Friday, January 25, 2013

TOP STORY >> Mayor emphasizes people

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher emphasized people over buildings in his four-page state-of-the-city address to the city council Thursday night.

“In reviewing 2012, rather than brick-and-mortar projects coming to the forefront as accomplishments, and there were some, they tend to take a back seat to the difficulties we experienced with the deaths and tragedies at the beginning of the year,” he said.

The mayor cited the death of Mike Simpson, the head of the water department, the fire deaths of a family of five, the death of a first responder and the injuries suffered by two others when they were struck by a vehicle.

Fletcher called Simpson’s death a shock that left a void.

“Mike greatly served the city through his leadership as Jacksonville Water superintendent. The ease with which he led the water department as it secured the future water sources for Jacksonville for years to come is even more appreciated today,” he told the council.

The mayor then recalled the events of March 19 when “in response to an emergency run on Hwy. 161 three of Jacksonville’s finest were run down, resulting in the tragic loss of Capt. Donnie Jones, who was a 32-year veteran with our fire department. “

Fletcher went on, “Fire engineer Jason Bowmaster and police officer Daniel DiMatteo were both critically injured. Officer DiMatteo fought through the pain of his own broken body to locate and retrieve his radio to call for help. His heroic action has been credited for saving Fire Engineer Bowmaster.”

The mayor also told the council that in that same week, the city lost a family of five — a young mother and her four children — to a home fire that deeply affected and touched everyone in the city.

“This past year we also saw the end of service of three great citizens of Jacksonville in their elected position as aldermen. Marshall Smith with 31 years of service, Robert Stroud with 12 years of service and Linda Rinker with eight served the citizens of Jacksonville unselfishly and honorably. Their only motive was the betterment of this great city and the city is better because of their service,” the mayor said.

“We tend, as leaders, to get caught up with projects and sometimes have to be reminded that our job is about people and 2012 certainly brought us to that point,” he added.

The mayor then quickly went on to highlight achievements during the year, including the reopening of the Community Center pool after it had been closed for almost a year for repairs.

“The city saw our fire rating decrease from a three to a two after much hard work by our fire department under the leadership of Chief John Vanderhoof. This decrease provides more savings on fire rates through reductions in insurance rates for citizens,” Fletcher said.

He also talked about the growth of single family homes construction. Permits tripled from 2011 to 2012. He was also pleased to announce that the city police, fire and emergency communication system had been switch over to digital and was now a part of the Arkansas Wireless Information Net-work. “This system will provide us coverage statewide for our first responders and for he first time our departments will be able to talk to other agencies such as the air base, emergency management and other cities,” the mayor explained.

The mayor was also proud of the soon-to-be opened public safety building. “It will house the 911 communications operations, the Jacksonville Police Department, Jacksonville code enforcement and Jacksonville training office for fire and police, three large classrooms and a 3,000-square-foot safe room. This facility will serve as a source of pride not just for the departments housed there, but the entire community,” Fletcher said.

The mayor also made a strong push for Jacksonville’s continued effort to get its own school district.

“For the first time this past year, the state of Arkansas Board of Education and the Pulaski County Special School District together publicly stated their support for an independent Jacksonville/north Pulaski school district. Many things make this proposal attractive as it is definitely a win/win situation for all involved,” he said.

Fletcher added that the preliminary figures for a nearly-completed feasibility study show that Jacksonville can more than adequately support its own schools.

He added that in September ground was broken for Jacksonville Lighthouse Charter School’s new College Preparatory Academy on North First Street. It is set for completion by the next school year.

In the area of economic development, Fletcher said the city was poised for great things.

“Due to Jacksonville’s central location and amenities, as well as being the home of Little Rock Air Force Base and benefiting from its annual economic impact of around $780 million, there is much attraction to our city that other cities don’t benefit from,” the mayor explained.

He added, “We need to be wise in promoting our assets including the fact that our city is also home to six universities that one can get everything from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree.”

Fletcher told the council that the shooting range is moving forward and should have major economic impact on the city.

Plus, he added that the city is still working on plans for the Wooten Road property, better recognized as the 445 acres the city wanted to donate to bring in the state fair.

Fletcher closed by quoting President Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

He added, “Our service will not be to burn or bide time, but to use it to build a thriving, healthy city with opportunities for those who want better for themselves.”