It is less than five weeks before North Little Rock voters chose a replacement for Mayor Patrick Hays, and the four candidates for the position have kept themselves busy with appearing at various campaign forums during the past several weeks, allowing perspective and undecided voters a chance view all of them.
Candidates Mark Clinton, John Parker Joe Smith and Tracy Steele, say they will continue to campaign until the end in hopes of becoming the next mayor.
Mark Clinton, a candidate who touts a conservative point of view from a small business owner, said he has been spending a lot of his time going door-to-door talking with individual voters.
Of the four candidates Clinton is the lone candidate with no political experience but says he brings to the table an outsider’s prospective who said he wants to bring private sector, entrepreneurial solutions to the North Little Rock city government.
"I will continue to do all events I can and I love to do a debate," Clinton said.
Clinton said what has disturbed him the most during his months on the campaign trail has been what he calls ethical problems in the city government where he sees some individuals who are serving as board members to various boards who are deriving financial benefits from these appointments.
"There are conflicts of interests on boards," Clinton said.
Clinton he will try to communicate through the network of people he knows and who is becoming acquainted with him the inappropriate conflicts of interests that exist within North Little Rock’s city government.
"I will continue making the case for a change in the way city government has been operating," Clinton said. "You have patterns of conflicts of interest in boards and commissions. There is a lack of transparency in purchasing where any bid whatsoever can be rejected so that the insiders can keep getting paid."
Clinton added he wished the city electric department would quit refinancing its debts, something it has done three times and is part of the reason why electric rates are as high as they are.
"They choose to do it that way so they can keep the profits and transfer that to the general fund and spend it wastefully as they have done for many years," Clinton said.
Candidate John Parker is running a dual campaign. He is on the ballot for both the city mayor and Ward 3 alderman. Parker served as a Ward 3 councilman from 2004-08 and has also served on the city planning commission and board of adjustment.
If elected, Parker said he would be the only person in the city’s history where a mayor served previously as a council member. Parker said he is the only candidate of the four who has experience as an elected representative in city government.
Parker said his campaign is not about trying to attract people who have already made up their minds who they are going to vote for. Rather, he wants to provide a voice to what he calls the silent majority.
"There are people who you normally don’t see at a council meeting who have concerns," Parker said. "These are the people who don’t have their voices heard who have issues that need addressed."
Parker added, "There is a large percentage of undecided people. These people need services from their city and are just as important as those who are vocal and voice their opinion. We need to make North Little Rock city government more accessible to the masses. They need to have access to City Hall and city services."
Candidate Joe Smith he has been North Little Rock’s director of commerce and governmental affairs for more than 20 years and has been endorsed by Hays. He and fellow Candidate State Tracy Steele may be the best known of the four candidates. Steele has served both as a State Representative and Senator.
Smith has two main tiers to his campaign going into the closing weeks: Experience and trust. "People can trust that I have the experience to do the job," Smith said, who adds he has been overwhelmed by the amount of support he said he has been receiving during the fall campaign.
"I have received twice as much support from people than I expected," Smith said. "We have had to re-order campaign signs a third time."
Smith said he will continue to work to get his message out of experience and trust.
"I am ready to do the job right away," Smith said.
Smith said he is pleased that he has received the endorsement of several past chairmen of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.
"Many of them have worked with me in the past since 1989 and they know the kind of job I did when they worked with me," Smith said.
Smith said a few past chamber chairmen have not come out to endorse him because they have opted to not endorse any candidate because of the positions they are employed in currently.
Smith said any other candidate who would argue that he has not been transparent in his workings in the North Little Rock city government doesn’t know what he is talking about.
"That is absolutely incorrect," Smith said.
Smith said he has worked for two decades by the book and following the law, working hard to do the job within the confines of the law.
Smith said if he is elected he sees himself as not having the same managerial style as Hays.
Smith said if elected important priorities of his will be economic development, job creation, fixing streets and implementing important drainage projects.
Smith said he will examine the city budget to see and come up with a priority list to take care of the most important needs first such as streets and drainage and see what needs to be cut.
Candidate Tracy Steele said he is glad to be home campaigning in North Little Rock. As a state senator and representative, he would represent districts that would spread out widely over a large geographical location, some of which had 75,000 residents which was larger than North Little Rock.
Steele said he believes the most pressing issue in this year’s campaign is the necessity for open government.
"People are feeling a disconnect with their city government,"Steele said. "They want their voices and input to be heard. They are finding out decisions have already been made before they even knew anything about some issues."
Steele said he wants to set up a council that meets quarterly which has representatives from every North Little Rock neighborhood. He wants the neighborhood council to be a venue he can bring forth ideas, hear input back from people and then bring ideas onto the agenda of the city council.
Steele said issues such as the Skyline hillside cut and the proposed Big Rock Quarry land development needed to have been brought before people much sooner.
"We were told that the quarry issue had been worked on a year before it came to the city council and the people did not know anything about it," Steele said.
Steele said North Little Rock needs to adopt transparency policies recently enacted by the State Legislature.
Steele said he co-sponsored enacted state legislation that made the issuance of state contracts and other transactions much more easily available to the general public.
"Now you don’t have to FOI (Freedom of Information Act) for information," Steele said. "If you want to see who won a state contract, just go online. North Little Rock needs something like that."
Steele said other important issues include economic development here and the city doing its part to help the North Little Rock School District. He said he wants to see the city’s lawsuit against the school district settled.
Steele added he is still strongly committed to bring a fire station to the east end of the city.
"I want to look at the city budget and see what needs cut so we can have the fire station," Steele said. "Public safety is a mayor’s number one issue," Steele said, adding he wants to make sure the city police and firefighters have the necessary equipment to protect the city and themselves.