For the first time in more than a decade, one of the at-large seats on the Little Rock Board of Directors is without an incumbent, and seven candidates are vying for the spot.
Voters will choose from the owner of a burger chain, a retired pharmacist, an educator, a professor, a community activist, an attorney and a marijuana decriminalization advocate for the Position 9 seat.
The other two at-large representatives, who hold Positions 8 and 10, have held their seats since the 1990s and are running for reelection against a number of challengers. Ward 4's Capi Peck also is up for reelection, though she will run unopposed.
The other six city directors are up for election in years that have mayoral races. City directors are paid $18,000 annually and serve four-year terms, without term limits.
Gene Fortson, 85, who's in the at-large seat, was appointed to the Position 9 spot in 2006 to fill a vacancy. He chose not to run for reelection and will vacate the seat at year's end, telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in February that he'd enjoyed "every bit" of his time in office but that it was "probably time for some younger people."
DAVID ALAN BUBBUS
David Alan Bubbus, who goes by Alan, says he's already served people in all wards of the city -- even if just by serving them a hamburger. Bubbus is the owner of David's Burgers, a chain with nine stores in Central Arkansas, as well as a real estate developer, an entrepreneur and a former city planning commissioner.
He said his experience doing business all over the city makes him a good fit for the position. Bubbus said he supports having citywide seats on the board, a popular topic of discussion in recent years, because he believes they can bring people together.
Bubbus, 40, said city leaders should focus on unity and listening to others rather than getting bogged down with negative energy over divisive national issues or "radical measures," like defunding the police, a rallying cry of some protesters in recent weeks. Still, he said people need to be anti-racist, not just not racist, and acknowledged the impact of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis in May on Black individuals.
"I hope we can do better," he said. "Another concern is for things to get a lot worse."
He said Little Rock needs to do a better job of working with businesses that want to set up in town, and on growing its relationship with the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Tom Horton, a 69-year-old retired pharmacist, said he is running to support the police and fire departments -- "law and order," he said.
Horton said the city's recent purchase of body cameras for police officers will be positive for residents and officers. He said he does not believe the department is racially biased and listed five high-crime areas in the city.
"Namely, I'm sorry, but it's the African-American population and Hispanics that have the highest crime rates," he said.
He said he is interested in working with opportunity zones, federally designated census tracts where new investors can defer capital-gains taxes. The initiative, part of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, has been branded as a way to encourage cash flow into economically depressed areas.
"There's so much in that, it's just unbelievable," Horton said. "That can really help build a community, especially downtown where it's really hurting."
Leron McAdoo, 49, said he's effected change through education, through activism and protests, and through art and music. He sees politics as a new arena where he could effect change.
McAdoo said the city needs to have a partnership with the Little Rock School District, and should provide wraparound services for students in need. He said he would want to work with Jay Barth, the city's chief education officer, to learn more about the community schools initiative.
McAdoo also believes the arts are what define and characterize a physical location.
"Little Rock has an arts scene that we have to, one, develop and, two, support," he said. "Little Rock has a lot already here. We simply have to pull it out."
McAdoo participated in recent protests for racial justice and against police brutality, and said the "defund the police" rallying cry that has emerged is often misunderstood. He sees it as a spectrum of how resources can be allocated.
Rohn Muse, a professor with a background in cultural anthropology, said listening and observation, as well as note-taking and analysis, would be among his strengths as a city director. He challenged Ward 2's Ken Richardson in 2018.
Muse, 67, is one of the founders of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association and has been active in neighborhood matters, including opposing a proposal about a decade ago to put the Little Rock Technology Park along the south side of Interstate 630 across from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences that would have resulted in the removal of potentially 325 homes. He is also a former planning commissioner.
He said the technology park experience was an example of the power and necessity of at-large members on the city board, because the three at that time banded together to oppose the development and work with the neighborhood.
Asked about what changes to policing he would support, Muse said he feels strongly that part of the department's more than $80 million budget should be earmarked to hire mental-health professionals to assist with certain situations, based on a model used in Austin, Texas.
Muse also wants to reopen the Lee Theater, a venue on South 13th Street that has been vacant for nearly half a century.
Dale Pekar, a 70-year-old retired economist, decided to run for office first and foremost because of a discovery about Cammack Village and the Little Rock Fire Department.
In March 2019, Pekar emailed the Democrat-Gazette and said he was "flabbergasted" to read in an article that Cammack Village, a small, independent municipality within Little Rock, pays the city $10,500 annually for fire and 911 service, meaning it's provided at a far lower rate than what Little Rock residents pay with their taxes. He followed up with emails to media outlets and city officials, urging the city to stop "subsidizing the suburbs" with that and other "sweetheart deals."
"Little Rock's being taken for a sucker. It's illogical," he said, adding that the city could be using that money to increase its 911 service standards. "Why in the world was the city ever set up for these contracts that way?"
Pekar said he would use his background in contract negotiation for the Army and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure the city is being fiscally responsible. He said he also would want to evaluate how the dollars allotted to the Police Department are used, and if some calls could be handled another way.
Pekar said he would support the formation of a community services department to help people with substance-abuse or mental-health problems, instead of having police handle those calls and wellness checks, with the system used in Albuquerque, N.M., as a model.
Antwan Phillips, 36, said running for the city board is something he's wanted to do for a long time.
Phillips works with small-business owners and developers in his career as a partner at the Wright Lindsey and Jennings firm, and sees room for improvement.
"I think the timing was right for our city to really take some giant steps forward, and I thought with my legal experience and being someone born and raised here and very familiar with the different parts of our city, that I can help us take those big steps forward as a city," he said.
If elected, Phillips said he would take a close look at city ordinances that may limit development and try to make the city more equitable to minority contractors in its purchasing process.
Asked about any changes to policing or the department's funding that he would support, Phillips said the city should be held accountable for every dollar to ensure it's being used efficiently, and that he would like to see changes for disclosure requirements of officers who have been written up or violated the use-of-force policy.
Phillips said he would support putting the question of Little Rock's form of government to voters, and that he supports a city board structure with "superward" representatives rather than at-large ones.
Glen Schwarz, a perennial candidate for public office who advocates for marijuana decriminalization, will appear on the ballot as "Thorium" Glen Schwarz, which clues voters in to part of his platform. If elected, he said, he will work to bring a thorium nuclear power plant to Little Rock to serve as an alternative energy source.
Schwarz, 66, wants to fight climate change and believes Little Rock needs to prepare to become a world-class city, with taller infill developments connected by public transit. He supports having at-large members on the city board because some issues are citywide.
He said he also will use the position to pass a marijuana-decriminalization ordinance "so nobody goes to jail for small amounts of pot."
This is Schwarz's 11th run for public office, and his third for Position 9. He said if he is unsuccessful, he will run for mayor in 2022, campaigning on the same platform plus the reopening of the War Memorial Park golf course.
Asked about changes to policing he would support, Schwarz said police can be too aggressive when dealing with a suspect and need deescalation training, but that he wouldn't support taking away funding from the department.
CORRECTION: There were 325 homes that would have been potentially bulldozed as a result of a past proposal to locate the Little Rock Technology Park along the south side of Interstate 630. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of homes.