

Iíd put our military museum up to anything in Little Rock and it still has a lot of potential to grow. The canoe stream trail is also new and exciting. Iíve been told and agree that we need to bring more entertainment like a bowling alley, a theater or something to keep people here.

Rhodd: I want to make Jacksonville a better place for residents and visitors by improving the cityís image and revitalizing the entire city.

This race has built new excitement in our community.

The vision of new leadership and a new direction has offered our citizens a look into the future. We must continue to build on the momentum from this race, the steps taken forward to finally getting a district of our own, our beautiful new library, our 6A state champion basketball Devils and 5A state runner-up falcons, and run with it.

The pieces of our puzzle are beginning to fall into place and if we all continue to build on this momentum and work together we can put Jacksonville back on the move in central Arkansas.

The Leader: What is the one thing you want voters to know about you before they mark their ballots?

I want citizens to know that I am a God-fearing, God-loving, born-again Christian, that I love my country, my family, my home and this town!† I will strive to listen and give my very best to lead all the citizens of Jacksonville to an even brighter future.

Dupree: I have worked over the years as a civil servant in different organizations for the betterment of the city of Jacksonville. The job of mayor to me is a position of employment by and for the citizens of Jacksonville and I will do my best to be an outstanding employee.

Elliott: I am running for mayor because I love Jacksonville and as mayor I look forward to the opportunity to serve the citizens of Jacksonville. I feel that I have the experience, leadership and dedication to lead Jacksonville.

I will commit all my resources to provide a high quality of life for our citizens, military and businesses while striving to have clean, safe, orderly growth and change. I believe we must have a plan for where Jacksonville wants to be in five years and 10 years. I believe in honesty, hard work and treating others as you would like to be treated.

Fletcher: I donít think thereís been anybody to run for this office that has more experience, history, knowledge of the city and a clearer vision of the future for this city than myself. I not only have a love, but a passion and a drive to bring that future about. Iím prepared as any person can be. Jacksonvilleís ready for me and Iím ready for Jacksonville and you put us together and it spells success.

Rhodd: I am a man who has strong beliefs and I am 100 percent for the people of the city. The people are who make this city survive.

This election is not about those of us who are running for the mayorís office, itís about the people. The people must be heard. They are tired of the same ole, same ole. Itís time for a change.

Urquhart: My interest in serving as the next mayor of Jacksonville is about our citizens, itís not about me.

I have no hidden agenda. I have a complete lack of respect for underhanded back door politics, where only few people gain from important decisions that affect the rest of our lives.

I have prided myself in running a clean and healthy campaign, to sell my vision and motivate the citizens of our city. I do not like dirty campaigns, especially when the candidates all get along so well, but a few of the people in the background are selling trash and conspiracies. This race is about the health of our community, not individual personalities.

I am here for all the residents of our community, to build on our current successes, to offer new ideas and a new vision to shift the course of our city.

It is time for our light to shine brighter than ever before throughout this great state.

My office will always have open minds, open hearts and open doors.