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The majority of the Little Rock Board of Directors decided Tuesday not to send a proposal to voters this November to do away with at-large membership on the board.

The 10-member board voted down Ward 1 City Director Erma Hendrix's proposal in an 8-1 vote, with Hendrix not voting.

Ken Richardson cast the sole vote in favor.

Hendrix did not speak during the voice vote. Her ordinance would have had residents vote on a proposal to change the board's makeup to seven ward representatives by removing the three at-large positions.

The rest of the board -- Doris Wright, Joan Adcock, Lance Hines, B.J. Wyrick, Kathy Webb, Gene Fortson, Capi Peck and Dean Kumpuris -- voted against the measure.

Kumpuris, an at-large member, told his colleagues Monday that he would ask that the new board and new mayor decide at the first meeting in January a process by which residents could fully vet and research the issue.

Kumpuris said Tuesday that he has asked the city attorney to draft a resolution to that effect that can be voted on at a later date.

There's guaranteed to be a new mayor next year, as Mark Stodola isn't running for re-election. In addition to that seat, six of the ward seats are up for election in November.

Those who agree with Hendrix's proposal said having board seats elected by the city at large disenfranchises black voters and that the current three at-large members, who are all white, dilute the positions and votes of the board's three black city directors.

Richardson said after Tuesday's vote that city residents should be able to vote on the issue.

"For the life of me I can't see how anyone would have a problem giving citizens the chance to decide how they want to be governed," he said.

At least two black residents from Hendrix's ward spoke Tuesday against her ordinance and in favor of keeping at-large representatives.

Ronny Jackson, representing the East Little Rock Neighborhood Association, said Adcock, an at-large member and the longest-serving Little Rock board member, helped his community when Timex announced that it had contaminated property in the area.

Rhonda Ross, president of the Love Neighborhood Association, said Adcock spearheaded an effort to revitalize homes in her neighborhood.

In contrast, Ward 1 resident Robert Webb, who is black, gave examples of how at-large representatives voted against proposals made by black board members.

He specifically mentioned how at-large representatives voted against Hendrix's proposals to create a city residency requirement for police officers and Richardson's proposal to give contract priority to companies that employ the city's unemployed and underemployed young people.

In all, six residents spoke in favor of Hendrix's ordinance and nine spoke against it. Some who spoke against it agreed with doing away with at-large representation on the board but said Hendrix's approach wasn't the right way.

Attorney Chris Burks, who is white, said he and others with whom he has spoken are interested in not only changing the board makeup but also Little Rock's form of government.

Little Rock has twice embarked on a mission to study its form of government. In 1993, a group called Future Little Rock recommended moving from an all at-large board to the current format of seven ward representatives, three at-large representatives and the mayor, who presides over meetings and votes in the event of a tie.

In 2000, the Vision Little Rock group was formed and ultimately recommended no change to the board setup.

Eventually members of that group recommended a proposal, which voters approved in 2007, giving the mayor veto and appointment power and making the position full time.

Little Rock has a city-manager form of government, meaning a city manager appointed by the board runs the day-to-day operations. Usually that is paired with a part-time mayor.

Hendrix has said repeatedly that she would file a federal lawsuit against the city if the board did not pass her ordinance Tuesday. She has made the threat numerous times, but has not given details on what the lawsuit would be based, when it would be filed or who would represent her.

She has not responded to questions from a reporter about a lawsuit and did not mention the matter at Tuesday's meeting.

Metro on 06/20/2018

Print Headline: Bid on governing-change vote fails; Proposal for LR would have put at-large question on ballot

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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    June 20, 2018 at 6:37 a.m.

    Even if this had passed last night, it would have failed in the vote in November. I agree that at-large needs to be abolished and Little Rock restructure, looking at possibly a few more wards to reflect the demographic make-up of the city. However, it should be through a citizen-led process that looks at municipal government in general. You don't throw a proposal on the ballot to restructure city government without thinking it through first. There are other changes to be considered including whether LR needs a mayor-manager form of government.
    ...
    I do think one of the BIGGEST problems with LR's board is the length of tenure of some of its directors, Hendrix included. She has served almost a quarter of a century and it's time for her to move on to let some younger, more innovative leaders step forward. That also includes Adcock, Kumpuris, and Wyrick. You could include others, but just having those step aside would be a good start.

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