Friday will be the end of an era in North Little Rock as it will be the last day on the job for long-time City Attorney Jason Carter, who announced last week he would be retiring.
Also a Colonel in the Army Arkansas National Guard, Carter serves the state as the top Judge Advocate General and those two careers have crossed often.
“I didn’t start out thinking about a law career,” Carter said in an expansive interview last week. “I was Specialist Carter then and I actually worked for the [National Security Administration] and sat in front of a computer most days.”
But law school was his eventual destination, and “I graduated in two and a half years,” he said. “I took the bar, and started working for Paul [Suskie] that next Monday. It was seamless and unusual for most lawyers.”
Suskie was the North Little Rock’s City Attorney then, and he and Carter already had a friendship as they shared similar paths. Both were officers in the Arkansas Army National Guard. Both were married with young children and both were in Sigma Nu Fraternity, albeit at different colleges.
Carter’s very first stint at the North Little Rock City Attorney’s office didn’t last long.
“9/11 happened and I was brought back on active duty,” Carter said. “It was Operation Noble Eagle and I served as XO [Executive officer] as a first lieutenant.”
Operation Noble Eagle was a military effort that guarded the state’s four municipal airports – Little Rock, Northwest Arkansas, Fort Smith and Texarkana.
After it ended, Carter moved to Cabot, his wife Rebecca’s hometown, and was elected as the City Attorney there in 2002.
“That was an experience,” he said. “Cabot was the size town, where you really had to get familiar with all aspects of city governance, because you had to.”
He returned to North Little Rock as deputy city attorney in 2003 where it appeared he would settle in but then America went to war in Iraq and Carter went with it.
“I was in the 39th Infantry and it was one of the units that went,” Carter said. “It was something. We were the tip of the spear.”
Carter’s unit was in the Battle of Fallujah and towards the end of the deployment, he had grown accustomed to the demands of battle.
“We were sitting in the mess, and dinner was winding down,” Carter said. “And I’m sitting there eating my ice cream and the alarms start sounding for incoming.” Meaning the camp where Carter was sitting was under rocket attack.
“And everyone else, they start scrambling for cover, and I’m still eating my ice cream,” he said. “The rocket passes over the tent and it sucks all the air out, and the walls of the tent billow in and out and the rocket, it took out a chow truck, but I was, ‘naw, I’m going to eat this ice cream’.”
After the deployment ended, Carter returned to Arkansas and the North Little Rock City Attorney’s office.
In 2006, Suskie mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for state Attorney General, but was awarded a plum appointment as chair of the Public Service Commission by then Gov. Mike Beebe, and Carter was appointed as City Attorney in 2007 by the City Council. He served the remainder of Suskie’s term and was elected to the office in 2008.
“I haven’t had an opponent,” Carter said. “That’s not a bad way to run for office.”
After a year into his third term, after also previously serving as interim General Manager of the city’s Electric Department, Carter is headed to private practice. An area he has never worked as an attorney, but he has a plan, working as attorney for those cities in Arkansas that have municipal electric departments.
“I got a taste,” he said. “It was very gratifying to learn the ins and outs but it also very challenging for those cities as the landscape has changed. And I can’t be North Little Rock’s City Attorney and also advising the electric department. It is an inherent conflict.”
Arkansas has 14 cities with municipal electric departments, varying in size on the large end to places like North Little Rock, Conway and Jonesboro on the larger end, to Paris and Hope on the smaller end to make it a career for Carter, and those are his immediate plans.
“Public service is noble,” he said. “It is something that should be encouraged and I’ve never been driven by money. Doing this would allow me to continue doing something I love.”
Running for elected office in the future is something Carter didn’t rule out, but, “I’ve still got kids in school and this is what I want to do for now.”
Carter and his wife Rebecca have three children, Jacob, 24, and daughters Faith and Sarah, who are both students at Central Arkansas Christian.