Randy Tankersley of Pottsville has fulfilled many of the career roles a child dreams of — he’s been an award-winning police officer, a firefighter and now, mayor.
Tankersley, who grew up in the Pope County community, came out ahead in a runoff with Bryan Duvall. Incumbent Mayor Jerry Williams came in third in the November election.
“I loved helping the community; I always have,” Tankersley said. “To me, this is just a different way I can help.”
The 54-year-old went to school in Pottsville through the eighth grade, when his family moved to Dardanelle, then Jonesboro. He quit school and got his GED and went to work for the rice mills in Weiner, where he met his now wife, Ronda. They lived in the northeast-Arkansas community for 13 years, and he served on the volunteer fire department, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Ernest Goodon, a Jonesboro firefighter who has since died.
When Tankersley and his three siblings went to visit his uncle, “he’d take us to the fire station, and we’d climb all over the trucks,” Tankersley said.
When Tankersley and his family moved to Russellville, he got a job with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. His title was hydraulic excavator, which meant he helped dig ditches, pave highways, install pipes and more. He worked long hours and put aside his love for volunteering as a firefighter. Then he moved back home.
“When we came down here to Pottsville, I got back into the firefighting, and I loved it,” he said. “It’s a great bunch of guys.”
The Pottsville Volunteer Fire Department works hand in hand with the Pottsville Police Department, and Tankersley had gone to school at the academy with then-Chief Blake Herren.
“I did some ride-alongs,” Tankersley said.
He took classes in Plumerville and became a part-time police officer on the weekends.
Tankersley told Herren he’d love to be a full-time officer if a position opened, and it happened almost immediately. Tankersley attended the Black River Technology College Law Enforcement Academy in Pocahontas and began his law career in 2013.
For the past 1 1/2 years, until Dec. 31, he was the Pottsville Police Department’s training sergeant. Before that, he received two lifesaving commendations, the first in 2013, right after he started.
“The first [incident] was a police officer responding to a call, and I was going to back him up,” he said. The suspect had stabbed a resident nine times, Tankersley said. “The other officer had the subject on his knees, but [the suspect] took the officer down and was on top of the officer trying to get his gun. I came in and jerked [the suspect] off of the officer, and we got him arrested at that point.”
Tankersley said the suspect made the comment later that if he’d gotten the officer’s gun, he’d have “shot everybody there.”
The second incident involved an automobile accident in 2016 on Arkansas 247 near Tankersley’s home.
“I had just gotten off work. I just pulled into my house, … and it sounded like an explosion,” he said. Tankersley jumped back into his police car and went to the scene.
A man driving on the highway had fallen asleep, crossed the center line and hit a semitrailer.
“He clipped it on the side and took off the whole side of his car. [The impact] ripped the door and the front fender off the vehicle.”
The crash also tore off the man’s arm below the elbow, Tankersley said.
“An Army sergeant on the scene, Anthony Moats, [and I] …. used a tourniquet. We put it on there, and it saved the boy’s life. He was bleeding out at the time.”
Police Chief Joe Paterak said he was a training officer at the Russellville Police Department when he was hired as chief in Pottsville. Tankersley helped him navigate the new waters and quickly became his “right-hand man.”
“He was a great person to be a supervisor for because he helped me out,” Paterak said. “There was a lot of stuff I was used to in Russellville that when I got to Pottsville hadn’t been touched in a very long time. He helped me start training the officers, helped me with reports, … and ultimately, I made him a training sergeant.
“I hated losing him, but not that I lost — by him being my boss now, he knows what I’m about.”
Paterak said Tankersley represents a new face for the city, and he thinks the mayor will “revitalize a lot of things, come in with different ideas and just freshen things up.”
Tankersley said he can’t say which he prefers, firefighting or law enforcement.
“They were both fun; I enjoyed both of them,” he said. “I made a lot of friends. That was my big thing, helping the community.”
So why run for mayor?
Tankersley laughed. He said it is hard to explain his deep desire to help the community; it’s just part of his DNA.
“I think with my experience with the Highway Department, the Police Department, the Fire Department, that I’ll be a good mayor. And I’ve got great people,” Tankersley said, naming each department. “I couldn’t ask for any better hands here.”
He said his main goal is to attract more businesses to Pottsville.
“We’ve got several small businesses, good businesses, but we need more to keep the city financially sound,” he said. “That’s my main goal.”
Tankersley said he hasn’t lined out a specific strategy for attracting businesses, yet.
“I’m still learning all this,” he said.
Tankersley said if potential business owners will “come by and look at us, they’d see how the community is,” and want to locate here. The mayor said the population is listed at just over 2,000, but he expects it to be more than 3,000 after the next census.
The community’s strength is its people, he said.
“If anybody needs anything, there are 10 people standing there ready to help them,” Tankersley said. “The outpouring of support I had — it was just unbelievable.”
The mayor’s position is part time, so Tankersley also drives a bus for the Pottsville School District. He picks up and drops off children in kindergarten through the 12th grade who may want to grow up to be firefighters, police officers, construction workers or elected officials.
They don’t have to look any further for inspiration than the man sitting behind the steering wheel.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.