Wednesday, May 21, 2014

TOP STORY >> Chief set to run against mayor in Jacksonville

Leader publisher

It’s not often that a department head runs against his boss, but Jacksonville Police Chief Gary Sipes on Monday filed as a candidate to challenge Mayor Gary Fletcher in November.

Sipes, who says he will retire soon, promises to bring a different style of leadership to the city. Fletcher refused to say Tuesday if he’ll dismiss Sipes. “This is a personnel issue that I cannot discuss publicly,” the mayor said.

“I will stay focused on what is best for the city and provide services to the people,” he continued.

Fletcher, 59, said he is concentrating on getting Jacksonville voters to approve a new school district on Sept. 16.

He is seeking his second full term. A longtime alderman, Fletcher was elected mayor in June 2009 to fill the unexpired term of Mayor Tommy Swaim, who resigned in the middle of hissixth term. Fletcher was re-elected in 2010.

Sipes, 57, said he’s unhappy about the cuts made in the police department, including no raises in the last two years and higher insurance premiums for his staff averaging about $70 more a month.

“We know we have problems in Jacksonville,” Sipes said in an interview Tuesday. “I want to bring back life to Jacksonville.”

He said he gathered 56 signatures Saturday and filed just before the noon deadline Monday.

Sipes, who lives in Foxwood Estates with his wife DeJuanna, said he’s not happy with the noise at the new firing range.

He said the shooting range backs in to his yard. He said he would recommend limiting shooting hours from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Sipes said he wants to in-volve community leaders and ordinary people in decision making. “How do we make the city better?” he said.

Sipes, who is also responsible for the city’s code enforcement, says funds have been cut to go after code violations.

He wants to revive Sunny-side Addition, where dilapidated buildings such as the old convenience store on Graham Road should be torn down, he said. “We can figure out what needs to be done, and we can make them work,” the chief said.

As chief, he meets with his officers to find out what they’re thinking. “They can speak freely and share new ideas,” Sipes said. “This is what I want to do for the city.”

Sipes said a new school district will help Jacksonville move forward. Although a native of Pine Bluff, he said his three sons were educated in Jacksonville. The schools were in bad shape then, and they’re worse now, Sipes said.

Swaim hired Sipes as Jacksonville police chief in 2008. Sipes had first applied for the position about a decade ago and was one of the finalists, but the job went to Jacksonville’s own Capt. Robert Baker.

Sipes then applied for and was hired to lead the Benton Police Department for five years.

When Baker announced his retirement in March 2008, Sipes reapplied for the position and got the job.

Before his stint in Benton, Sipes was director of code enforcement in North Little Rock and a 21-year veteran of the police department.

Sipes, as Benton’s police chief, tried to live by a creed that he posted on the police department’s website.

In the creed, Sipes stated that “as a law-enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder, and to respect the constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.”

Sipes also promised to “keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint, and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. Honest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life. I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department.”

Leader staff writer Rick Kron contributed to this report.