BRADFORD Every day after Ronnie Burress gets finished working at a Searcy automobile dealership, he starts his new job, running the city of Bradford.
Burress, 64, was elected mayor Nov. 7 in a runoff with David Baker after a special election. Burress won by six votes, 69-63. He will serve one year and can run for re-election, he said.
Four men vied to fill the unexpired seat of former Mayor Gene Pollard, who resigned in June. Burress received 36 percent of the vote, and Baker garnered 27 percent. Derek Snelson, who was acting mayor, garnered 22 percent of the vote, and Steve Treece received 15 percent.
It wasn’t Burress’ first foray into politics. Pollard defeated Burress four years ago in a runoff.
“I kind of wanted to get in it and see if I could make a change for the city,” Burress said.
Burress grew up in Bradford, and his father had a pawn shop. The population was 600-plus then, he said, and it’s 795 now.
After high school, Burress briefly attended Arkansas State University-Jonesboro and transferred to ASU-Beebe, where he earned a scholarship to walk on with the basketball team.
Burress said college really wasn’t for him, so he went to work. He said he owned a tractor-trailer, went into business at the pawn shop with his father, and owned storage buildings and property all over Bradford. He has worked for automobile dealerships for 20 years, including the past few years at George Kell Motors in Searcy.
Burress said his wife, Brenda, is a hairstylist who has owned her own salon for 33 years.
The couple moved to Batesville in 1996 and stayed a year, while he worked for a car dealership, but they moved back to Bradford in 1997.
“Your old roots always bring you back,” he said. “I like the small-town living, where you know everybody; you speak to everyone in the grocery store. It’s a great town.”
But it’s not perfect.
“We have problems. Every little town has problems, but we can fix them,” he said. “Over the years, I just kind of sat back.”
He threw his hat in the ring in 2013. He didn’t let the defeat dampen his community spirit, and he ran again this year.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll try it one more time.’ I felt like I could help the city,” he said. Burress has had one City Council meeting.
“I really enjoy what I do. I wish I could be full time, but small cities can’t afford full-time mayors,” Burress said.
Getting a budget together is his No. 1 goal.
“That’s my No. 1 challenge right now — to get the budget out,” he said. “Salaries will be the biggest thing. We’re trying to get pay scales set up for incoming employees, like police officers.”
Burress appointed David Lock, 38, as police chief. Lock said he has worked for the Bradford Police Department almost 14 years and became a part-time officer when he joined the security team at Unity Health in Searcy. He left to take over as chief when Burress was elected. The former police chief, Claude Money, became a school resource officer in the Bradford School District.
“I feel like he’s well-qualified,” Burress said of Lock. “Everybody in town knows him. His wife is on the council, but it’s not a conflict of interest. She recuses herself if anything comes up with the Police Department.”
Burress said the Police Department has four full-time officers, including Money, and three part-time officers, but one is on medical leave.
He said it’s important to have enough officers for 24-hour surveillance, even in the small community.
Lock said Burress is a “go-getter.”
“He’s got a lot of good ideas. He’s very positive; he’s very energetic. He wants to get things done. He’s kind of like me. … I get something in my head and want to get something done,” Lock said. “He’s straightforward with me; I’m straight-forward with him.
“Ronnie and I are ready to take the city in a more positive direction. I want the Police Department to be more user-friendly. Small cities — sometimes they get a bad rap, and I don’t want that for here. I want it to be a positive place.”
The mayor said repairs are needed in the Police Department, which is in City Hall. Bids are being solicited to repair a leaky roof, and he said repairs are needed on windows and doors.
“We’re just kind of doing it as we can,” Burress said.
Keith Edens, 59, is a lifetime resident of Bradford. He is retired from UPS and owns Edens Quick Check in Bradford.
He said all four candidates for mayor were “very good people,” but he’s happy that Burress was elected.
“I’m excited to have him as our mayor,” Edens said. “He’s a business man; he’s been in the automobile business. He’s actually managed some GM stores, and he has a good business knowledge. That’s what we need for our town. He’s hit the ground running; he’s working hard to get some changes.”
The mayor said another of his goals is to get a grant to pave city streets, and he was scheduled to meet last week with Don Zimmerman, executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League.
“We’re going to get in line to get paving done on streets,” Burress said. “We hope next spring we’ll be able to get some of that money.”
If the request is granted, Burress said, he has identified about 3 miles of streets in the city to be improved.
“No bigger than Bradford is, that will cover the west side of town,” he said.
The mayor said that when he was campaigning for office, one of the issues residents mentioned was cleaning up the community.
“One of the No. 1 things they were wanting was me to get empty lots or vacant lots cleaned up,” he said.
The city doesn’t have a code-enforcement officer.
“That’ll be me,” Burress said. “I know almost everyone in that town; I think I can talk to a lot of them. Maybe I could talk to them and say, ‘Can y’all help me with this?’ Even if the city has to help them, I think you try to help each other, and it works.
“I’m one of those who likes to get something done,” he said. “That’s why they voted me in.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.