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The two candidates for Van Buren mayor offer experience in government and experience in business as qualifications for the position.

Max Blake, 57, sales manager for Industrial Precast Inc., which is co-owned by Blake Construction, faces Van Buren's first city planner, Joe Hurst, 38, in Tuesday's general election. The winner will succeed Bob Freeman, who is stepping down after serving 12 years as mayor.

Hurst, who has served as city planner for eight years, says he has the education, government experience and ability to build community partnerships to improve Van Buren and move it forward.

"My education and experience have prepared me to successfully operate Van Buren's $16 million budget and manage its 160 employees as we deliver services to our 24,000 residents," Hurst said in an email response to questions submitted to the candidates by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Blake was elected an alderman in 2012 and narrowly lost to Freeman, 2,628 to 2,397, in the 2014 mayoral election. He said Van Buren's greatest asset is its citizens, and he plans to draw from that resource in an effort to set Van Buren apart from other communities.

"My personal experience in business suggests a formula for success is found with an interactive team that develops cooperation," he said. "I strive to inspire, coach and empower people to use their talents and skills to bring projects to completion."

Blake is married and has two children. He attended Fort Smith Southside High School and Westark Community College, now the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

Hurst is married and has two children. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Before returning to Van Buren, Hurst served as a city planner in Rogers and El Dorado.

Both candidates listed several issues of importance.

Blake proposed building partnerships with new and existing businesses and with state government to create jobs, improve the city's infrastructure, increase recreational offerings for citizens and develop the riverfront. He said he would like to attract a strong business anchor that would attract other companies to the city.

"Accountability and transparency in government are among my key issues," Blake said.

Infrastructure is a priority, he said, noting: Streets are in need of improvement. Some just need repaving and others require complete reconstruction. Water and sewer lines have gone unattended and many need maintenance or replacement. There are entire neighborhoods that have no access to sewer service.

Blake said he wants to see the city's historic district revitalized. With Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville to the north and the U.S. Marshals Museum under construction in Fort Smith to the south, Blake said Van Buren is positioned to capture travelers heading in each direction to the historic downtown and the Drennen-Scott House.

He said he also would seek funding for a city swimming pool, an aquatics park, a dog park, a community center and a glass pavilion so residents don't have to leave town for recreational activities.

Economic development is critical for Van Buren, according to Hurst. He said incentives and workforce development are tools he would develop to influence employers to move to Van Buren.

Hurst said he would work to provide a range of recreational opportunities, beautify the city and improve streets and drainage to make Van Buren a better place and to attract new business and industry.

With cooperation from the community, Hurst proposed creating a comprehensive plan to establish the city's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and to draw up a 20-year vision for Van Buren.

"The vision will include all aspects of the community, such as city branding, police and fire protection, streets and drainage, transportation, utilities, land use and more," he said.

Hurst said he and other city officials have been working with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to raise money to improve the congested Arkansas 59-Interstate 40 interchange. He also said he would talk to residents about whether a one-half-percent sales tax that is set to expire next year should be retained to pay for other projects.

State Desk on 10/31/2018

Print Headline: Van Buren mayoral candidates point to qualifications for office

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