Monday, October 02, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Durham’s departure

Jacksonville City Administrator Jim Durham stepped down Friday after nearly 40 years of service to the community. He’s been Mayor Gary Fletcher’s right-hand man since 2009.

A retirement reception for Durham will be held at 3 p.m. Monday at city hall.

Durham’s job has come to characterize much of Fletcher’s tenure as mayor. In their time as the city’s top officials, Fletcher and Durham have pursued major economic development plans in hopes of revitalizing Jacksonville.

Jacksonville must stay focused on long-term progress. The recently announced downtown revitalization program headed by Dr. Robert Price is another hopeful sign that the city is serious about preserving its past and building a better future. We’ve come a long way.

The best days are yet to come, and they can’t arrive soon enough. The community is eager to stabilize the city’s finances and attract new businesses. Those things take time.

The new Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District is building four new schools – a high school, a middle school and two elementary schools – when not one has been built or even had a major remodeling in more than 40 years.

Yet current city government cannot claim much credit for those accomplishments. Durham and Fletcher firmly supported the new district, and helped pass, however narrowly, a key property tax increase to help pay for the new school construction, but much more is needed to move Jacksonville forward.

The most ambitious plans of Fletcher and Durham seemed to have turned into the most contentious issues for Jacksonville — the Arkansas Game and Fish Shooting Complex and the Oklahoma-based economic developer Ricky Hayes come to mind.

But it’s clear that Jacksonville is improving. The Hwy. 67/167 widening project will make the city more appealing to developers.

An election on Nov. 14 to allow liquor sales in restaurants in Gray Township, which includes most of Jacksonville, will help, too. Alcohol restrictions have hurt the city. A solution to that problem appeared during the tough infighting during the debate over economic-development strategies. Sherwood, which includes parts of Gray Township, will also vote on the issue on the same date.

Families will see Jacksonville as a fun and practical place to live once the new schools open.

When was the last time Jacksonville residents could see such a brighter future?

Nevertheless, we predict a tough mayoral campaign in 2018.

State Rep. Bob Johnson (D-Jacksonville) has already announced he will challenge Fletcher. Johnson, an accountant, will make the city’s precarious financial condition a flagship issue.

The mayor can still turn things around if revenue collections increase. He will also have to quickly resolve the long lingering issue of Geoffrey Herweg, who was ordered by a judge to step down as police chief until the state Supreme Court decides if he’s eligible for the job after being convicted of filing a false police report in Texas, where Herweg lost his policing credentials and even spent a day in jail over the incident. He went on to have a career protecting U.S. military and diplomatic installations in Iraq and Afghanistan and then as an assistant police chief in New Mexico.

The state Supreme Court, although it made no final decision, recently signaled it’s not pleased with Herweg’s hiring. There’s a strong chance the city will have to find someone else.

In the off chance the justices rule in the mayor’s favor and allow Herweg to be the city’s top cop, he could be a major campaign issue in November 2018.