Wednesday, March 04, 2009

TOP STORY >> Seven candidates file for mayor

Leader executive editor

Seven candidates have filed to run in the May 12 special election for Jacksonville mayor to replace Tommy Swaim, who is retiring July 1 after running the city for 22 years.

Monday was the deadline for candidates to file for the race.

Swaim, who has held the office since 1987, will retire in the middle of his term.
The election will be held Tuesday, May 12. An expected run-off election would be held Tuesday, June 2.

Randy (Doc) Rhodd, who heads the Family Motorcycle Ministry, filed on Monday after he had enough valid signatures to qualify.

He tried to file last week, but he fell short of the 30 signatures of registered voters needed to get on the ballot.

The candidates must also sign a pledge that, among other things, says they have never been convicted of a felony.

The other candidates, who had filed previously, are realtor Beckie Brooks, aldermen Kenny Elliott and Gary Fletcher, developer Tommy Dupree, former Jacksonville Lieutenant Bill Shelley and Farm Bureau area manager Jody Urquhart.


Brooks believes “there are a number of issues that could renew and re-energize the citizens of Jacksonville.”

She wants the city to be “more user friendly.” Brooks supports phasing out the city’s one-cent hamburger tax.

Brooks also wants to eliminate the city’s privilege license, saying that “one should not have to pay a tax to do business in the city.”

Once a strong supporter of the Main Street overpass, Brooks now believes that “the opening of the Graham Road railroad crossing is crucial to revitalizing the southeastern section of Jacksonville, including Sunnyside Hills Addition.”

“This has hurt too many people,” she said, referring to the closing. “Having support in city hall would help the effort” to reopen the crossing.

“Citizens need to be more appreciative of government,” Brooks said, “and government, at the same time, should never forget that it works for and serves the public.”

Brooks supports an independent Jacksonville school district, as well as charter schools in the city. She wants more programs for the elderly, including citywide transportation to every neighborhood and assisting them in other ways so they live at home as long as possible.

She said she wants to maintain a strong relationship with Little Rock Air Force Base.

She was instrumental in the cleanup of the old Vertac chemical plant.

The owner of Beckie Brooks Real Estate Co., she has been in business in Jacksonville since 1975, first operating a business with her husband, Harold, and then as a local real estate agent.


Dupree, 71, says he’s at the point in his life when he could devote his time to being mayor.

He says infrastructure plans must be made right away so they can be funded as federal stimulus money becomes available.

Dupree, whose family helped settle Jacksonville, says his platform includes widening Hwy. 67/167 with interchange improvements; establishing a public safety commission with police, fire and emergency medical departments under it; encouraging expansion of the city along Hwy. 67/167, Hwy. 161 and Hwy. 294 through annexation; supporting creation of a north Pulaski County school district; working toward expansion and improvement of the Jacksonville park system, and continuing Keep Jacksonville Beautiful improvement projects.

His family settled in the area before the Civil War. On his grandmother’s side, they lived off Military Road before they moved to town. The Duprees on his grandfather’s side farmed near the area where the air base was later built.

Dupree, whose family owns a real estate investment firm, Dupree Co., helped develop Northlake subdivision.

He has been active in the Reed’s Bridge Preservation Society, which has restored the Civil War battlefield on South Hwy. 161 in Jacksonville.

The Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas has recognized Dupree with its Outstanding Service in Preservation Advocacy award for his work on the battlefield site.


Elliott, a Jacksonville native, said he is “getting a real good response to his candidacy” as he makes his way around town.

He will emphasize economic development, helping existing business and attracting new ones.

Elliott, 55, said he wants “the chamber and the city to work together to maintain a business-friendly atmosphere.”

He supports an independent school district for Jacksonville, which he believes would improve local schools.

Elliott is concerned about empty store fronts around the city, including those around the railroad tracks.

He said he wants to make improvements in the Sunnyside Addition, a low-income neighborhood with decaying housing and high crime rate.

In addition, he wants to clean up the city “and address the issue of aging housing.”
Elliott works for the Pulaski County Special School District, where he is coordinator of energy management.

He’d previously worked for Bond Consulting Engineers, where he was director of graphic services.

Elliott, who has represented Ward 1, Position 1 since 1996, has been active in the Arkansas Municipal League, where he serves on the executive team, and the National League of Cities, where he is on the information and technology committee.


Fletcher, 54, is a builder and, like all the candidates for mayor, he also favors an independent school district.

Fletcher said he believes in the three R’s to move forward — “re-identify ourselves, reinvest in ourselves and rejuvenate the community.”

He said his platform includes annexing land to Jacksonville wherever possible, improving housing, reducing crime, reinvigorating downtown, ensuring the future of the city’s hospital, bringing new industry to the city, rehabilitating the Sunnyside neighborhood and considering reopening the Graham Road railroad crossing, whose closing has divided the city.

Fletcher ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1982 and 1986. He has been re-elected to the city council 14 times.

He wants to see new housing replace the city’s older homes, which attract more renters than the new ones. About half the city’s residential properties are rented.

The candidate says the city’s industrial zone in underutilized.

Fletcher was born in Little Rock and moved to Jacksonville with his family in 1968. He was the first Jacksonville Jaycee to join at the age of 18 and was named Jaycee of the Year in 1975. He is also a former president of the Jaycees.


Rhodd, 46, said several people had asked him to run for mayor. “I’ve always had an interest in politics. I want to clean up this town and make it more respectful,” Rhodd said after he filed.

“I took a very close look at our city,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of problems. We have a serious drug problem. We’re getting a buildup of gangs. Companies are shutting their doors. We have domestic violence.”

“We need to work on bringing good jobs to the city,” Rhodd said. “We’ve done a good job revitalizing downtown. We need to do that for the whole town.”


Shelley, 57, who retired from the Jacksonville Police Department in 2007 after 30 years, says, “We’re a dying city. Our town has become dormant, while other cities around us are flourishing. We need to find out why.”

“We have vacant strip malls,” he continued. “We have empty buildings. We need to get new businesses.

Shelley, who moved to Jacksonville in 1963, says the city was once one of the fastest-growing in the state.

“I’d like to see us thrive again,” he said.

“Closing the Graham Road railroad crossing was a mistake,” Shelley said. “It’s killed businesses and a whole neighborhood.”

Shelley, who is now an investigator with the Beebe Police Department, says Jacksonville police should bring back the old Jump teams, which responded to crime problems all over the city.


Urquhart, 36, 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 is in his second term on the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce board and is its treasurer. He also wants to reopen the Graham Railroad crossing.

Urquhart says Jacksonville needs to create more jobs and exploit an advantageous environment for businesses in the city.

“Maintaining a strong relationship with Little Rock Air Force Base is vital,” says 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 keeping North Metro Medical Center open will be a priority.

The candidate says he’s committed to devoting all his energies to his job as mayor and getting the city back on track.

Urquhart says he’s a cheerleader for Jacksonville and “encouraging civic pride is one of city hall’s most important jobs.”