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story.lead_photo.caption North Little Rock City Hall at 300 Main St. is shown in this 2020 file photo. ( Stephen Simpson )

The fourth and final in a series of articles looking at candidates running for the North Little Rock mayor's position in the Nov. 3 general election.

After nearly 14 years representing Ward 1 on the North Little Rock City Council, Debi Ross wants to continue serving the city but in a different capacity: as the next mayor.

During her years on the City Council, Ross said she has seen a lot "that we've done great, and I've seen a lot of things that we can improve on."

"And lots of projects that we've worked on that I want to see completed," Ross added.

The city is still working on projects from several years ago in areas such as Park Hill and Levy, Ross said, and she wants to ensure those efforts are finished.

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"We're making a lot of progress in North Little Rock, and I just want to make sure that we see that continue," she said.

Ross said her governmental experience exceeds that of her three opponents in the Nov. 3 election to replace outgoing Mayor Joe Smith.

She faces a former North Little Rock mayor, Terry Hartwick; Dunbar Middle School teacher Alice Kunce; and North Little Rock School Board member Tracy Steele for the job of the city's top elected official, who earns $128,220 annually and serves a four-year term.

Asked where the city is succeeding and where it can improve, Ross pointed to areas such as the Argenta and Park Hill districts as examples of success. Although the neighborhoods were at one time "basically going downhill," she said residents in those neighborhoods took the initiative to revitalize them, in cooperation with others.

"It wasn't the city that brought those neighborhoods back. It was the partnership with the city and the residents and businesses in those areas," Ross said. "You know, they're the ones that stepped up and said, 'OK, what can we do?'"

Ross, 66, said if elected mayor she plans to sit down with people from all neighborhoods to identify the problem areas and make progress on them.

"Let's set our plans and start accomplishing some things in these neighborhoods that have not had the attention that maybe some of the others have," Ross said.

She resides at 3521 Lakeshore Drive, in the Lakewood neighborhood, near the Old Mill at T.R. Pugh Memorial Park.

Ross praised Smith, who is retiring after two terms. "Joe's done a great job," Ross said. She and Smith are "on the same wavelength" with regard to fiscal conservatism, Ross explained.

She said she respects the fact that the city has paid off a lot of debt and has not issued a lot of new bonds in the past eight years.

"He's not leaving us with a lot of debt, I'll put it that way," Ross said.

Alongside other family members, Ross worked for approximately 30 years at Sir Loin's Inn, a restaurant in North Little Rock, handling the finances. The restaurant closed in 2007.

Ross mentioned that she still has friends in the restaurant business, and said she empathizes with the challenges of running a restaurant in the pandemic.

"It's difficult," Ross said. "You've got to be very creative, very creative [at a] time like this."

On the subject of opportunities for economic development, Ross referred to Camp Joseph T. Robinson, a military base in the city limits that serves as headquarters for the Arkansas National Guard.

"Camp Robinson's one of the largest economic developments that North Little Rock has ... as far as jobs and visitors," Ross said.

She noted the large volume of air traffic that comes through Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock specifically because of Camp Robinson. Ross described personnel affiliated with the military base as the single-biggest user of the airport.

Ross is the former chairman of the Camp Robinson/Camp Pike Community Council, an organization where members help find opportunities to support the military installation, she explained.

Although she emphasized that she is "not a tree-hugger," Ross said she supported the work of a "green committee" that made recommendations to the city on sustainability, but which has not existed in eight years.

The advisory committee made recommendations on a range of subjects related to sustainability, she said, including energy, trees and trash cleanup. She would bring the committee back as mayor, Ross said.

Additionally, Ross said the city ought to "get back to the basics -- let's clean up what we've got, let's improve what we have," while still incorporating new ideas and ventures.

If Ross does not win the mayoral election, she will return to her seat on the City Council representing Ward 1 for another two years. Her first year on the City Council was 2007.

During previous elections, Ross noted that questions asked of candidates primarily related to budgeting items, but during this cycle she has not received a single budgeting question.

"All the questions are social issues right now," she said, and referred to the "climate of the country right now." Ross suggested politics at the federal level are trickling down to the local level.

The first question voters ask of a candidate, Ross said, is whether they are red or blue, or a Republican or a Democrat. The city's races are officially nonpartisan, something Ross suggested is a good thing. Ross described herself as "truly" an independent.

"We would never get anything done if we were partisan right now," she said.


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