Friday, November 12, 2010

TOP STORY > >Sherwood candidates for mayor hit streets

By Rick Kron
Leader staff writer

The battle to head the city of Sherwood is turning into a hard-fought battle with issues confronting both sides in the buildup to the Nov. 23 runoff.

Mayor Virginia Hillman was the top vote-getter in a three-way race for the four-year position after the votes were tallied from the Nov. 2 general election.

She had garnered 4,597 votes, or 48.8 percent.

Alderman Sheila Sulcer came in second with 2,624 votes, or 27.9 percent.  Business owner Mike Presson came in a close third with 2,196 votes or 23.3 percent. The results created a runoff between Hillman and Sulcer since Hillman didn’t get the 50 percent necessary to win.

Early voting starts Tuesday in Sherwood and downtown Little Rock. (See p. 4A for polling sites.)

Initially Presson was going to sit the runoff out and not back anyone, but late last week he threw his support behind Sulcer, saying her philosophies and goals were more in line with his than Hillman’s.

But also last week, an anti-Hillman website popped up that may be in violation of the Arkansas Ethics Commission. Then earlier this week, information that Sulcer had an unearned tax credit became public.

The website, which Hillman says is full of lies and mistruths, is a total surprise to Sulcer. “If it was my doing, I would have had my name on it,” Sulcer said. “I’m very upfront with what I think is wrong with the city.” Sulcer said she heard of the website from Drew Crawford, an unsuccesful candidate for alderman. “I looked at it, and there’s information on there I don’t have. Someone went to a lot of work.”

And it’s the cost of that work that may make the website owners and developers in violation of state law. Jeremy Sloane, with the state ethics commission, said if it can be proved that the website costs more than $500 to produce and operate and explicitly pushes residents to vote for or against a candidate, then someone needs to claim it as a campaign expense.  If not, then it’s a violation.

But nowhere on the website is there any claim of ownership. A trace shows the domain was purchased through with privacy protection through another company to prevent people from finding out who made the purchase.

A representative with said the only way the information could be released would be through a court order.

Naturally Hillman doesn’t like the site, but neither does Sulcer. “People keep asking me about it and I don’t know anything about it and I don’t want it to get in the way of the issues,” Sulcer said.

One of the claims on the website against Hillman is that she purchased a small sliver of land on the corner of Brockington and Kiehl for an outrageous amount  (about $220,000) because the property owner was a Hillman supporter.

The problem is that Hillman didn’t vote to purchase the property. It was Sulcer and the other aldermen.

In a specially called council meeting on Sept. 21, 2009, the council unanimously approved an ordinance approving the “right of way for the completion of the Brockington Road project, authorizing the mayor to purchase said property, appropriating funds from the street fund.”

The ordinance anticipated the cost of the corner in question and 12 other properties to be about  $916,865 “of which 80 percent shall be reimbursed to the city by the state.”

The total cost of all the properties was under that amount, according to Hillman.

Sulcer has had to defend herself against claims that she owed delinquent taxes.

She did, but not through her own accord, and Sulcer paid the tax as soon as she was made aware of it.

Pulaski County Assessor Janet Troutman explained that it was a software glitch in her department and not an oversight of Sulcer’s in any way.

It seems that the assessor improperly applied a homestead credit to a commercial property that Sulcer owns.

Sulcer said that when the bills came in it showed a tax credit, not a homestead credit, so she thought nothing of it and paid what the county asked her to.

With the correction, Sulcer ending up owing $1,651. No interest or penalties were applied. She paid the bill on Tuesday.

These outside issues aside, both candidates are out working hard to get their message across and garner votes.

Sulcer is pushing for fiscal responsibility, saying that Hillman has been reckless with the city’s money. Sulcer also wants to create a more family-centered environment.

“There’s not a lot for our young people to do in Sherwood,” she said.

Hillman is espousing her accomplishments in the three years she’s been in office, making inroads on the Brockington Road expansion and other infrastructure needs.

She is looking forward to keeping the police department fully staffed, pushing economic development and making park improvements.