Friday, September 28, 2012

TOP STORY >> Council candidates speak

Leader staff writer

What was billed as a Jacksonville alderman candidates forum quickly turned into a Rickey Hayes bashing session, which upset the mayor.

Hayes is the economic-development consultant from Owasso, Okla., whom Mayor Gary Fletcher hired three years ago for $48,000 a year.

About 100 residents attended the more than two-hour event at the community center Thursday night.

Many of the candidates made it clear that the hiring had borne no fruit and was a waste of the taxpayers’ money. At the same time, candidates suggested that the chamber of commerce, which sponsored the forum, should be one to handle economic development for the city.

Candidate Rizelle Aaron was one of a number of candidates to get digs in over the Hayes consulting contract. Aaron is running against incumbent Terry Sansing for the Ward 2, Position 2 seat.

In responding to a question about what could be done to bring in more youth activities to the city, Aaron said, “You can take one year of Rickey Hayes’ pay to pay for more basketball courts. You can take another year of Rickey Hayes’ pay for a bowling alley, and you can take another year’s worth of pay to buy a skating rink.”

Candidate Roger Sundermeier Jr. also brought up Hayes a number of times in the forum, but he was more subtle. “I know economic development takes time, but you’ve got to know when to cut bait. And how can someone outside our community sell our community? That job is better suited for our chamber of commerce.”

Sundermeier is challenging Alderman Bill Howard for his Ward 5, Position 2 seat.

Candidate James E. Bolden III tried to put the issue to rest, “Hayes is water under the bridge. You don’t want to beat up the council over a single issue. This horse is dead, lets ride another horse.”

Bolden is in a race with Jim Moore for the Ward 1, Position 2 vacated by the retirement of Alderman Marshall Smith.

The two incumbents running to keep their seats, Sansing and Howard, defended the hiring and said it is bearing fruit and some good things are on the horizon.

One man in the audience, a friend of Aaron’s, asked about the hiring process for Hayes and implied that he “knew” someone on the council. Amy Mattison, the CEO of the chamber and timekeeper for the event, blew the time whistle before he could make any further accusations.

Sansing explained that Hayes was hired on the recommendation of then-city planner Chip McCully, who had worked with Hayes previously and vouched for his track record.

Sansing said Hayes was invited to make a presentation to the city council about his consulting firm and what he could do for the city. There were a number of visits and discussions before the council voted to hire him. The money to hire him came partly from a realignment of city departments that did away with McCully’s position.

“For the $80,000 in salary and benefits we were paying for a city planner, we got Hayes and his five full-time employees and three part-time employees for $48,000,” Sansing explained.

Aaron accused Sansing and the rest of the council of drinking the “elixir” that Hayes was waving.

The mayor, who had been sitting in the back and before the meeting had written a note to himself on the back of his business card to “stay calm,” tore up the card and stood up to speak, calling the forum a sorry excuse to go after him.

“This is a referendum on me and I can’t sit here and let you take shots at the aldermen who supported my vision for the city. Like Paul Harvey’s ‘Rest of the Story,’ there is more to the story and I’ll tell it to anyone who wants to listen after the meeting,” Fletcher said.

He didn’t get much more out as Mattison blew her whistle, indicating his 30 seconds were up. “I’ll abide by the rules,” he said and sat down.

The forum opened and closed with each candidate having two minutes to expound on why voters should choose them. Then each candidate was asked five questions picked by the chamber, all had to do with economic development. Then the moderator, Jamie Gates with the Conway Chamber of Commerce, fielded questions from the audience for the candidates.

WARD 1, POS. 2

No matter the vote, there will be a new face on the council from this ward as both candidates are trying to fill the seat of long-time Alderman Smith, who retired last month.

Moore, a member of the planning commission, told the audience he had been married for 44 years, was a 24-year Air Force veteran and loved the city and believed the people were “super.

“My wife and I love this city. It is a strong community, but needs to focus on economic development,” he said, adding that he was running not to fill a seat but to be involved, “to be your voice.”

His opponent, the Rev. Bolden, a member of the city’s water commission, said he was more than a “pulpit preacher.”

“You know me. I was fighting for this city as a member of the PCSSD school board and have been actively involved since coming to the city 17 years ago, and I will be the hardest-working alderman you’ll ever see,” Bolden said, adding that with him you get his wife, who has also been a longtime volunteer in the city. “It’s a package here.”

WARD 2, POS. 2

Alderman Sansing, who has lived in the same Ward 2 home for 34 years and works for a manufacturing firm in Little Rock, told the crowd that his 20 years on the council were a valuable experience and he believed Jacksonville was a clean, safe, financially sound city that was going to have its own school district soon and that he wanted to continue working for the people.

He has often been the dissenting vote on the council and made it clear that he worries about every decision the council makes.

Aaron, a retired veteran who has had four children go through Jacksonville schools, said the city needs to get control on its spending and that he is for a separate school district, “but it has be done the right way.” He said some of the city ordinances are too stringent.

He told the crowd that when “I get started on something, I get it done. It’s time for a change. What we have is not working.”

But Sansing pointed out all the city improvements over the past two decades, including the joint education center, the library, community center, Splash Zone and the public- safety headquarters.

WARD 3, POS. 2

Barbara Mashburn is the only candidate for the seat of retiring Alderman Linda Rinker, but attended the forum to make it clear she would represent everyone.

She told the crowd that she was “proud to call Jacksonville my home and proud to be a Christian.”

She said as a council member, she would push for more Neighborhood Watch programs.

“Since we’ve started one in our neighborhood, crime is down 70 percent. I’m an enthusiastic, passionate person and I will work hard for you,” Mashburn told the crowd.

WARD 4, POS. 2

This seat will also go to a newcomer as its holder, Alderman Bob Stroud, is retiring. Vying for the seat are Mary Twitty and Freddie Booker.

Twitty, who is active with the Cityfest pageant, which is a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club, said her family made Jacksonville their home 26 years ago and she has been volunteering ever since.

“I love Jacksonville and want to see us pull together to make great strides,” she said.

Booker is the wife of a popular local deejay, Broadway Joe. She is a former Air Force captain and was stationed at the base in the 1980s.

“When I received orders for overseas, I made a decision to stay here in Jacksonville. I want to be a voice for the people. I want to be your servant and work for all wards,” she said. “This is a great city, but there is still a lot to do.”


Sundermeier is taking on incumbent Howard for this seat. Sundermeier said he’s been in Jacksonville almost his entire life and remembers how vibrant the city was when he was growing up. “I want us to be vibrant again.”

He told the crowd the city can’t blame the school district for all of its problems. Sundermeier added that the council doesn’t all have to look or think alike. “Diversity makes us stronger,” he added.

Howard said he was born in Lonoke and at the age of 3 moved to Jacksonville with his parents, and that he’s been here ever since.

He’s been on the council for 15 years and would like to continue. He told the crowd that economically, good things are right around the corner for Jacksonville.

There will be another candidate forum Oct. 16 at the senior center. The election is set for Tuesday, Nov. 6.