Friday, December 16, 2016

TOP STORY >> New chapter is beginning at Metroplan

Leader senior staff writer

Like clockwork, December brings leadership changes at Metroplan, but never more than this year—at least not in 28 years.

At Wednesday’s monthly meeting, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher ended his term as president and handed the gavel over to Ward Mayor Art Brooke, although that kind of change is an annual event.

In a less common event, Metroplan executive director Jim McKenzie retired and is to be replaced by Conway Mayor Tab Townsell. Townsell, as mayor, served on the Metro-plan board of directors for more than a decade.

On top of that, deputy director Richard Magee also retires.

Magee is considered the institutional memory of Metroplan, so much so that when the planning organization’s new and meatier website is launched, the searchable archive will be referred to as the Richard Magee archive.

McKenzie said, “Richard forgot more about planning than I ever knew—if he ever forget anything at all.”

In welcoming Townsell, who needed no introduction because he was already on the board when every other board member came on, Fletcher noted that the search for a new director extended beyond the U.S. before coming back to pick someone 30 miles up the road.

Townsend has asked McKenzie to stay on part-time to advise and help on some projects like the Mid-Arkansas Water Alliance, which secures future water to Central Arkansas Water, Jacksonville, Lonoke and Cabot and 23 other water associations from Greer’s Ferry Lake and Lake Ouachita, and also help with planning for the I-30 corridor improvements, including the bridge over the Arkansas River.

The board awarded the Jack Evans Regional Leadership Awards to McKenzie and Magee. McKenzie has been executive director since July 1988 and Magee has served with Metroplan for 42 years.

McKenzie, in his final executive director’s report, noted that President-elect Dibakd Trump nominated former Labor Secretary Elaine Chou as secretary of transportation. Chou previously was Department of Transportation deputy administrator of Maritime Administration and deputy secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush.

“She has a reputation as a competent administrator,” McKenzie said.

He noted that a continuing resolution had been introduced to fund the federal government through April 28.

The board unanimously approved a $3 million 2017 budget.

Mayor Brooke, the new president, is the last Lonoke County/North Pulaski County group to rotate through the board as officers.

In addition to Brooke, the new board president, other officers unanimously accepted are Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs, vice-president; Faulkner County Judge Jim Baker, secretary; and North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, treasurer.

Fletcher and Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert are recent past presidents. Local mayors and county judges comprise the voting members of the Metroplan board. The board presented McKenzie with an engraved mantle-worthy clock, and the staff presented him with two golf passes to play at the Tournament Players Club Sawgrass in Florida, where McKenzie will soon be visiting grandchildren.