In his new role as executive director of the Arkansas Municipal League, Mark Hayes still works just down the hall from where Don Zimmerman, the league's late executive director, had his now darkened office.
It's been difficult for the league's 84-member staff to recover from the loss of Zimmerman, said Hayes, the league's chief legal counsel since 1996. Zimmerman had led the league and its membership of 500 Arkansas cities and towns for 52 years. Zimmerman died June 24 of pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
"It caused a lot of grief in this building," Hayes said in an interview last week at the Municipal League offices in North Little Rock about Zimmerman's death. "There were a lot of really upset people. Don led us for so long and led us so well."
While he said he "really hasn't had the chance" during the transition to relocate into the executive director's space, Hayes said, he conceded that the move "just doesn't feel right" at this time.
The league's Executive Committee on Aug. 22 selected Hayes, 58, to be its new executive director. Choosing Hayes, who has worked with the Municipal League since early 1989, was an obvious choice, said North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, the league's president for 2018-19. Taking on a national search wasn't needed, Smith said.
Hayes graduated from Jonesboro High School and received his bachelor's degree in business in 1982 from Arkansas State University and his law degree in 1986 from the W.H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Hayes is president of the Bowen School of Law Alumni Association.
"There are very few municipal leagues across the country that handle so many different programs as we do," Smith said. "To have someone on staff that had the experience that Mark has and the legal education, we felt like we have the guy we need right here.
"He knows us," Smith said. "He knows the state and he knows the diversity of the personalities of the cities. He knows how to deal with an issue in Humnoke as well as he does one in Little Rock. And that's very important."
The Arkansas Municipal League, founded in 1934, is a service and advocacy organization for the municipalities of Arkansas. It serves as a resource facility for member cities and towns, plus it offers services such as health insurance, property coverage, training and litigation assistance, to name just a few.
"It doesn't matter if you're Fifty-Six, Ark., or Little Rock, Ark. the Arkansas Municipal League is there," said Batesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh, in his 12th year in office. "We've had a very strong league and I feel like Mark will be able to continue that success and continue to provide for the cities, both large and small, in the state of Arkansas.
"You don't fill Mr. Zimmerman's shoes, by no means," Elumbaugh said. "I think Mark acknowledges that and he knows he won't be able to fill those shoes, but he'll be his own driving force. He's driven and he wants what's best for the cities and the state."
Hayes credits having an experienced staff, coupled with his role in the league having expanded over time, as giving him confidence that the league is prepared to carry on Zimmerman's work and even enhance its role.
"I think I'm as prepared as anybody could be," Hayes said of the new position. "I feel that I have enough knowledge of the people and the services we provide to not let everything fall into the cracks.
"We have a good team and we will strive to make it better than it is, and it's fantastic as it is," he said. "We'll make his [Zimmerman's] legacy shine on and make it better and better. I think we have the people to do that. Everybody is hitting their stride now and getting to where we need to be.
"The mission stays the same," he said. "We provide really top-notch services for municipalities that save taxpayers money in the long run. We provide something meaningful for our cities."
Having Smith as the league's new president "just a stone's throw" up Broadway at North Little Rock City Hall, Hayes said, has "been a godsend" in the transition. "That has been a huge help," he said.
Smith said that the adage "If it's not broke, don't fix it" applies with the league in carrying on Zimmerman's work, but that some changes are inevitable over time.
"If anybody can do it, we are very confident Mark can," Smith said. "And if we need to make some changes to keep up with the times, then we will. We will always use our memory of Don and his programs and his management style in decisions we make in the future."
The league's work in engaging with people from both smaller and larger cities is "what I love about our job," Hayes said.
"The concepts and the theories are the same, but the actual particulars might not be the same," Hayes said. "That's the magic of working here and working with city governments. We all want to make these communities better. I like to think that on a daily basis we do that.
"If you're a mayor or a council member or have never been in the mayor's seat or on a council, you know there's one place you can call to know how municipal government works," he said. "How to pass a budget, or how to pass an ordinance or if you need legal assistance. We really are a one-stop shop."
Among Hayes' first staff moves has been to appoint senior legal counsel John Wilkerson to general counsel and Michael Mosley to be senior counsel and assistant director for training.
Hayes also has an idea for the league to help endow a scholarship in Zimmerman's name in a partnership with the W.H. Bowen School of Law and the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. The scholarship would be for recipients to take classes at both schools to earn a dual degree in municipal government and municipal law, he said.
"I don't think there is anything like it in the country," Hayes said. "It would be a very unique product. To do something like that in Don's memory, I think would be great for the state of Arkansas."
Metro on 09/16/2018
Print Headline: Transition is smooth for Municipal League